SEATTLE -- Justin Verlander took the mound for the sixth inning of Wednesday night's 7-5 loss to the Mariners at Safeco Field with a four-run lead, a perfect game and a fastball topping out at 98 mph. He left seven batters later, still in the sixth inning, with the tying run in scoring position. He went from trying to push for perfection to hoping to preserve the lead.
A 50-foot dribbler from Jarrod Dyson got it all started.
"That's what Dyson does," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He uses his speed to get on base. Bunting for a base hit is one way to do it, and it certainly got them going."
Bemoan the sportsmanship of a bunt in a perfect game bid all you want, but Dyson knew the competitive value. If the Mariners could get Verlander out of his rhythm, they had a chance. Even if the Mariners could simply force extra pitches out of Verlander and bring the bullpen to work, they had a chance.
"It was a perfect bunt," Verlander said. "That's part of his game. I don't think it was quite too late, given the situation, to bunt, especially being as how that's a major part of what he does. I really didn't have any issues with it.
"It's not like I got upset about it. Just kind of being my first time out of the stretch, I lost a little bit of rhythm there."
For 16 batters, Verlander felt the best he has all year, maybe even better than he did last year on his way to Cy Young Award runner-up. For the last six batters, he felt as if he was trying to stop a boulder rolling downhill.
"These guys are rolling. We're not," Verlander said. "Once you get that ball going downhill, it's kind of hard to stop it."
The consolation for Verlander is that he believes he has finally found the form he has been seeking all season. The question is whether there's enough time for it to make a difference in the Tigers' fate, now seven games under .500 for the first time since their last-place finish in 2015.
The form was a mechanical adjustment, Verlander leveling his shoulders in his delivery to be more efficient to the plate instead of trying to force velocity. The result was a fastball that hit 96-97 mph on the radar gun early, but also left Mariners hitters swinging late. The swing-and-misses Verlander was missing the last few weeks were in abundance Wednesday, 10 of them off his fastball, with another 11 fastballs taken for strikes.
"The things I was working on really manifested themselves," Verlander said, "and I saw the results that I was looking for -- less foul balls, stuff getting on guys a little bit better, all of the above, everything that's kind of been pestering me."
Verlander racked up six strikeouts his first turn through the Mariners lineup. Four were swing-and-misses of 96-97 mph fastballs. Two were curveballs taken for called third strikes. He racked up four more strikeouts in seven at-bats the second time through, including a 98 mph fastball past Danny Valencia to end a battle in the fifth.
Verlander opened the sixth with a strikeout on a slider that left Haniger struggling to hold up. Once Dyson placed his bunt between Verlander and Jose Cabrera, momentum reversed.
Mike Zunino fouled off a 3-2 fastball before taking another for a walk. Jean Segura hit a popup that caught a wind and tucked inside the left-field line beyond rangy Jose Iglesias. Ben Gamel lined an RBI single for the first run.
Verlander recovered for a called third strike on Robinson Cano, but paid for curveball to old nemesis Nelson Cruz.
"Really, it all came down to executing a little better pitch to Cruz there with two outs," he said. "Need to execute the pitch just a tad bit better, but overall, best I've felt in a long time. Actually, extremely optimistic about it."