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DETROIT — Justin Verlander felt strong as he headed toward the dugout after the seventh inning of the Tigers’ 7-5 win over the Indians on Friday night.
So when he spotted Detroit manager Jim Leyland waiting for him on the steps — a sure sign his night was over — the ace reversed course. Verlander veered right and hurried into the dugout’s next entrance over.
He had hurled only seven pitches in the seventh. Maybe Leyland would reconsider.
"I tried to circumvent the system and not get the customary handshake when you’re done," Verlander said. "I tried to go the other way and sneak around him. But he was too quick for me."
Leyland was less amused, angrily saying afterward, "You might think that was comical. But I don’t think that was comical at all."
The headstrong ploy was classic Verlander, though, as was his performance on a night where all appeared back to normal at Comerica Park.
Verlander (8-4) continued to move beyond his mid-May flirtation with the less than extraordinary to earn his fourth straight win. Closer Jose Valverde inspired tension and jeers in allowing a pair of home runs in the ninth. And the Indians continued their free fall.
Detroit played unwelcome hosts as Verlander held Cleveland to three runs on seven hits — five of which came in the fifth — over seven innings while the Tigers battered enigmatic Tribe starter Ubaldo Jimenez.
Jimenez left with a 5-0 deficit after throwing 85 pitches through three-plus innings as the Indians (30-30) lost their fifth straight and 13th in 17 games to fall 3 1/2 games behind the AL Central-leading Tigers (33-26).
It was just the kind of night the Indians did not need. Their All-Star closer — Chris Perez — was charged Friday with marijuana possession, their All-Star shortstop — Asdrubal Cabrera — was just placed on the disabled list, and they were staggering through the teeth of 25 straight games against teams with a winning record.
Jimenez only made it worse, taking an outsized step backward after going 4-1 with a 2.74 ERA in his last seven starts. The right-hander was buffeted from every direction, by small ball and long ball, by walks, and a key error.
The Tigers got to him first with Victor Martinez’s homer to right to lead off the second inning, then added on 90 feet at a time. They pushed ahead 3-0 on the strength of seven straight at-bats in which the ball never left the infield. Two walks and a throwing error by first baseman Nick Swisher led to a run-scoring infield single by Torii Hunter and a bases-loaded walk to Miguel Cabrera.
The rest of Jimenez’s night went much the same, with him failing to record an out in the fourth. He allowed five runs — three earned — on seven hits while walking three.
Verlander packed all of his trouble into a three-run fifth, with singles by four of the Indians’ first five hitters giving way to a two-run double by Jason Kipnis that caromed off the heel of right-fielder Torii Hunter on the warning track. But with the tying run at second with one out, he got Swisher to pop out and Michael Brantley to fly out to center to avoid further damage.
Catcher Brayan Pena said he sees Verlander "getting better and better" this season.
"I feel like tonight was better than I had been," said Verlander, who struck out six. "I just had that one inning. It’s not like I got hit around too bad."
He then cruised through the sixth and seventh, finishing his night with 108 pitches and, by his judgment, plenty of throws still left in his right arm. Leyland thought otherwise.
"If he wants to be mad, he can be mad," Verlander said of his attempt to avoid the manager. "I wanted to stay in the game, and I had a quick inning. I wasn’t trying to play a joke on him. He always stands there and sticks out his hand. I figured if I snuck around him, he’d let me go back out there."
With the Tigers leading 7-3 in the ninth, Valverde allowed solo homers to Jason Giambi and Drew Stubbs — both on splitters he afterward called good pitches. But after Kipnis hit a two-out single to put the tying run on base, Valverde got Swisher to ground out to end the game.