"One bad pitch," Verlander said after the Tigers' 3-1 loss to the Mariners at Comerica Park.
It wasn't simply one bad pitch, but a lack of run support, and a familiar low-scoring fate for the Tigers.
Not since Jack Morris in 1987 has a Tiger fanned as many hitters in a season as Verlander has so far. With 204 strikeouts already and better than a quarter of the season left, Verlander has a chance to not only crack the top 10 single-season marks in franchise history, but maybe even the top five.
No Tigers pitcher has racked up 250 strikeouts in a year since Mickey Lolich in 1972, but Verlander is on that pace. No Tiger who reached that mark has won fewer than 19 games in their respective seasons. For that matter, the only Tiger to finish in the top 10 in punchouts and win fewer than 19 is Lolich, who did it twice.
No matter how many strikeouts Verlander racks up, he might not get to 19 wins, let alone 20. A few close, low-scoring losses like this might end up being the difference.
The Tigers, having seen their lead cut to two games over the White Sox in the American League Central, hope games like this don't end up as the difference in the division.
"We just didn't do much at all offensively," Leyland said.
Verlander (13-7) suffered his second loss in his past three starts despite dominating early. Much like his last outing, he had his fastball topping 95 mph almost from the outset, rather than starting out slower and building up, and he earned some quick outs because of it.
Detroit's All-Star ace retired 14 of the first 16 batters he faced and rolled into the fifth inning with a scoreless game, dueling opposite Ian Snell. After catching ex-Tiger Jack Hannahan looking at a called third strike and inducing a Kenji Johjima groundout, Verlander was an out away from getting through the fifth and had the bottom of the Mariners' order up.
Michael Saunders' ground ball through the left side extended the inning for Josh Wilson, who continued his torrid series with a line-drive single. Up came Ichiro, whose strikeout on a 97-mph fastball to lead off the game was his third of the season versus Verlander, more than he has had against any other pitcher this year. Another fastball, this one at 98 mph, jammed him into a third-inning groundout.
Verlander went back to the heat in the fifth, but watched it wander over the plate. Ichiro, often overlooked for his timely power, turned on the 96-mph fastball and sent it out in a hurry to right field. His eighth homer of the year meant a 3-0 lead for the Mariners.
"That's what was working for me," Verlander said, "and that's what I tried to do. It wasn't in the right spot. It was middle-up instead of away. That's what good hitters do. They take advantage of one bad pitch."
That was all the Mariners had to do on this night.
One batter later, Verlander got his 200th strikeout, mixing curveballs and fastballs to send down Russell Branyan swinging. Catcher Gerald Laird initially threw the ball into the seats, Verlander said, but he made a swap of an autographed baseball to get it back.
Not since Jeremy Bonderman in 2006 had a Tiger reached the 200-strikeout mark. Add four more strikeouts over Verlander's next three innings, and he's within four of Morris' 208 strikeouts in '87.
More important to Verlander, it kept the Tigers in line for the win. But that doesn't mean he overlooked the mark, not after his struggles and questions last year.
"It means a lot for me, especially after last year, to be able to come back and the kind of year I've had," Verlander said.
A couple more runs would have meant more, but Carlos Guillen's sixth-inning solo shot comprised not just the Tigers' lone run, but their only extra-base hit. They worked starter Ian Snell (1-1) to the fringe of 100 pitches with two outs in the sixth, but as with other games this year, Detroit stranded runners in scoring position in the first, third and sixth.
"He was good," Leyland said of Snell in his first win as a Mariner, "and we didn't hit good. When you combine those things, that's what you get."
The slumps are starting to rack up. While Magglio Ordonez had a three-hit game to continue his August resurgence, Curtis Granderson's two-strikeout night extended his hitless streak to 0-for-13, including seven strikeouts. Inge is 0-for-11 since his walkoff homer Friday night.
On nights like this, pitching keeps it close. Verlander kept it close enough to come down to one pitch.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.