video thumbnail

LAA@DET: Verlander picks up his 15th win of the year

DETROIT -- The billboard over Interstate 75 leading downtown advertised Verlander-Weaver all weekend as if it were a heavyweight bout. There wasn't a fight on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park, but it was arguably a knockout.

And while the Tigers' 3-2 win mattered more to Verlander than his no-hit bid that fell four outs short of etching his name more deeply into baseball history, he wasn't going to pretend that winning the duel didn't matter.

"I was definitely a little bit pumped up, once I got out there," Verlander said. "That was fun. It was a fun game. ... Really, I thought it might come down to one or two more swings, and hopefully, we were able to get those balls over the fence off him."

It was arguably the best pitchers' duel in Major League Baseball this season. At the very least, it was the nastiest.

It came down to two swings, both sending Weaver pitches over the fence, and both drawing an angry reaction from the Angels' 14-game winner. His reaction to the second one earned him an early exit.

By the time his retaliatory pitch over Alex Avila's head left him outlclassed, however, he had long since been outpitched.

Verlander already has one no-hitter this season, having blanked the Blue Jays in Toronto on May 7, and took another bid into the eighth inning last month against Cleveland. Neither of those, though, came under such a spotlight, opposite a similarly dominant pitcher.

All week, Verlander had played down the matchup. He doesn't face Weaver, he said; he just pitches in the same game. The conviction in his pitches from the opening delivery suggested otherwise.

Verlander didn't just retire the first 11 Angels he faced; he essentially toyed with them, striking out five and requiring only one moderately challenging play, with Carlos Guillen snaring Alberto Callaspo's ground ball up the middle. After Bobby Abreu's two-out walk in the fourth inning gave the Angels their first baserunner, Verlander recovered to retire the next eight batters.

Tigers fans, having grown accustomed to no-hit bids from their ace, grew louder with each inning. Once Verlander began locating offspeed pitches time and again, setting up a high fastball Angels hitters couldn't lay off, they knew something special was possible.

They didn't know it would be quite as unique as it turned out to be.

The first crushing shot in this duel came with two outs in the third inning, on one of the few mistake pitches Weaver made all day: a first-pitch breaking ball to Magglio Ordonez with Don Kelly on base. Ordonez turned and drove it down the left-field line toward the foul pole, waiting to see if it would stay fair.

The ball did stay fair for Ordonez's fourth home run of the year. Weaver, meanwhile, kept his eyes focused on Ordonez.

"I didn't see where the ball went," Weaver said. "But when you're standing up at the plate and do what he did, I don't agree with that."

Ordonez insisted he wasn't admiring.

"I don't hit many home runs," Ordonez said, "so I tried to make sure it was a home run. I didn't try to show him up. ... I was just making sure it was a fair ball, and I started running. He got mad because I stood at home plate and thought that I needed to run. That's how fast I run."

Weaver (14-5) retired 12 consecutive Tigers after that, striking out five of them. But as long as Verlander was matching him, there was no way to catch up.

That frustration seemed to linger with Weaver, who could be seen having words with Ordonez, once he flew out in the sixth, and Miguel Cabrera. Once Carlos Guillen pulled Weaver's one other mistake pitch 378 feet to right for his second home run of the year, the Tigers second baseman reveled in the revenge. He watched the home run land in the right-field seats, flipped his bat and stared out at a fuming Weaver.

"That's the first time I've done that," Guillen said. "I've never done that before like that. But the way he reacted to Magglio -- he's my teammate. We're a team."

Guillen had barely touched home plate when umpire Hunter Wendelstedt warned both dugouts about retaliation. Moments later, Weaver threw his next pitch over catcher Alex Avila's head and was immediately ejected, along with manager Mike Scioscia.

"I'm not one to go do like that," Weaver said. "But after what Guillen did, I thought that just kind of crossed the line a little bit. I'm not just going to go out there and take that. I'm a competitor. I'm not going out there trying to show anybody about up. Never have. And if that's way to play the game, then that's what it is."

That ended the duel, but it didn't end Verlander's no-hit bid. That lasted into the eighth, where hijinks continued.

Erick Aybar, known for bunt singles, laid down Verlander's first pitch to the third-base side of the mound, reaching base when Verlander's throw came in low. The scoring decision was an error, keeping the Angels hitless. After a botched fielder's choice allowed Aybar to score, Verlander still had it going. A second straight changeup to Maicer Izturis, however, led to an RBI single.

"A couple of fluke things happen," Verlander said, "and all of a sudden, you look back and the tying run's on second base with two outs, and somebody that's had a decent amount of success against you is at the plate. Right now, I'm just happy that I was able to make my pitches."

Verlander (15-5) stranded the tying run with a 101-mph fastball that struck out Torii Hunter, becoming the first Tigers pitcher since Joe Coleman in 1973 to notch 15 wins by August 1. Jose Valverde stranded the Angels' lone runner in the ninth for his 28th save. Comments