Verlander fans 12 as Tigers walk off with sweep

Verlander fans 12 as Tigers walk off with sweep

Verlander fans 12 as Tigers walk off with sweep
DETROIT -- The Blue Jays went two years and 13 innings between hits off Justin Verlander. They nearly got out of town with two hits strung together being enough for a victory.

Then came Brennan Boesch's first hit in two weeks, followed by what seemed like Austin Jackson's first diving catch in a Tigers uniform. Finally came Alex Avila's first hit in over a week, an 11th-inning single scoring Quintin Berry for a 3-2 walk-off win at Comerica Park.

It took that kind of day for the Tigers to complete a three-game series sweep against an injury-riddled Toronto lineup and pitching staff. But then, it was that kind of series, in which they turned 11 runs over three games into a sweep with two one-run decisions and another game in which they stranded the tying run on base.

"We won, and that's what you look at," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, whose team pulled within 1 1/2 games of the idle first-place White Sox in the American League Central standings. "We're looking for wins. We've got a good offense. We didn't do a whole lot this series offensively, but I know our offense is good. It could break out at any time. ...

"But this just goes to show you what you talk about from Day 1 of Spring Training: Pitching's going to decide whether you win or not. Fortunately today, Verlander gave us a chance to win the game, and the bullpen did the same thing."

He seemingly had a chance to do more than that. He'll take what they got.

"I feel like this series was a sign of the team grinding it out, doing the little things that you can to win," Verlander said. "We didn't shock and awe anyone. We didn't bang the ball all over the field. We pitched pretty good and had clutch hits when we needed them."

On a day that seemed tailor-made for Verlander to take another shot at history against the team he no-hit in their last meeting, he took a duel with J.A. Happ into the late innings before settling for his first-ever nine-inning no-decision. As it turned out, they were just getting started.

With Jose Bautista not yet back, Adam Lind shelved and David Cooper ailing, the Blue Jays fielded a lineup with three rookies and only Edwin Encarnacion batting better than .253 in extensive playing time. Fitting, then, that Encarnacion had the crushing hit off Verlander, even though it wasn't the first hit.

Verlander held Toronto hitless for three innings with a walk and three strikeouts before Colby Rasmus, mired in an 0-for-26 slump, grounded a single just out of the reach of Omar Infante and through the right side.

It was Toronto's first hit off Verlander since 2010. Four pitches later, they had their second. With one swing on a 1-2 curveball, Encarnacion immediately changed the tone of the game, sending his 33rd homer of the year deep to left for a 2-0 Toronto lead.

"Not a great pitch, but it wasn't a bad one," Verlander said. "Guys like that, that are having years like this, sometimes you've got to tip your hat."

With Miguel Cabrera having left the game in the second inning with a sore right ankle, the Tigers suddenly felt like the offensively hobbled team trying to scratch out runs. And Verlander, not Happ, felt like the hard-luck pitcher. He pitched stronger late and struck out eight Jays in an 11-batter stretch, starting with a 100-mph fastball he blew by Encarnacion on purpose.

Not until the last of them, a strikeout of Kelly Johnson leading off the ninth, did Verlander have new life.

"His pure stuff just kind of beat them, basically, through those innings," Avila said. "The way that Happ was going, I think he was thinking [to] keep them to two runs."

Happ continued Detroit's woes this week against southpaw starters by allowing just three singles over his first seven innings until Avila's leadoff walk in the eighth chased him. When Jackson greeted ex-Tiger Brandon Lyon with an ensuing single, Detroit put its first runner in scoring position.

Up came Boesch to hit in the third spot, where Ramon Santiago had taken Cabrera's spot once he left in the second inning. Leyland had told Boesch he was going to use him at some point, even if it ended up against a left-handed pitcher. Once the Jays brought on lefty Darren Oliver, that was the situation.

Boesch sent the first pitch he saw through the middle, not only plating Avila but sending Jackson to third, where he broke on Oliver's pitch in the dirt to Prince Fielder for the tying run.

Jackson's diving catch on Anthony Gose's liner to right-center kept the game tied in the 10th, but Detroit couldn't convert two chances with Jackson in scoring position in the bottom of the inning. Not until pinch-runner Berry stole second with one out in the 11th, having entered when Delmon Young beat out a double play throw, did the Tigers convert.

It ended up on the shoulders of Avila, who had been 0-for-12 since singling in Minnesota and 1-for-25 with 12 strikeouts over eight games. In his favor, Jays manager John Farrell was out of lefty relievers to throw at him, so he threw a right-hander he had never seen.

"He's got a good sinkerball and he's got a good slider," Avila said. "Basically, my plan was just to get a pitch up. ... That was basically it, just making sure I see it up and put a line drive somewhere."

He sent it right in front of Gose, whose diving catch had robbed Cabrera in the opening inning. Instead of diving, he tried to play the hop for a throw home. Berry gave him no chance.

With that, the game that seemed set up for them finally went their way.

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.