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Verlander rolls behind Tigers' 16 runs

Verlander rolls behind Tigers' 16 runs

DETROIT -- The Tigers hadn't won a series in more than a month. They hadn't won a series in the regular season against the Yankees since 2004, not at Comerica Park since 2001.

They hadn't had a game like this in too long.

In a two-week stretch against American League competitors in the race for the postseason, in a homestand that included four stressful battles and a series that began with nearly an all-night game, this was a good night.

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"It was good to have a win like that," Sean Casey said after Monday's 16-0 win over the Yankees at Comerica Park.

He needed a win like that, if for no other reason than to get his teammates off his back about his three-year triples drought. But that's not what he meant. He meant that they could finally relax a little in the late innings.

"That's a good club," Casey said. "At some point, we're looking to get some momentum going and really get on a roll. Everything's so tight [in the races] right now that, really, whatever team gets hot right now is pretty much going to win this thing. For us, hopefully this is a chance to get hot."

Or, as Brandon Inge put it, "If you can't get confidence from taking three out of four from the Yankees, you don't have a pulse."

The last time the Tigers won a series was the three-game sweep at Minnesota in mid-July that built them a season-high two-game lead in the AL Central. They made up no ground in the division over these last four games, because the Indians won three of four in the same stretch.

Yet for a team that needed to just worry about itself and win games, Monday was important.

"This was one of those unique, fun nights for our offense," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Leyland has said the last few days that his team would need good starting pitching to get on a roll. On this night, Justin Verlander provided it with seven scoreless innings. It just got overlooked when the offense gave him enough support that simply going five innings would have been enough.

"Tonight was pretty simple," Leyland said. "Verlander had it. [Mike] Mussina didn't."

And when Mussina, the Yankees' starter, wasn't on, the Tigers exploited him as easy as 1, 2, 3 -- one run in the first, two in the second and three in the third.

Nine of Mussina's 49 strikes went for base hits over his three innings of work. The Tigers didn't strike out once against him, and they had just three groundouts.

Placido Polanco greeted reliever Edwar Ramirez with a home run leading off the fourth. Casey greeted Sean Henn leading off the fifth with his first triple since 2004, a liner into the gap in right-center field that had little doubt.

"I don't even remember it," Casey said of his last triple. "I think someone must have fell into the wall or something and knocked themselves out."

Actually, it was a three-bagger at Cincinnati's homer-friendly Great American Ball Park in a 14-5 Reds loss. He saved this one for a game in which he could enjoy being on the other end of the score.

Leyland had planned on using Ramon Santiago as a pinch-runner no matter how Casey reached base. In this instance, he could use it.

"Marcus [Thames] brought me three cups of water [in the dugout]," Casey laughed.

Said Granderson, the Majors' triples leader with 22: "I gave him a big hug. He finally made it around there."

Ryan Raburn singled in Santiago, then Inge powered the first of his two line drives to hit the left-field fence. When Thames singled him in, the Tigers had reached double digits.

Leyland has said he doesn't enjoy lopsided games like this because he has to worry about how large a lead is enough to stop being aggressive with baserunners and avoid the appearance of rubbing it in, yet avoid giving the other team a chance to get back in it. Even with a double-digit lead, however, the Tigers could still hit, sending 11 batters to the plate in a six-run seventh.

Inge, 2-for-15 on the homestand entering the night, went 3-for-4 with there doubles and four RBIs. Raburn, mired in an 0-for-8 stretch, went 2-for-4 and scored three times. Polanco was 3-for-22 before going 3-for-5 on Monday.

"Hopefully, it gets guys in a groove and it's a confidence thing," Leyland said. "But when good pitchers pitch their game, you have to fight to get that one hit, and that one hit might be the one that wins the game for you."

Cushion or no, Verlander was on his game, working efficiently as well as effectively over seven innings of three-hit ball. His upper-90s fastball was back when he needed extra velocity, and he spotted his breaking ball in turn on his way to six strikeouts. He retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced.

"I think it was more mechanics," Verlander said. "I think that led to a big mental aspect of it. I worked hard between the last start and this one to get back where I was and I really felt like that led to some good things today."

For an offense that will have to do without Gary Sheffield for a while, it was very good.

"Everyone has to be able to contribute," Granderson said. "That was one of our keys last year."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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