Verlander shows his toughness in win

CLEVELAND — Well, this is why you have Justin Verlander. Even on a bad night, he makes other pitchers jealous.

Verlander was not his usual dominant self against the Indians. He didn’t have total command of four pitches. He even gave up a hit. (Three, actually. THREE! What the heck is wrong with this guy? Is he hurt?) He owes a big thank-you to Austin Jackson, who made an outstanding leaping grab on a Carlos Santana fly ball at the wall.

And yet, here is Verlander’s final line: six baserunners, 10 strikeouts and three earned runs in seven innings. They won’t post it in Cooperstown, but it’s the reason he might get there someday. He has become the kind of athlete who takes “very good” as an insult.

The Tigers arrived in Cleveland with a four-game American League Central lead. They leave with a three-game lead and a sense of relief. Their 13-game losing streak in Cleveland is over.

They escaped. So did Verlander. He could have looked up at the scoreboard after Joaquin Benoit replaced him and thought, “Hey, not so bad.” He did not.

“No, I look up and think, ‘It shouldn’t be this close,’ ” Verlander said.

He was ticked that after the Tigers handed him a 4-0 lead, he turned it into a 4-3 stomach-clencher. Verlander walked Lou Marson and Jason Kipnis (“the two walks, there is no excuse for that,” he said), then gave up a double to Asdrubal Cabrera.

“I tried to battle and get back out there,” he said. “It was a real tough night for me all around. Probably the toughest internal battle I’ve had all year, with myself, with my mechanics.”

This was Verlander’s 100th career win. He said afterward that “It’s never like 100 wins was ever a goal of mine,” and I thought, “Yes, of course. Your goal is 300 wins.” Verlander was trying to steer the conversation back to the team. But in baseball, it is possible to be focused on personal goals and still be your team’s MVP.

Verlander expects the absolute best from himself. This is why he has become a dominant pitcher. Well, that and a right arm made out of lightning.

So when manager Jim Leyland said he thought Verlander was “a little antsy” because No. 100 was on the line, it had the resonance of truth. Verlander has been so good this year at staying calm, at composing himself when he gives up a home run, and at pitching to contact at times instead of trying to blow everybody away. But occasionally he still gets a little too fired up.

That will be something to watch if the Tigers make the playoffs.

Verlander threw 108 pitches. That’s a long night for a lot of starters but a light one for him. Leyland pulled him after the seventh, largely because Verlander had been shaky earlier in the night.

Leyland also will give Verlander an extra day of rest next week rather than juggle the rotation so he can pitch against Cleveland. Verlander has been the game’s most durable ace, but the Tigers don’t want to push their luck.

And so they march on, to play a lousy Baltimore team and a fading Twins team before another bout with the Indians. They are in first place, but only by three games. They have shown flashes of pulling away, but also have reasons for concern.

Sometimes, like in their 10-3 loss to the Indians on Wednesday, the Tigers look like they won’t ever finish the job. But then they wake up the next morning and realize: “We have Justin Verlander.”

In 2011, that is the most comforting sentence in baseball.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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