Published May 24, 2012
CLEVELAND – The stadium scoreboard flashed 102 mph, drawing a gasp from the crowd.
With one purposeful pitch, Justin Verlander unleashed all the pent-up frustration simmering inside the Detroit Tigers.
Their season isn't going as planned.
Rocked for a home run on his third pitch, Verlander suffered a rare loss to Cleveland as the Indians beat the Cy Young winner and the underperforming Tigers 2-1 on Thursday to complete a three-game sweep and drop Detroit six games back in the AL Central.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland and first-base coach Tom Brookens were ejected in the fifth inning of the series finale. The Tigers have lost six of eight and are just 11-21 after a 9-3 start.
"I think there's a little tension," Verlander said. "I think we're all feeling that way. Emotions run high. We would have liked to start out hot and be 30-10 right now, but that's not the case. We know it's there. We just have to find it."
Verlander gave up a homer to Shin-Soo Choo in the first and was touched for a second run in the fourth, when Jose Lopez dropped an RBI single into right. Other than that, Verlander was Mr. MVP Verlander, allowing just six hits with seven strikeouts in eight innings.
Incredibly, he was most dominant in his last inning.
He struck out Choo to start the inning, fanned Jason Kipnis, who whiffed at pitches of 100 and 101 before uncorking his 102 mph heater — a ball on his 116th pitch — before striking out Asdrubal Cabrera with a 84 mph curveball. Cabrera flipped his helmet in surrender before heading to the dugout.
Verlander (5-2) insisted he didn't throw the pitch to intimidate the Indians.
"I wasn't trying to send a message," he said. "I was trying to light a spark. I thought if I could dominate an inning and get our guys back in quick, maybe something would happen."
After hearing the crowd's reaction, Verlander took a peek at the scoreboard reading.
"It was kind of a mix of adrenaline and the situation. I knew it was probably my last inning and, here it is, hit it. Here's everything I've got."
Leyland was astounded by Verlander's 11-pitch eighth.
"It was really unbelievable," Leyland said. "The fact it was pretty hot, to go out there and make those pitches and then snap off a couple of breaking balls to Cabrera to strike him out. He just overpowered the other two guys."
Justin Masterson (2-3) matched Verlander pitch for pitch for first his career win over Detroit as the first-place Indians won their first three meetings with the Tigers in 2012. Cleveland lost the final 10 meetings between the clubs last season.
Detroit stranded 30 runners in the series and went just 3 of 28 (.107) with runners in scoring position. Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Delmon Young, the Tigers' 3-4-5 hitters, went a combined 0 for 12 with runners at second or third.
The Tigers also had some tough luck. A few balls that looked like hits off their bats turned into outs.
"We're not scoring," Leyland said. "We're not swinging. That pretty much sums it up. I don't know what else to tell you. I'd love to have something juicy for you, but I don't."
Although they may not be getting much national respect, the Indians have the Tigers' attention and closer Perez, who saved all three games in the series, believes others will begin giving Cleveland its due.
"We don't have the star power," Perez said. "You look over there and they've got Cabrera and Fielder and Verlander and Valverde. That doesn't win baseball games. Good teams win baseball games."
Frustration has been building for the Tigers, who signed Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million free agent contract in the off-season and were expected to dominate.
"You can only say it's early for so long," Verlander said. "We've got to get it turned around. It's disappointing the way we've been playing. Obviously, we all expected better."
Choo quickly ended any suspense whether Verlander would repeat his flirtation, crushing the right-hander's third pitch into the second deck in right — a 454-foot shot. Choo is batting .350 (14 of 40) in 10 games since moving into the leadoff spot.
The Indians got their other run when Michael Brantley blooped a single, stole second and scored when Lopez placed a single into short right.
That's how it's going for the Tigers.
"What bothers me is the two hits with two outs and nobody on — blooper, stolen base, blooper," Verlander said. "Stolen bases are part of the game and so are bloopers, but I'd rather have somebody score a run like Choo did, hit one a freaking mile long, than the way those guys did."
NOTES: Verlander has pitched at least six innings in 52 straight starts. It's the longest streak in the majors since Steve Carlton did it for 69 consecutive starts from Sept. 13, 1979 to April 13, 1982. ... Following the game, the Tigers placed CF Austin Jackson on the 15-day disabled list with an abdominal strain, a move retroactive to May 17. Jackson, batting .331 in the leadoff spot, hasn't played since May 16. He was in the lineup Tuesday, but aggravated the injury during batting practice. INF Ryan Raburn will return from the bereavement list Friday to take Jackson's roster spot. ... Verlander had won his past 13 decisions on the road.