DETROIT -- The scene was familiar: Justin Verlander walking off the mound to a standing ovation from adoring fans at Comerica Park after a big strikeout to end another solid outing. The Astros uniform on his back was a different look, but many Tigers fans overlooked it. The pitches he
DETROIT -- The scene was familiar: Justin Verlander walking off the mound to a standing ovation from adoring fans at Comerica Park after a big strikeout to end another solid outing. The Astros uniform on his back was a different look, but many Tigers fans overlooked it. The pitches he threw leading up to that moment brought back memories of his days in the Old English D.
<p.> The former Tigers ace entered and left to standing ovations in his return to Detroit, and he eventually left his old home park with a win. While the former American League Cy Young Award and MVP Award winner delivered seven innings of two-run ball, Francisco Liriano saw his best outing since July 4 spoiled by three unearned runs, sending the Tigers to a 3-2 loss Monday night. </p.>
While it was a night Verlander might never forget, his former team was already looking to move on.
"He's a tough pitcher. You just have to keep battling," JaCoby Jones said. "But hopefully we can come out tomorrow and play good ball and get a W."
One year after his trade from Detroit to Houston, Verlander received a warm welcome back to the Motor City. A pregame video tribute on the Comerica Park scoreboard stopped Verlander on his way to the Astros' dugout following pregame warmups, and a standing ovation from Tigers fans had him fighting back emotions as he readied for his rematch against a Detroit squad that homered four times off him two months ago in Houston.
"As you guys all know, I'm usually pretty focused and in my zone," Verlander said. "But they started playing the tribute video, and I couldn't help but stop and look at it and just take a minute and be out there with the fans and appreciate some moments we've shared together over the last 13 years. I definitely got a little emotional there at the end. The picture they put up saying thank you with [longtime Tigers owner Mike Ilitch], that one got me."
Nobody took Verlander deep Monday on a cool Michigan night, but four hits in the first eight batters earned the Tigers a run. Dawel Lugo, an infield prospect at Double-A Erie when Verlander was traded, singled home Niko Goodrum in the second inning for a 1-0 lead. Jones just missed adding on when his 101-mph line drive went to third baseman Alex Bregman, starting an inning-ending double play.
From there, Verlander settled in and looked more like his old form, combining fastball command with a sharp curveball against an aggressive Detroit lineup to retire 10 in a row, half by strikeout.
"He was painting. He was throwing more breaking balls, hitting his spot," Jeimer Candelario said. "He pitched pretty well. He went out tonight and was competing."
The Astros gave him a lead to protect in the third with three singles and a costly misplay by shortstop Ronny Rodriguez, filling in for injured Jose Iglesias.
"We have to make plays," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You miss plays, and that's what always happens. They end up scoring. That inning, we had a chance to get a couple outs, and we didn't do it, and it ended up costing us runs. Ultimately, that's what decided it."
Liriano (4-10) finished with his first quality start since July 4 at Wrigley Field, striking out seven batters over six innings. Nicholas Castellanos' sixth-inning sacrifice fly brought the Tigers within a run, and James McCann's one-out single sparked a seventh-inning rally that put the potential tying run in scoring position and the go-ahead run at first base.
That brought on vintage Verlander (15-9), who blew back-to-back 97-mph fastballs past Jones before sending Jeimer Candelario down swinging at a slider to end the threat.
"That's why he's so great," Jones said. "He reaches that extra gear in the late innings. He's throwing 95-96 and then in the late innings when he needs it, he can get it up close to 100 miles an hour."
The memory of Verlander doing that for the Tigers brought the reaction from Detroit fans, which in turn brought a tip of the cap from Verlander on his way off the mound, this time to the visiting dugout.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Tigers put the potential tying run on base against Astros reliever and former AL Central foe Thomas Pressly in the eighth after Castellanos reached on an infield single. Victor Martinez hit a sinking line drive to left, a ball with a 55 percent hit probability according to Statcast™, but Josh Reddick -- who entered the game earlier in the inning -- made a sliding catch. Castellanos hesitated, waiting for a call from third-base umpire Pat Hoberg, before scrambling back to first base, allowing Reddick and Carlos Correa the split-second they needed to double him off and end the inning.
"Our baserunner didn't know where to go," said Gardenhire, who argued with Hoberg. "Nicky had nowhere to go, and he was stuck there because he didn't see anyone signal. My argument was that it didn't come quick enough for us to be able to react to it. He said he did the best he could."
Liriano became the first Tiger to throw six or more innings with no earned runs and seven or more strikeouts and take a loss since Verlander suffered the same fate on Aug. 9, 2015.
HE SAID IT
"If someone had told me I would get my first hit off Verlander in my first start … it was an out-of-body experience. It was pretty awesome." -- Christin Stewart, who earned his first Major League start in left field and recorded his first big league hit with a sixth-inning single
Jordan Zimmermann (7-6, 4.03 ERA) will try to build on the momentum of two consecutive stingy starts as the series continues Tuesday with a 6:40 p.m. ET game at Comerica Park against Houston. Zimmmermann, who has allowed one earned run over 11 innings in his past two outings, has a 3.09 ERA in seven career starts against the Astros. Framber Valdez (3-1, 1.37) takes the ball for Houston to make his fourth Major League start.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.