Verlander delivers as Tigers split series with A's

Verlander delivers as Tigers split series with A's

Verlander delivers as Tigers split series with A's
OAKLAND -- Justin Verlander is still the Tigers' constant.

Weary of the checkerboard pattern of wins and losses on the calendar? Worried about an offense that has been feast-or-famine lately? Verlander is your salve, and Sunday's 3-1 win over the A's was the demonstration why.

The biggest worry afterwards in fact, was the salve on the cracked callous on Verlander's thumb, even though he said it shouldn't prevent him from making his next start.

Verlander won 16 times last season after a Tigers loss, and his seven innings of two-hit ball on Sunday were good enough for his third such win this year.

He's a big reason why the Tigers have lost more than two games in a row only once this year, even while the Tigers rotation has given Detroit several other chances at wins.

Verlander has won 13 straight decisions on the road, the longest such streak by a Tiger since Denny McLain had 16 in his 30-win season of 1968.

On Sunday, Verlander was good enough for the offense to pull him ahead without a hit to drive in the go-ahead run. Even if it isn't a conscious effort on the team's part, it's uncanny.

"Don't relish them," Verlander said of following losses. "Don't want to be that guy. But I like being the guy that when I take the mound, the team looks to in those situations and feels like we've got a good chance to win.

"Really, I think they should feel that with every guy we have. I just go out there and do whatever I can."

It wasn't as much as Verlander would've liked, because the callous that had built up over the last couple starts busted open and bled, costing him the opportunity to continue into the eighth.

On the other hand, it allowed him seven innings that were enough for the offense to rally and the bullpen to take it the rest of the way.

"He's their ace for a reason," A's first baseman Daric Barton said, "You have to tip your hats to him."

With an A's lineup that was missing six regulars -- Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Jemile Weeks, Kurt Suzuki, Kila Ka'aihue and Brandon Inge -- due to injuries, they seemed ready to tip their caps early.

Verlander not only retired Oakland's first 11 batters without much trouble, he seemed to toy with some of them, striking out four of Oakland's first eight hitters. Two of them came on full counts, with Verlander seemingly knowing he could execute a pitch when he had to, and the other two came on 0-2 pitches.

He seemed entirely capable of taking a no-hit bid into the later innings. The first hit he gave up was a jammed liner into shallow center field from Josh Reddick, who hurt plenty of other Tigers pitchers this series. It all made his one mistake pitch that much more startling, after Miguel Cabrera's two-out RBI single in the top of the fifth inning put the Tigers on the scoreboard first.

Verlander had to attack Seth Smith with a 2-0 fastball leading off the fifth inning, and Smith jumped on it, driving it up the Oakland Coliseum stairs behind the right-field fence for his sixth hit of the series and a 1-1 game.

"Giving up the homer to him right after we scored -- and really grinded to get that run -- that was tough," Verlander said. "But you have got to be able to reset and say that's the end of it, no more."

Just as important, the Tigers offense had to get more. They did it in unexpected fashion.

Lost in all the focus on Jackson's strikeout count is the fact that he leads this Tigers lineup in walks -- more than reigning AL on-base percentage champion Miguel Cabrera, more than former NL walks leader Prince Fielder -- and it isn't close.

Jackson's 18th walk of the year was the third in a row from A's pitchers to turn Brennan Boesch's two-out double into the go-ahead run. It came at the end of an eight-pitch battle with deposed A's closer Grant Balfour, following eight balls in a nine-pitch span from rookie starter Jarrod Parker.

"In that situation, you've still got to be ready to hit," Jackson said. "I think the at-bat before when [Ryan] Raburn drew four balls, in that situation maybe you take one to make him throw a strike. But [with a] new pitcher coming in, I think you have to be ready to hit in that situation. Sometimes that's the best one that you might see in that at-bat.

"I fouled off some good pitches to hit and did my best to try to get my foot down and see the ball. He ended up throwing me a ball and I got a walk."

That was enough for Verlander, who regrouped to retire nine of his final 10 batters after Smith's home run. The bullpen duo of Joaquin Benoit of Jose Valverde had enough to take it the final two innings.

"Obviously I want to go back out, but the risk-reward, seventh inning and we've got Joaquin and Valverde lined up to go, there's no point going out there and risk maybe something serious happening," Verlander said. "Maybe if it's the World Series, I'm going back out there, who cares. But at this point in the season early on, you don't want to cause something that's going to linger for a period of time."

The way he's pitching, the way the Tigers are going, they need him. He's the constant.

Jason Beck is a reporter for 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.