"I think those were the games that we were losing last year," Verlander said of Saturday's 4-3 win over the Rangers.
He meant the games where a mistake or two come back to haunt them -- in Saturday's case, errors from third baseman Brandon Inge and shortstop Adam Everett that set up Josh Hamilton's two-run single to pull Texas ahead in the fifth inning, one of only two Rangers hits all game. Last year, those games usually wrapped up with the opposition taking the momentum and running away with the game.
Instead, the Tigers answered the Rangers' rally by tying the game in the bottom of the inning, then pulling ahead for good in the sixth. It was Everett who scored the go-ahead run. The bullpen combined for four perfect innings to make sure Texas couldn't get back in the game.
"I think we showed a lot of guts today," Verlander said. "A lot of teams could've folded after an inning like that. A lot of players could've folded. I don't feel like any of our guys did, especially Inge and Everett.
"There was a turning point in the game where guys could've shut it down, and we didn't. We continued to battle. We came back. It was a group effort. It really was."
Verlander certainly didn't fold. His popout on Nelson Cruz in the fifth stranded the bases loaded and kept it a one-run game for his bullpen. Instead of regretting not getting the victory on his record, he valued the win for what it means to the team.
Nate Robertson hasn't folded since his disappointing move to the bullpen. His two perfect innings earned him his first Major League win in relief. And after the game, he said nothing about a starting job.
"Everybody has to get the job done in order for this team to win, regardless of where you're at, starting of relieving," Robertson said.
Fernando Rodney didn't fold after the Tigers signed Brandon Lyon to be a late-innings reliever this spring and compete for the closer's job. By the time he got his second out on the way to striking out the side in order, many of the fans from the crowd of 28,693 were chanting his name.
"He's in a good mindset," manager Jim Leyland said.
So was Verlander.
Leyland suggested after Verlander's Opening Day defeat that Verlander could be more effective throwing at 92-93 mph rather than 96, that pitching without maximum effort could give him better movement on his pitches and stronger stamina for the later innings.
Verlander threw without maximum effort, yet still hit 96 mph, topping out at 98 on several pitches in his fifth and final inning. The run on his fastball backed it up, even if Verlander didn't always control it.
Verlander walked four batters over five innings, but struck out eight. The two hits were the Rangers' only hits of the day and accounted for all of their runs. Hank Blalock hit a solo home run in the second, then Hamilton singled, fisting one of Verlander's breaking balls and putting it into left field.
"There's a difference between throwing 94 [with maximum] effort and 94 easy," Leyland said. "And today, he threw a lot of them easy."
Verlander credited sound mechanics to his adjustments from Spring Training and an extra tweak to change the position of his glove.
"Today, maybe 10 pitches were max effort. The rest of them were just [easy]. I know a few of them were just good, clean mechanics and not trying to overthrow, just trying to make a quality pitch, and I'd look back and it's 96, 97. And that's what I worked on getting back to."
Verlander threw 21 pitches in his third inning thanks to back-to-back, two-out walks, forcing him to strike out Hamilton for the third out. He came back with an easy fourth and nearly had an inning-ending double play to end the fifth until Inge's errant throw to second base. After Verlander struck out Ian Kinsler, he got what could have been an inning-ending grounder from Michael Young, but Everett struggled to get the ball out of his glove, allowing just enough time for Elvis Andrus to beat his throw to second. Hamilton's single followed.
The first of two Placido Polanco doubles put him in scoring position to lead off the bottom of the inning, setting up Marcus Thames' sacrifice fly. After Robertson (1-0) shut down the Rangers in the sixth, Everett rebounded from a hit-and-run play gone awry with his second single of the day, putting him in place to score on Polanco's second double. This one was a two-out drive down the left-field line that was hit as Everett took off for home. Everett slid in safely.
"Fortunately, we won," said Everett, who singled in Detroit's first two runs in the second inning off starter Matt Harrison (0-1). "But unfortunately for Justin, it cost him some extra pitches, and he had too many to go out the next inning. He was throwing the ball very well, obviously."
Verlander threw eight extra pitches after Everett's error, pushing him to 97 pitches after five instead of 89. Robertson's effectiveness took care of that, and Verlander wasn't worried about it afterward.
His point was that they got the win, and a good win at that.
"It's nice to see us win ballgames like that," Verlander said. "I don't think I've seen us win too many like that in the recent past."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.