Vintage Verlander not quite enough for Tigers

Ace delivers again in must-win game, but offense comes up empty

Vintage Verlander not quite enough for Tigers

ATLANTA -- Justin Verlander stepped up again with the Tigers' season on the line. It was a fitting performance for a season that summoned memories of his younger greatness, when he ended postseason series.

"This is what Justin thrives on, these type of games, this type of scenario, back against the wall," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think this is probably when he's at his best."

It ended up going for naught because Braves ace Julio Teheran did him one better. And somehow, Sunday's 1-0 loss to the Braves was an ending that followed the pattern of a season in which the Tigers kept knocking the door of greatness but could never quite break into the lead pack in the American League.

"It's kind of tough to talk about [my performance] personally right now," Verlander said. "I know I pitched well, but it doesn't make me feel any better right now."

Verlander's seven strong innings

Even if it doesn't, it's enough to make Tigers fans feel a little better about their hopes for next season.

Verlander had a 4.30 ERA after his first 16 starts, culminating in his eight-run debacle against the Indians at Comerica Park. From there, he posted a 1.98 ERA in his final 18 starts. Sunday was the ninth time in that stretch he allowed an earned run or fewer. Four of those games ended in a Detroit loss.

It was the third time the Tigers lost a 1-0 game with Verlander on the mound. As the Tigers stare at the thin margin that kept them out of the postseason, those games loom larger than others.

"Justin kept us in the game, did what he needed to do," Ian Kinsler said. "We just couldn't come through offensively."

What he did was spot his fastball with precision following a first-inning run assembled on back-to-back singles and a Freddie Freeman sacrifice fly. His only walk was an intentional pass to Nick Markakis in the sixth, setting up his strikeout of Tyler Flowers to strand a runner on third. He reached just four other three-ball counts in his seven innings, two of them in the opening inning.

Verlander ends the threat

By contrast, five of his eight strikeouts began with 0-2 counts.

Teheran matched him, and in the run category, surpassed him. But Verlander has always insisted he never considers himself pitching against another starter. The only awareness he had of what Teheran was doing was on the scoreboard.

"Obviously I know the game's going along quickly, so I know he's doing well," he said, "but I don't sit there and watch that. I focus on what I've got to do."

Now, he has to focus on next season and carrying forward with his second-half surge. Still, as baseball winds through October, he's going to lament the missed opportunity to be a part of it.

"I mean, you can't say a wasted year, because we battled and we gave it everything we had," he said. "Unfortunately we had some really key injuries that kind of hampered us there for a while. But still, you put in all the hard work in the offseason, all the hard work in the regular season, and then it comes to an end on the last day, it's tough."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.