DETROIT -- Justin Upton's go-ahead two-run homer punctuated a sixth-inning outburst in support of Justin Verlander, sending the Tigers to their fifth consecutive win with a 4-2 victory over the Angels on Friday night at Comerica Park.
The rally moved the Tigers within a game of the Orioles in the American League Wild Card standings. Detroit remains 4 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central.
"This is what you work for," said Verlander (14-7), who allowed four hits over 7 2/3 innings. "This is what you work so hard in the offseason for, so you can be strong at the end of the season and continue to give your team a chance to win when it really counts."
Albert Pujols' first-inning solo homer was the game's only offense for five innings despite eight baserunners in that span off Angels starter Ricky Nolasco. While Verlander settled in to retire 19 of 20 batters from the end of the first inning through the seventh, Detroit finally capitalized on Nolasco (4-12) with back-to-back doubles from Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez, followed by Upton's 17th home run of the season and his fourth of the week.
Cameron Maybin's seventh-inning solo homer provided an insurance run for Verlander, who won for the seventh time in eight decisions since July 2. Francisco Rodriguez entered with the potential tying run at the plate in the eighth and recorded his 36th save, his third of the four-out variety. His 422nd career save tied him with Billy Wagner for fifth on Major League Baseball's all-time list.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Early jump: Pujols drove an 0-1 fastball to the bullpen in left-center field to put the Angels on the board early. That was his 585th career homer, pulling him within one of Frank Robinson for ninth all-time. He also became the seventh player in MLB history with 15 or more seasons with 25 or more home runs.
Upton's tear continues: Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was hoping for improvement out of Upton after sitting him out of the starting lineup for three days last week, but maybe not this much. After his double down the left-field line set up a second-inning scoring chance Nolasco thwarted, Upton's go-ahead drive deep to left went an estimated 423 feet according to Statcast™. He improved to 10-for-24 with three doubles, four homers and 11 RBIs since his three-day break.
"That lineup is stacked top to bottom, so no matter how many times you face them, it's always a challenge," Nolasco said. "I have thrown some good games against them, and they've gotten me some games, too. What it comes down to is just making quality pitches the day that you're pitching. I thought I was making pretty good ones for the most part, but those two hanging sliders were the difference." More >
Eighth-inning rally: Verlander had retired 11 in a row when Kaleb Cowart picked up the Angels' first hit since the first inning. Two batters later, Kole Calhoun ripped an RBI double down the right-field line to cut the deficit to 4-2, ending Verlander's night. Rodriguez came in and issued a walk and a wild pitch to place two runners in scoring position for Pujols, who grounded out to shortstop.
Maybin homers: Though Maybin's left thumb continues to hurt when he swings a bat, he continues to hit up a storm since his return from the disabled list last Sunday. His seventh-inning loft over the right-field fence not only provided his first homer since his return, it added a big insurance tally. Maybin fell a triple shy of the cycle.
"The most important thing is they come to the ballpark every day thinking we've got a chance to win a ballgame. When you have that type of confidence, it becomes infectious, and hopefully builds some momentum." -- Ausmus
"I was able to make pitches and get out of those few innings before the sixth. It was two hanging sliders that I thought was the difference in the game, the one to J.D. and the homer [to Upton]. Those two pitches right there, if I could make a better pitch, maybe we're still in the game. It came down to two pitches, and they didn't miss them." -- Nolasco, on back-to-back big hits for the Tigers in the sixth
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Until Friday, Verlander hadn't given up a home run to Pujols since Game 1 of the 2006 World Series, when Pujols was with the St. Louis Cardinals. Verlander became the 377th Major League pitcher to give up a regular-season home run to Pujols.
WHAT'S NEXT Angels:Brett Oberholtzer (3-2, 5.27) starts Saturday's game at Comerica Park at 4:10 p.m. PT. Manager Mike Scioscia elected to have Oberholtzer make his first start of the season instead of Jhoulys Chacin, whom Scioscia prefers to pitch out of the bullpen.
Tigers:Michael Fulmer (10-4, 2.58) returns to the mound for the first time in eight days, starting the middle game of the three-game series Saturday at 7:10 p.m. ET. The rookie took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning against the Angels on June 1 in Anaheim.