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Old nemesis in new uniform tames Tigers

Old nemesis tames Tigers

DETROIT -- Fiesta Tigres happens once a year at Comerica Park. Carl Pavano beating the Tigers has become a regular occurrence.

The former is the Tigers' annual celebration of the contribution Latin ballplayers have made in baseball, especially in Detroit, and it's a festive atmosphere. The latter is another chapter in the bizarre comeback campaign of Pavano, who again contributed mightily to Detroit's frustration and beat the Tigers for the fourth time in as many starts this year Saturday.

Carlos Guillen tried to explain it after Pavano's latest gem, this time seven scoreless innings in an 11-0 Twins rout. But at one point, he just had to smile in disbelief.

"I don't know what happens with this guy," Guillen said. "We don't hit him."

Brandon Inge has some ideas. But in the end, he just had to give credit.

"He's just beat us," Inge said. "He's beat us every time this year, and he's done a great job pitching. I have to give him credit. We weren't terrible every time we faced him. We made adjustments. He's made adjustments. He's just flat-out beat us this year."

The Tigers spent four years being thankful that the oft-injured Pavano ended up turning down Detroit's free-agent contract offer after the 2004 season. Now, they probably hope he stays out of Detroit's path again for a couple months.

The fact that he faced the Tigers again took a Friday trade with Cleveland, which dealt him to Minnesota for a player to be named. Considering Pavano just pitched eight innings of one-run ball against the Tigers on Sunday at Progressive Field, the Twins weren't going to waste time slotting him into a rotation that has been devastated by injuries and inconsistencies.

Pavano's success against Detroit, by contrast, has been remarkably consistent, no matter what adjustments the Tigers try to make against him. The one difference was that the Tigers had a few key chances to spoil his outing.

"I've had success against them this year," Pavano said, "but you can't take away anything from their hitters. You've got to make good pitches. For the most part, I think I was able to do that. I thought the ball was up a little more than I'd like today, but I was able to make some adjustments and make some pitches when I needed to."

When two singles and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases with one out in the second inning, Pavano escaped by striking out Adam Everett, then getting Curtis Granderson to ground a first-pitch changeup back to the mound for an inning-ending comebacker.

That started Pavano on a roll of nine straight batters retired, mixing low-90s fastballs with changeups and sliders for fly-ball outs and missed swings. He actually got more swinging strikes (12) in his 90 pitches than Justin Verlander did (10) in his 88.

"I think he was making kind of better quality strikes when he was throwing them in there tonight," Inge said. "He was kind of down and away on his first couple strikes. He was pretty effective coming in on us tonight, too, getting us off balance, letting us know that we shouldn't be crowding too much or diving out over the plate against him. That's what a veteran pitcher does."

Not until an Everett double down the right-field line -- Detroit's lone extra-base hit -- did the Tigers get another runner with one out in the fifth. Granderson's bloop single put runners on the corners, but didn't allow Everett to try to score.

Pavano took advantage. Polanco went at his first-pitch sinker for a sharp grounder, but third baseman Nick Punto, playing in place of injured Joe Crede, made a diving stop in the hole to start an inning-ending double play.

"I thought we actually had some good at-bats against Pavano," manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought the play that Punto made was kind of a game-turning play. If that one gets through, you've got 3-1, first and second with [Clete] Thomas and [Miguel] Cabrera coming up. That was a huge play."

Pavano (10-8) improved to 4-0 with a 1.48 ERA against the Tigers this year. He's 6-8 with a 6.16 ERA against everyone else.

"We probably need to watch some more tapes of him against other teams," Leyland said, "because some other teams have had success with him. We've had absolutely none."

The Twins, on the other hand, became the first team to beat Verlander (12-6) twice this season. Joe Mauer's second straight first-inning homer, this one a two-run shot, put Minnesota on top for good. Doubles from Michael Cuddyer in the fifth and Jason Kubel an inning later added on, chasing Verlander with five runs on seven hits over six innings.

"I think Verlander didn't get some pitches where he tried to get them," Leyland said. "Almost all the time, he does. He didn't get some pitches where he wanted to tonight, and paid for it."

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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