HOUSTON -- The Tigers have seen it all -- the 2017 World Series championship and the success as the Astros' ace in baseball's best starting rotation. Sunday, they got their first crack at Justin Verlander as the Astros' hero. And they crushed him.Perhaps because they recognized something they found so
HOUSTON -- The Tigers have seen it all -- the 2017 World Series championship and the success as the Astros' ace in baseball's best starting rotation. Sunday, they got their first crack at Justin Verlander as the Astros' hero. And they crushed him.
Perhaps because they recognized something they found so familiar, the Tigers punched the legendary right-hander for season highs in home runs (four) and runs (six) to end a rough six-game losing streak with a 6-3 series finale win at Minute Maid Park.
"It was big for our baseball team," said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire. "Going up against Mr. Verlander, he's probably one of the best pitchers we've seen around here in a long, long time. It was huge. Our guys were hooting at him in the dugout. That was fun. … We needed a win."
Verlander's outing Sunday was his first facing his former club, his home from 2005 until last August's trade to Houston. A 2018 All-Star and six-time All-Star with the Tigers, the strikeout machine is the same Verlander the Tigers grew to know.
"It was one of the weirdest, if not the weirdest, game of my career," Verlander said.
Verlander struck out 12 Tigers for his fifth double-digit strikeout game this season, but he allowed home runs to John Hicks, Jeimer Candelario, Niko Goodrum and Jim Adduci in six innings.
"He's a really good pitcher," said Hicks, a fellow Goochland High School alumnus in Goochland, Va., whose family joined the Verlanders in the right-hander's suite for Sunday's game. "We were fortunate enough to hit some homers off of him."
"I went back and looked at some of the pitches," Verlander said. "The one to Hicks wasn't as bad as I thought. It stayed a little up, and it still got away from him and he was able to get the barrel to it. The one to Goodrum stayed up and that was an expected result. Adduci, decent pitch, just wanted to get something up in the zone."
The Tigers (41-57) raised Verlander's season ERA from 2.05 to 2.29, showing a positive sign of life on offense to conclude their first 98 games before the All-Star break begins a welcome period of rest on Monday.
Francisco Liriano left Sunday's start after three innings with lower back tightness and said the injury is "nothing major," but the Tigers removed him as a precaution. Detroit relievers Drew VerHagen, Alex Wilson, Joe Jimenez and Shane Greene successfully stalled the Astros' offense for six innings, allowing two runs on three hits without a walk.
Houston knocked just four hits for the game against Detroit's five-man staff and scored its three runs on a double play, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Once Liriano was pulled after the third inning, the Tigers elected to call in VerHagen from the bullpen for three innings, bridging a massive gap from the fourth to the seventh inning. VerHagen, whose ERA now rests at 7.11, allowed one run on two hits and struck out three over three fairly clean innings.
"Yeah, those three innings felt great," VerHagen said. "It was a tough situation with [Liriano] coming out early. My job was to just keep us in the game and I did that. I'm really pleased with that."
The Tigers' four home runs tied their most in a single game this season, which they've accomplished three times. They became the second Major League club to hit four homers off Verlander in a single game, joining the Indians on June 26, 2016, and Sept. 18, 2007.
HE SAID IT
"It was a little weird. I actually woke up early this morning. I don't usually do that, but I guess it was a little weird knowing some of the guys in there. Once you cross the white lines it's business as usual. It's not like they have the same lineup. There's a lot of different guys I didn't really know in there. Definitely weird." -- Verlander on facing the Tigers for the first time
The Tigers' All-Star break begins Monday and continues until Detroit begins a three-game series at 7:10 p.m. ET on Friday against the Red Sox at Comerica Park. In a battle of lefties, Matthew Boyd (4-8, 4.76 ERA) will take the bump for the Tigers. Former Tigers southpaw David Price (10-6, 4.42) will open the series for the Red Sox. Boyd has struggled of late with a 9.78 ERA over his last five starts.
Christian Boutwell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston.