ST. PETERSBURG -- Just under a year after Justin Verlander started his resurgence by winning a pitchers' duel at Tropicana Field, he pulled out another low-scoring battle over the Rays on Saturday.
While Verlander wasn't quite as dominant in the rematch, his seven innings of two-run, four-hit ball with eight strikeouts were enough to carry Detroit once Ian Kinsler's fifth-inning solo home run put the Tigers ahead for good in an eventual 3-2 win.
The Tigers moved five games over .500 for the first time since May 30, 2015, and gained a game on the Indians, whose 14-game winning streak ended Saturday. Detroit's fifth straight victory was its third in the four-game series, creating a chance at a sweep on Sunday.
Verlander (8-6), making his first start since a four-homer inning doomed him against Cleveland last Sunday, held the Rays to sacrifice flies from Evan Longoria in the fourth inning and Logan Morrison in the sixth. An errant pickoff throw from Verlander set up the first tally, moving Logan Forsythe from first to third ahead of Longoria's loft.
"It was a good win," said Verlander, who improved to 8-3 lifetime against the Rays. "Obviously, I'm a little upset at myself for the error, but in the end, I made pitches when I needed to, and we were able to come away with the W."
Rays rookie Blake Snell (1-3) tried to keep pace, showing wild but nasty breaking pitches for most of his 5 1/3 innings. But two walks ahead of Jose Iglesias' RBI single in the second inning and a pitch he'd like back to Kinsler were too much to overcome.
"It definitely seems like any mistake or something that works against us seems to turn into a run against us right now," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I think the best way we overcome that is go out and ... create the runs ourselves. Give the guys some breathing room."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Kinsler crush: Kinsler had been just 14-for-73 at the plate since his last home run June 13, and 1-for-10 in this series, when he faced Snell in the fifth inning and sent a breaking ball out to left field. His 15th home run of the season, and 199th of his career, gave Detroit a 2-1 lead.
"I'll take a broken-bat single, anything," Kinsler said. "It seems like the last week I've kind of been hitting the ball on the nose and nothing to show for it, and the ones that I didn't hit that hard are outs, too. It was nice to hit it where they're not playing and get a run for Justin."
Don't call it a comeback: The Rays were down, 1-0, when Longoria hit his sacrifice fly to tie it in the fourth inning. It was the first time the Rays have come back to tie a game or take a lead since June 15.
Down 0-2, no worries:Justin Upton was buried in an 0-2 count against Snell in the sixth but fouled off three pitches to stay alive, including two good curveballs, before lining a full-count changeup to the fence in left-center for a leadoff double.
Snell put Jarrod Saltalamacchia in an 0-2 count as well, but a wild pitch moved Upton to third before Saltalamacchia sent a sacrifice fly to center to make it 3-1.
Not enough: The Rays, who were trying to chip away at the Tigers' slim lead all afternoon, had a good chance in the eighth against reliever Justin Wilson. Curt Casali singled to lead off the inning, but it was immediately erased on a double play by Forsythe, and Brad Miller struck out.
"We'll show frustration," Cash said. "We all will do that, because we care a lot. But we're not going to set it to where we're hanging heads and we're dragging through nine innings. This team is committed to going out and providing the effort that needs to win Major League games. Unfortunately, we're not doing it right now." More >
"Not when you're not in first place, there's not. … We've played better lately. We're back over .500, five games now. But that's not where we want to be. We want to be much better than that." -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, on the significance of moving five games over .500 for the first time
"I would agree. There is a lot more I have to offer. At the same time, I have to be confident in the zone. I have to pound the zone. That's something I need to work on." -- Snell, on fans not seeing the best of him yet
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Kinsler's 15 home runs are the most by a Tigers second baseman before the All-Star break since Damion Easley, who had 19 going into the break in 1998.
WHAT'S NEXT Tigers:Mike Pelfrey (2-7, 5.02 ERA) takes the mound for Sunday's 1:10 p.m. ET series finale against the Rays having allowed 12 hits in each of his last two starts, neither lasting more than 5 1/3 innings. He has a lower ERA on the road (4.19) than at home (5.70), but he's 0-5 away from Comerica Park.
Rays:Chris Archer (4-11, 4.76) enters Sunday's finale leading the Majors with 11 losses, but his 117 strikeouts are among the leaders in the American League. His first-inning struggles have prevented him from keeping the Rays in games early.