Fateful fourth inning disappoints Verlander

Fateful fourth inning disappoints Verlander

HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander had a three-run lead, a low pitch count and high hopes about his pitches. With the middle of the Astros order due up in the fourth, he had a chance to put the game in the Tigers' control.

These are the situations where he usually earns his status. As he surveyed the damage late Thursday night following Detroit's 7-6 loss, including three home runs in that fourth inning, he had a hard time figuring out how it got to that point.

"A little bit of missed location, a little bit of balls flying, a little bit of everything," Verlander said, shaking his head. "I didn't pitch great. I let those guys elevate the balls on a night when the ball was flying pretty good. It kind of stinks when we score that many runs.

"It would've been nice for us to come back and win that game. I thought we had a good chance. But it starts and ends with me."

Only once in his career had Verlander surrendered more than two homers in an inning. That was the infamous four-homer fifth against the Indians last June 26 at Comerica Park. After that, he went 9-3 with a 1.98 ERA in his final 18 starts last year.

Time will tell if this serves as a similar point for his 2017 season.

"It feels really close," Verlander said. "If the [pregame] bullpen [session] counted as the game, then it's probably a no-hitter. But all these things -- my last bullpen, this bullpen, warming up for the game, the first few innings -- they're all really good signs. It's just a matter of putting it together and making pitches when I need to."

Verlander took the mound for the fourth throwing to Alex Avila, who replaced an injured James McCann in the top of the inning. After a leadoff walk to Jose Altuve, Verlander put Carlos Correa in an 0-2 count before making his first mistake, going to his breaking ball for a third pitch in a row. This one didn't break much before Correa hit it out.

"Just a hanging curveball," Avila said. "It was a bad pitch. He was able to get it up in the air to those boxes out there."

Verlander put Evan Gattis in an 0-2 count before he blooped a single to center. As Marwin Gonzalez stepped in, Avila and Verlander tried to figure out how to approach him. While Verlander said the catching change wasn't an excuse, he admitted they weren't on the same page at times.

"I was thinking first-pitch changeup there," Verlander said, "and we fumbled through some signs and finally just settled on a heater in and said, 'Let's throw it.' And he hit a homer. It's one of those things. Ultimately, it's my call."

After Alex Bregman lined out to left, Verlander fell behind on Juan Centeno and hung a slider. Centeno hit it out to left for his second homer of the series and a 6-4 Astros lead.

Verlander yielded six runs on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings. A Tigers' rally took him off the hook for the loss, keeping him 5-0 for his career against the Astros. It did not erase the damage.

"I thought the first few innings were really good, best I've felt so far this season," Verlander said. "I just kind of got out of it a little bit. I felt like I was really close. I felt like I had it going. That one inning just killed me."

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.