"I don't want to take anything away from [Matt] Shoemaker," manager Brad Ausmus said after Saturday's 4-0 shutout to the Angels. "He did a very nice job. We have a pretty experienced, good offensive team and he was able to shut us down for seven innings."
Detroit will turn to 12-game winner Rick Porcello on Sunday afternoon to try to salvage a split of the four-game series opposite Hector Santiago, a rematch of a 2-1 pitching duel Porcello won in April at Comerica Park. In the process, the Tigers will try to end a 14-inning scoreless streak to Angels pitching, a run that has not included Jered Weaver or injured C.J. Wilson.
No Tiger has crossed the plate since Miguel Cabrera took a Tyler Skaggs pitch deep to right field in the fourth inning Friday night. At that point, Drew Smyly had a perfect game going and Angels hitters flummoxed. They've awakened since then for six runs over the last game and a half, while Detroit's hitters have looked somewhat flustered.
"We haven't swung the bats great the last couple days," Ausmus said. "Offenses go through ups and downs. That happens."
For the second consecutive night, the Tigers lost a battle with one of the Angels' young starters. This time, it was a Michigan-born kid. Shoemaker was an undrafted Angels signing six years ago out of Trenton, Mich., and Eastern Michigan University. He still makes Michigan his offseason home, but his Tigers fandom ended long ago.
He grew up with Justin Verlander as a role model, a fact that caught the 31-year-old Verlander -- a rookie on the 2006 World Series team Shoemaker watched while in college -- off-guard.
"Well, that's one of the first ones," Verlander said.
On Saturday, the youngster outpitched his onetime hero. In so doing, Shoemaker became the first Michigan-born starting pitcher to earn a win against the Tigers since Dearborn native Derek Lowe beat Detroit with the Dodgers on June 6, 2005. Current Angels reliever Jason Grilli, a former Tiger who was born in Royal Oak, Mich., earned a win over the Tigers on July 28, 2009, as part of the Texas Rangers bullpen.
"I've gotten so many encouraging messages from friends who are die-hard Tiger fans," Shoemaker said, "It was awesome because they were like 'Hey, we're rooting for you today.' So it was pretty special."
Once Shoemaker (8-3) stranded Ian Kinsler on third base by striking out Victor Martinez on a changeup to end the opening inning, the Tigers were largely observers. He retired 19 of the final 21 batters he faced after Kinsler's double, the two baserunners coming on singles from Eugenio Suarez in the third inning and Austin Jackson in the sixth.
Suarez was erased on a pickoff at first base after a replay challenge from Angels manager Mike Scioscia, one that Ausmus argued came too late. Crew chief Jim Joyce ejected Ausmus for arguing a replay review, and the ejection did nothing for the Tigers on the field.
With eight ground-ball outs and five strikeouts, Shoemaker had the best outing of his young Major League career, topping his 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball against Texas here last month. Not only did he shut down his hometown club, he outpitched Verlander, who kept his half of the pitching duel going for five innings before fading a little late.
"Pitched OK," Verlander said of his seven innings of three-run ball. "Not great, but OK."
There was reason for encouragement. His fastball, a seemingly conspicuous pitch most of the year, had some deceptiveness to it, though he paid for a 92 mph version that Efren Navarro sent into the right-field seats leading off the second for his first Major League home run.
The way Shoemaker pitched, Navarro ended up with the go-ahead RBI for the second consecutive night, having hit the sixth-inning single off Smyly on Friday night.
"One of the reassuring things," Ausmus said of Verlander, "is that he got some swings and misses on his fastball, which may be the change in the arm action. He's hiding the ball just a split second longer. The hitters are having a little more trouble picking it up.
"He threw some really good changeups. He threw some good curveballs. I mean, he threw well enough to win. We just couldn't muster up any offense today."