Verlander finds groove to get back in win column

Verlander finds groove to get back in win column

Verlander finds groove to get back in win column
CHICAGO -- Manager Jim Leyland described baseball at Wrigley Field as more of a happening than a game. The audible Detroit fans contributed more than a portion of the largest mid-week attendance ever in a three-game series at Wrigley, loudly cheering the Tigers to their second consecutive road series win.

Even four-time All-Star pitcher Justin Verlander couldn't believe the intensity of the crowd as he began warming up before tossing eight innings to earn his first win since May 18 against Pittsburgh in a 5-3 victory Thursday afternoon.

"The fans were incredible," Verlander said. "I got chills out in the outfield running when I was warming up. I just jogged out to center and back, and they went nuts. The whole outfield bleachers was really loud."

Verlander admitted the Thursday crowd of 42,292 -- the largest of the season at Wrigley Field -- may have fired him up too much before he grounded into a fielder's choice in his first at-bat.

After allowing two runs in the second inning, Verlander settled down on the mound and at the dish. He didn't allow another Cubs player to reach scoring position over the next six innings, and placed down two perfect sacrifice bunts, the second moving Ryan Raburn into scoring position in the seventh inning.

Verlander was content remaining hitless in 22 career Major League at-bats.

"I said, 'I hope I go 0-for-0 with four sac bunts,'" Verlander said. "In reality, it's fun to swing the bat, but I want guys on base and I want our team to have the opportunity to score runs."

That attitude allowed center fielder Austin Jackson to break a 2-2 tie by knocking Raburn in on the next at-bat with an RBI single to left field for his second hit of the game, giving the Tigers a lead they would not relinquish.

Jackson knocked in two essential runs in the ninth inning on his seventh home run of the season to increase the Tigers' lead to 5-2, scoring pinch-hitter Don Kelly, who reached on a triple past a diving Tony Campana in center. The runs provided the insurance Detroit needed, as Jose Valverde allowed one run in the ninth inning before striking out Alfonso Soriano to earn his 13th save.

"It's a lot more fun when you have fans cheering you on, when you hear that, 'Let's go, Tigers,' chant on the road," Jackson said. "It's a really good feeling."

The rival chants between the three-game combined total of 124,782 Cubs and Tigers fans continued throughout the series.

"All you had to do was look," Leyland said. "There was so much orange around the ballpark. It was really a neat atmosphere."

Verlander earned his first win in five starts to give the Tigers the series victory. He had suffered a loss in his three previous decisions before Thursday, marking the first three-game losing streak he's had since September 2008.

A trip to Wrigley Field against the last-place Cubs is just what Verlander needed, as he improved to 17-2 in 23 career games Interleague Play.

"You don't take anybody for granted at this level," Verlander said. "They've got a lot of pieces. They've got that little scrappy leadoff guy [Campana]. He gets on base and wreaks havoc. That's the guy, for me, today, that I focused on."

Campana went 0-for-3 off Verlander before doubling and scoring off Valverde.

"My first at-bat, he was throwing it seemed like [batting practice] fastballs, they were like 90 miles an hour," Campana said. "Sometimes you look up at the board and he was throwing 97. Adding and subtracting, that keeps us off balance -- that's good pitching."

The Tigers spotted their starter two runs in the first two innings on RBI doubles by first baseman Prince Fielder and second baseman Raburn. Fielder entered the game hitting .545 with runners in scoring position since May 25.

Detroit grounded into three double plays in the next four innings before taking the lead in the seventh. The most double plays turned against the Tigers this season was four, by Minnesota on May 26.

Raburn made his first appearance at Wrigley Field, joining the club from Triple-A Toledo for the series finale when the Tigers sent pitcher Drew Smyly to the 15-day disabled list. He added an infield single in the seventh inning, scoring the go-ahead run on Jackson's single.

"It's really a good game for your team," Leyland said. "It wasn't like the big guys just carried you this trip. You can't expect them to carry you all the time."

Rowan Kavner is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.