Dirks' three RBIs back Verlander in Seattle

Dirks' three RBIs back Verlander in Seattle

Dirks' three RBIs back Verlander in Seattle
SEATTLE -- Forget about the standings. The way the Mariners seem to play the Tigers every time, Detroit had to battle to finally get a win.

In the end, after Don Kelly's dive into the stands finally ended the Mariners' rally and finished off the Tigers' 6-4 victory, that's all that mattered for them.

"My team won," closer Jose Valverde said. "That's all I want."

That's all any of them wanted, the way the Mariners seemingly had them flummoxed in four losses already this season, including Monday's Mariners comeback. By the end, the Tigers' efforts to finally break the skid left them watching from all over.

Valverde watched Kelly's game-ending watch from the figurative tightrope, having loaded the bases on walks -- one of them intentional to put the potential winning run on base and face rookie Jesus Montero instead of All-Star Ichiro.

It took 31 pitches for Valverde to get to the game-ending pop fly, a slicing ball that carried defensive replacement Kelly tumbling into the seats to make the catch. But after Detroit's bullpen had taken the Tigers' previous three losses, Valverde was one to end the streak of struggles.

"We're making it tough on ourselves," manager Jim Leyland said, "but we got it."

Leyland was watching from the edge of the couch in his office, where he spent much of the game after his third-inning argument with home-plate umpire Brian Knight earned him his first ejection of the year. He had watched Valverde walk the eighth and ninth hitters, Mike Carp and Michael Saunders, to put the tying run on.

He then watched acting manager Lloyd McClendon call for the intentional walk to Ichiro Suzuki that put him on as the potential winning run, a move Leyland said "made all the sense in the world" to put the pressure on the rookie Montero to make a play.

He jumped from his couch and yelled when Valverde spotted a fastball around the outside corner, only to not get the call from Knight. But it was emotion like that that put him in his office so soon, leaving him to watch Kelly's game-ending catch from inside.

"I'll make this simple: I just wasn't happy with the strike zone," Leyland said of the ejection. "I let them know it, and they let me know where to go. That's pretty much how it worked."

That exchange came on a 1-2 curveball from starter Justin Verlander to Mariners designated hitter John Jaso with two outs in the third after Seattle had turned a 5-0 deficit into a 5-3 game. Verlander's reaction on the very next pitch, a 2-2 fastball at the knees that also wasn't called, could have earned the Cy Young winner and MVP a spot in the clubhouse with his manager.

"What I told Brian," Verlander said, "was I don't want to yell in the middle of an inning, but these guys have a rally going. I can't really wait in between innings to voice my opinion. ...

"Your adrenaline's really going, so instead of, 'Hey, Brian, where've you got that?' it comes out a bit more aggressively than that. But what are you going to do?"

In Verlander's case, he went back to the mound before any more trouble could come about, thanks in part to catcher Gerald Laird's diplomacy. He couldn't afford to let Verlander risk ejection, but with starting catcher Alex Avila sidelined, he couldn't pick up the argument for him, either. So he told Knight he'd take care of it.

"There's no hard feelings. It's just the heat of the moment," Laird said he told Knight, a message Verlander echoed on his way out after six innings and three runs allowed.

By keeping his cool and finding his rhythm after what he called four of the toughest innings he can remember, Verlander (3-1) extended his road unbeaten streak to 12 straight decisions since July, continuing the longest such streak by a Tigers starter since Denny McLain in 1968. Yet, it marked his first win at Safeco Field since 2008, when he led the American League in losses.

"I think everybody was ready to hit something early," said Mariners leadoff hitter Dustin Ackley. "But the fact maybe we were laying off some pitches early and making him work, taking some borderline pitches that were called balls, really helped us. Some guys put some good swings on balls and we scratched a few runs together."

By keeping his cool through that, Verlander not only survived long enough to adjust, he helped Laird avoid having to argue and risk ejection himself. If Laird was gone, Detroit might have been left with emergency catcher Kelly behind the plate.

Instead, Kelly spent the final couple of innings in right field, in position to become a hero on Montero's fly ball.

"You just see it up there and you're just going after it," Kelly said. "You don't even look at the stands. You're focused on the ball, trying to get over there and make a play."

He didn't know he'd have to go into the stands to make it, and he still didn't know after the fact what or who he hit. All he knows is that when first baseman Prince Fielder pulled him back onto the field, the ball was still in his glove.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.