"He definitely pitched well enough to win," catcher Alex Avila said of his ace after Thursday's 2-0 shutout to the Mariners. "We just couldn't bring any runs across."
It wasn't nearly as back-and-forth of a duel as the strikeout display Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer put on Wednesday night. In some ways, it fit a David and Goliath analogy better, pitting the overpowering Verlander against a sleep-deprived Mariners lineup that has struggled to plate runs against a lot of pitchers.
The Tigers, meanwhile, had their chances against Hisashi Iwakuma, the veteran Japanese right-hander who was allowing a hit about every other inning to go with a 16-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
This was the game that clearly seemed in their favor going into the series, giving them a tiebreaker if they split the first two games. When they outlasted Hernandez to pull out a win in the 14th inning Wednesday night, Thursday became their chance at their first sweep in Seattle since 2006.
Instead, Iwakuma added the Tigers to the list of offenses he has tamed, joining them with the A's, White Sox and Rangers. It wasn't about a Japanese pitcher whose deceptiveness the Tigers couldn't pick up the first time around; they saw him in long relief last year. It wasn't about a lethargic lineup coming off extra innings, but they had enough hard-hit outs to suggest solid contact.
He didn't even rack up strikeouts this time, getting just a pair of third strikes on Andy Dirks. But when Austin Jackson centered a line drive that sent Endy Chavez into the gap leading off the game, followed two batters later by a fly out to the left-field warning track from Miguel Cabrera, it was the right setup for a long afternoon.
They're not quite sure how he did it, but he did it. Their damage off of him consisted of three singles, their only runner in scoring position reaching on a leadoff walk and a groundout in the fifth.
"He spots the ball," manager Jim Leyland said. "His hits per innings pitched are fantastic. He's good. He just locates the ball. He can get a little extra when he wants to. He locates it very well, changes speed, throws this into that count, that into this count. He was very impressive."
He was not Verlander, who had two separate stretches when it looked like Seattle would be fortunate to get a hard-hit ball against him. He struck out four of the first six batters he faced, with a Kendrys Morales double and Michael Morse groundout mixed in. After giving up four hits the second time through, he fanned five out of six batters from the fifth inning into the seventh.
When he fanned Kelly Shoppach leading off the seventh, he joined Scherzer as the first Tigers starters to put up double-digit strikeouts in consecutive games since 1984. When he sent a 94 mph fastball past Dustin Ackley for his 11th strikeout, he seemed poised for one of those special games.
He was a strike away from fanning the side in order, with Robert Andino struggling to foul off fastballs, when he hung a 2-2 curveball that set up his demise. He didn't like his curve all day, but he wanted a different speed.
"I just kind of felt like after the fastball i threw, when he took it right out of Alex's glove, I wanted something with a little more separation," he said. "My slider at the time was 87-88. I felt like something with a little more separation from my fastball would've been more beneficial. I hung it, though, too. I can't blame it entirely on pitch selection."
Andino's grounder through the left side led M's manager Eric Wedge to pinch-hit with Kyle Seager, 1-for-6 with an infield single in Wednesday's marathon.
"Any opportunity, albeit slight, you're going to try to take advantage of it," Wedge said. "Until we get everything going, any opportunity you can try to create for yourself you're going to try to do."
Seager went up looking to jump a fastball. He got it, and Verlander was kicking himself later.
"It was a bad pitch," Verlander said. "Obviously, I'm not taking away credit from him. He came up and jumped a first-pitch fastball. But I didn't execute it either. It was belt-high on the outer half. For what he was trying to do right there, it was a perfect pitch. Not for what I was trying to do."
Avila put it another way.
"Fastball away. He hit it, went with it well," he said. "He took what we gave him."
Dirks struggled to corral it in the left-field corner as third-base coach Jeff Datz waved Andino home. It was Datz who made the aggressive call to send Justin Smoak home as the potential tying run in the 14th inning Thursday night, forcing the Tigers to make a play. They did then, but they couldn't this time.
Chavez went to a full count on Verlander before dumping a soft line drive into short left field, soft enough to send Seager home before Dirks could get to the ball.
Verlander (2-2) finished with 126 pitches, 89 of them strikes. Two pitches aren't much to regret. That's what Iwakuma's performance against Detroit's lineup, and Carter Capps' two innings of relief for his first Major League win, reduced the game to.
"Just one of those games," Verlander said with a shrug.