Detroit’s 7-2 victory over Minnesota Thursday should come as no surprise given the history between the two teams this season.
The top two AL Central squads met up for their sixth series in 2006. And for the sixth time, the Tigers took the first game of the series and in the process extended its lead to five games over the second-place Twins.
Detroit (86-55) resembled the Motor City Maulers in the Metrodome smashing four home runs en route to a 12-hit night in the taking the opener of a pivotal four-game series. Seven of Detroit’s nine starters had at least one hit. The Tigers offense provided more than enough support for Justin Verlander, who won his 16th game of the season to move into a five-way tie for second in American League wins behind Minnesota’s Johan Santana. Verlander (16-7) went seven strong innings scattering eight hits, walking two and striking out five to lower his ERA to 3.19, fourth best in the American League, and continued his strong push for AL Rookie of the Year. Verlander snapped a road slump in which he was 1-3 with an 8.81 ERA in his last four road starts.
However, Minnesota was the perfect slump breaker for Verlander, who improved to 3-0 and has allowed only two earned runs in 22 innings against the Twins (80-59) this season. The Tigers’ defense came through for Verlander turning crucial double plays in the third, fifth and sixth innings to quell potential Twins rallies. After struggling through the first half of August, Verlander has now posted three quality starts in his last four outings. In each of those outings, he allowed one run or less and went at least seven innings.
Detroit’s offense wasted little time setting the evening’s tone as Curtis Granderson smashed the third pitch of the game off Scott Baker for a leadoff home run. In the second inning, Marcus Thames’ 25th home run of the season, a two-run shot scoring Sean Casey to increase the Tigers lead to 3-0.
Verlander kept the Twins offense at bay by allowing just two hits in the first five innings thanks to a sharp fastball and equally sharp breaking pitches. Verlander helped his own cause in the fourth by picking off Luis Castillo at first for the first out of the inning.
The Tigers padded their lead in the fifth as Craig Monroe singled past a drawn-in infield scoring Granderson and Ivan Rodriguez for a 5-0 lead. Rodriguez and Omar Infante added solo home runs in the seventh and ninth innings, respectively.
Michael Cuddyer got the Twins on the board in the seventh for a solo home run, his 22nd of the season making it 6-1, Detroit. Later in the inning, Verlander walked Justin Morneau but followed by getting Torii Hunter to foul out and Rondell White to strike out. After Jason Tyner’s bunt single, Verlander struck out Jason Bartlett on a nasty slider to end the inning and his night. Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones each tossed an inning of relief for the Tigers, who entered the game 7-13 in their last 20 games.
Scott Baker (4-8) continued his struggles against the AL Central this season allowing five runs on nine hits through five innings of work. Baker, who has beaten the New York Yankees twice this season, is 0-5 against AL Central teams this season.
For the Twins, Cuddyer, Castillo and Tyner added two hits each.