Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Jose Valverde celebrates the Tigers' 4-2 win over the Chicago White Sox with catcher Alex Avila in the ninth inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Friday.
Associated Press Enlarge
DETROIT — It was unclear which number was higher Friday night: The decibel level at a sold-out Comerica Park or the pitch speed reading on the left-field scoreboard.
Justin Verlander had just performed the latest physics-defying act in a career filled with them -- a feat he had neither achieved nor considered. With one out in the eighth inning, the right-hander's 100-mph, high-and-tight fastball splintered Gordan Beckham's bat into two pieces ... on a checked swing.
"That was fun," Verlander said after Detroit's 4-2 victory over the White Sox.
A crowd of 44,572 then rose in concert and carried the ace home. After Verlander looked in a soft pitch from first baseman Prince Fielder for the final out of the eighth inning, he touched the bill of his cap in salute and basked in the ear-splitting ovation -- the last Tigers player off the field by several steps.
"Gave me chills," he said.
This was not just another mid-July game, and Verlander knew it. In a hyped matchup against Jake Peavy, his eight innings of mastery helped the Tigers close within a half game of the first-place White Sox -- their slimmest deficit in the American League Central since May 1.
Verlander allowed two runs on four hits while striking out six over eight innings as Detroit won for the 11th time in 13 games. But the effort belied his final line.
The teams briefly pressed pause on the pitcher's duel in the third inning. Verlander allowed a two-run homer to Chicago lead-off man Alejandro De Aza in the top of the inning, to which the Tigers answered in the bottom half.
Detroit scored three runs on consecutive run-scoring, two-out hits from Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Delmon Young.
From then on, however, Verlander showed the visitors little sympathy.
"I knew if I gave up much more, it was 'game over,' " he said. "So that's what I told myself: 'That's it.' "
And it was.
While Peavy (7-7) earned early style points in striking out the first five Tigers he faced, Verlander (11-5) was at his best late. He faced one batter over the minimum in his final five innings and set down the last nine hitters he faced.
In the eighth inning, Verlander's pitches hovered in the high 90s and triple digits.
"It's pretty electric when a guy can do what he does late in a game like that," manager Jim Leyland said. "He turned it up a notch when he had to, but we've seen that before."
Verlander's seventh win in eight starts provided the latest indication the Tigers are, as Verlander said, "the team everyone expected."
They entered their 94th game at a familiar crossroads. For the fourth straight season, Detroit began its 94th game at 49-44. The past two years took wildly divergent paths, with the Tigers staggering to a .500 finish in 2010 and winning 95 games last season.
Now, a team with outsized expectations and a $132 million payroll is ready to pounce. Detroit can move into first place today.
"Right now, you're seeing a pretty good club that's playing pretty good," Leyland said.
"I think we've got the fans excited again."
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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