Verlander's streak of going at least six innings halted
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TON -- The last time Justin Verlander didn't get through the sixth inning in a regular-season start, Johnny Damon was the Tigers' designated hitter, batting third, Brandon Inge was the everyday third baseman and Ramon Santiago had just replaced the injured Carlos Guillen as the second baseman.
It was Aug. 17, 2010, and the Yankees had just milked 114 pitches out of Verlander through five innings. He had gone at least six innings in 63 consecutive starts since then, but a rain-shortened 4-1 loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday night at Fenway Park ended it.
"Kind of a weird way for it to come to an end," he said. "I get a five-inning complete game, but I don't go six innings."
That ended the longest streak by a Major League pitcher since Steve Carlton racked up 69 consecutive starts of six or more innings from Sept. 13, 1979, to April 13, 1982. It's the longest streak by a Tigers pitcher in modern franchise history, dating back to 1918, and the third-longest by a Major League pitcher since 1920 according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Bob Gibson holds the standard for the era with 78 consecutive starts of six innings or longer, from 1967-70.
"Obviously it means a lot," Verlander said. "Anytime you can have your name associated with those guys, you're doing something right. But first and foremost, we lost the game today. That's what's most disappointing. Obviously personal things come second to winning baseball games.
"If I had gone five and we had won, obviously I'd be a little disappointed with the streak, but ecstatic that we had won the game."
Both Gibson and Carlton got rocked in their streak-ending starts, in games that went nine innings. Verlander struggled, but he still outlasted his counterpart, Josh Beckett. Verlander lost out to his command and his surroundings in a steady New England rain.
Verlander's streak was in question as soon as he used 35 pitches in the opening inning. He held the Red Sox scoreless in that frame by stranding the bases loaded with a strikeout of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but he put himself in a pitch-count bind.
He had plenty of those rough opening frames over the course of the streak and responded with quick innings to get back on track. Already, though, the rain was turning the mound soggy, and Verlander was struggling to keep his footing.
"There was only two or three pitches that I actually felt my foot slide," Verlander said, "but looking back at it, I know if it was happening then, it was probably happening a little bit on every pitch -- not to that extreme, but you know if you're running it up there 99, 100, it's a pretty small margin of error to get the right release point. But I need to make the adjustment quicker, bottom line."
According to research on baseball-reference.com, Verlander is the first Tiger with a five-inning complete game since Dan Petry on Sept. 20, 1983. He's the first Tiger to lose in a five-inning complete game since Jim Bunning on July 15, 1959.
"Verlander was totally out of sync," said manager Jim Leyland. "I don't think I've seen him out of sync as much as he was tonight for a long, long time, for whatever reason. From the get-go, he was out of sync."
It was an outing, fittingly, that brought back flashes of the younger Verlander, who couldn't translate his nasty pitches into dominant starts and deep outings consistently because he would waste so many pitches trying to settle in. That was Verlander's form in stretches in 2010, the last time he didn't go six innings.
Once the Red Sox drew two walks and four singles in a four-run fourth inning, Verlander was in serious trouble. He used up 31 pitches in the fourth, the last handful of them thrown while Darin Downs warmed up in Detroit's bullpen. Verlander corralled his fastball and retired the middle of the Red Sox's lineup in order in the fifth, but he needed 13 pitches to do it, boosting his pitch count to 107.
At that point, Leyland had an interesting decision to make. The bottom third of Boston's lineup was due up in the sixth, and 120 pitches is no big deal for Verlander. That won him over.
"Unless we had a situation where it was a little delay or something or a long inning, he was going to come out [and pitch the sixth]," Leyland said.
Verlander might have had a chance to pitch with a lead had the top of the inning played out. The Tigers had the bases loaded and Omar Infante up when heavier rains finally led crew chief Jerry Layne to call for the tarp.
Once the tarp went on, Verlander was done.
"I knew," Verlander said. "It was a stretch to let me go back out there, but [Leyland] was going to let me [before the rain]."
Still, out of habit, he tried to lobby his case.
"I went into [Leyland's] office," Verlander said, "and I didn't want to ask him if I'm going back out there, so I said, 'How long are you gonna give me?' And he said, 'You're done. Go shower. Go eat.' I tried."
Verlander allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits in five innings, walking four and striking out six.
"Obviously I'm not happy about, one, losing the game, and two, the streak coming to an end," Verlander said. "But you know what? It's time to start a new one."