With 35 strikeouts over his previous three starts, Verlander certainly had reason to try for strikeouts. No
Tigers pitcher had reached double-digit strikeouts in four straight starts since at least 1954, when records are available. Only Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez have reached the feat in the Majors during the past 15 years.
Verlander insisted it wasn't in his mind-set. Yet as he began the game, for whatever reason, he could tell there was a little too much effort in his arm.
"Especially after the first inning," Verlander said, "I told myself to settle down and kind of reset, and do what I've been doing the first inning of the last few games, which is just find that rhythm and throw quality strikes. I thought the first inning I was overthrowing just a hair, not too much, just a little bit, and didn't really find that rhythm."
It didn't show in the results. A first-inning walk to David Murphy was the lone baserunner Verlander allowed through four innings. The extra work reflected in the pitch counts -- four full counts to the first eight hitters. He went from an 0-2 hole to full against Chris Davis in the second inning before blowing him away with a 96-mph fastball.
That was when Verlander's fastball started to pick up life. It lingered in the low- to mid-90s in the opening inning before he settled in.
"I think he labored a little more tonight than he has in a few of his starts," Leyland said. "I don't know this, but he might've been a little more strikeout conscious, and it may have been subconscious. And I'm not making a big deal about it. He was very, very good again."
The one stretch where Verlander piled up his strikeouts, in fact, was the stretch where he mixed his pitches best. He struck out the 2-3-4 hitters in the Texas order -- Murphy, Michael Young and Hank Blalock -- with a mix of his speeds and a healthy breaking ball. He needed 13 pitches to fan the side, and just five were fastballs -- four of them to Young.
The one effort that nearly scuttled him, in fact, came from his offense. When Gerald Laird hit into a triple play with his line drive to second on a hit-and-run attempt, the abrupt halt to the inning also meant a quick return to the mound for Verlander.
"The funny thing is," Verlander said, "usually I sit down and just kind of watch the game on television and just gather my thoughts. Especially when you get to two outs, I really start to focus in and imagine the next hitters that are coming up. I was not prepared for that. I'm always prepared for a double play, but that I wasn't quite prepared for."
Rangers hitters, on the other hand, were ready for Verlander in the fifth. Three singles tied the game, and a two-out walk to Ian Kinsler -- who started the triple play -- loaded the bases for more. Verlander battled Murphy for eight pitches before a 99-mph fastball finally induced an inning-ending groundout to short.
The inning seemingly ruined any chance at a deep start, but it preserved the Tigers' chances to win.
"Obviously that was a big turning point to keep us in a tie game," Verlander said, "and we stepped it up there in the bottom of the sixth against a tough pitcher."
Once Verlander retired the side in order in the sixth, Ramirez put Detroit ahead with a 433-foot drive to left-center to give Detroit a 2-1 lead. Not since Reggie Sanders hit one over the fence at Tiger Stadium on Sept. 1, 1974 against Oakland had a Tigers player homered in his first big league game.
What had been a sputtering offense, stifled by a fourth-inning triple play and a fifth-inning runner stranded at third, suddenly came alive. Inge's homer stretched the lead to 4-0 before Ryan Raburn's single knocked Rangers starter Matt Harrison (4-3) out of the game. Josh Anderson's single and a Jason Jennings' wild pitch allowed Raburn to score another insurance tally.
Leyland said he would've brought out Verlander for the seventh, but the long sixth-inning rally convinced him otherwise. Instead, Detroit's bullpen finished off the Tigers' fifth straight victory.