DETROIT: Contrary to all logic and reason, when the Detroit Tigers announced that Justin Verlander would pitch Saturday night, fans everywhere should have known the Indians were even money to win the game.
Maybe not quite all logic and reason. There is Verlander’s telling history against the Indians, who evened the series at one game apiece with a 7-6 victory.
Then again Ubaldo Jimenez has a history against the Tigers, and it’s not very encouraging, especially in Detroit.
Jimenez (3-2, 5.55 ERA) came into the game dragging around the baggage of a 1-6 record and a 7.45 ERA at Comerica Park. Nevertheless, he outpitched Verlander (4-3, 1.40 ERA), who gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits and five walks in six innings. He also struck out seven, which on this night was almost irrelevant.
Perhaps we are seeing a new Jimenez. He yielded only one run, on a Jhonny Peralta home run, three hits and one walk, striking out eight in six innings.
“The movement on Ubaldo’s two-seamer was really good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He kept his fastball down and there was a lot action on it. His off-speed pitches always are good, but his fastball helped make them better.”
Jimenez has won three starts in a row, posting a 1.45 ERA. The last time he won three consecutive games was between July 9-19, 2011, when he still was the property of the Colorado Rockies.
“That gives me more confidence right now when I go to the mound,” Jimenez said. “I know I’m going to throw strikes and give my team a chance to win.”
Francona went to the bullpen after the sixth, even though Jimenez had thrown only 93 pitches.
“We talked to him; it was apparent that we should get him out of there,” Francona said. “He was ready to come out.”
Added Jimenez: “I didn’t feel that good after that inning. I was a little tired and I waited through some long innings.”
Jimenez probably didn’t know that the Tribe has been Verlander’s nemesis for years.
Over the course of his career, he has lost to the Indians 14 times (and beat them 14 times), more than any other opponent. Granted, because the Tigers are the in Central Division, Verlander faces the Wily Wahoos three or four times a season. But he has only two career losses to the Kansas City Royals, seven to the Minnesota Twins and 10 to the Chicago White Sox, all division rivals.
Verlander’s 4.57 ERA against the Indians is highest for any opponent against whom he has more than four decisions.
Moreover, he often has been good but not lucky against the Tribe. Last year, for example, he posted a 2.45 ERA but his record was only 1-2.
Saturday night, he threw 35 pitches in the first inning and 62 through two innings. He did well to keep his pitch count to 110 in five. It was the first inning that ruined the outing for Verlander, who gave up a single to Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher’s RBI double and three walks, including one that forced in a run.
“We talked about it before the game,” Francona said of being patient against Verlander. “We wanted to make him work for everything. Sometimes the best way to beat him is to get him out of the game before the seventh inning.
“Our effort against Verlander was good, the way we drove his pitch count up.”
Manufacturing a 4-1 lead against Verlander and expanding it to 6-1 against the Tigers bullpen didn’t seal the win. Nick Hagadone and Cody Allen combined to give up four runs to cut the Tribe lead to 6-5 before Jason Giambi’s sacrifice fly drove a run in the eighth.
Chris Perez had to work hard for his sixth save after Swisher made an error to give the Tigers a base runner with one out in the ninth. Perez followed by giving up two singles, as the Tigers trimmed the deficit to one run.
It could have been worse. Jason Kipnis stabbed Austin Jackson’s hard ground ball up the middle and flipped a behind-the-back throw to second for a force to get the second out.
“That saved me,” Perez said. “It was the play of the game for sure.”
With two outs and runners at first and second, it came down to retiring Miguel Cabrera, who on a full count mis-hit a slow bouncer to third to end the game.
Cabrera came into the game 4-for-8 with a home run and double against Perez.