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Verlander hurls 7 1/3 frames of one-run ball

Every time Justin Verlander pitches, the man with what seems like a lock on the American League Cy Young Award gains more and more momentum not only for his Detroit Tigers, who are steaming toward an AL Central crown, but for Most Valuable Player votes.

And as for the other Justin who will toe the slab Wednesday in Cleveland when the Tigers and Indians meet -- the right-hander named Masterson -- well, he hasn't been too shabby in 2011, either.

For Verlander, the Cy Young conversation has almost become an afterthought.

Heading into Wednesday, the righty leads the league in victories (21), innings pitched (223), strikeouts (224), WHIP (0.91) and has a 2.34 ERA and has thrown a no-hitter for a team with what looks like a hammer-lock on the division.

In his last start, a win over the White Sox, Verlander continued to cruise, becoming the first pitcher to win 21 games in a Tigers uniform since Jack Morris in 1986 after overpowering the team that beat him at Comerica Park coming out of the All-Star break for his last defeat. He has won his last nine starts after winning seven in a row earlier in the summer.

If Verlander notches his 22nd win of the year, it'll be the most by a Tigers pitcher since Mickey Lolich won 25 in 1971. Quite simply, this is the time of year when Verlander shines, and he says this year is no different.

"I feel good," Verlander said. "I've said it time and time again, this is the time of year when all the hard work in the offseason comes into play. This is precisely why you have that little bit of extra drive in the offseason, to do that extra set [of weights] or extra rep or run a little bit harder. It's this time of year."

Masterson, meanwhile, has a lot to be proud of in 2011 -- his breakout season as a starter.

He earned his 11th win of the year in his last start, Sept. 2 in Kansas City, and has allowed only 28 earned runs in his last 95 1/3 innings (2.64 ERA) spanning his last 15 games, 14 of which were starts.

He has gone at least five innings in 28 of 29 starts this year and has allowed two earned runs or less in 21 of his past 28.

The last win wasn't his best outing of the year. He gave up four runs on seven hits in seven innings while striking out four and walking one. But he had the big picture in mind when evaluating it afterward.

"Overall, it wasn't as good as I was hoping," Masterson said. "But, in a sense, it was. We got ourselves a victory."

Tigers: Valiant Valverde
• Closer Jose Valverde recorded his 41st save of the season Monday against Cleveland and is now one save shy of matching Todd Jones, who established the club record with 42 saves during the 2000 season.

• The Tigers have collected 10 or more hits in 13 of the club's last 20 games against Cleveland dating back to Aug. 20, 2010. Detroit is hitting .291 (206-for-709) with 95 runs scored, 36 doubles, two triples and 15 home runs during that 20-game stretch.

• Outfielder Austin Jackson is one home run shy of reaching double digits in doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases this season. With one more home run, it would mark the 18th time a Tigers player has posted a "quadruple-double" and the first since Curtis Granderson did it in back-to-back seasons in 2007-08.

Indians: Perez heating up again
• After blowing consecutive save opportunities on July 19 at Minnesota and Aug. 5 at Texas, closer Chris Perez has saved each of his last five opportunities and 10 of his last 11 in save chances. Since Aug. 9, he has not allowed an earned run in his last 14 appearances (13 2/3 innings, five hits, nine strikeouts) while recording nine saves.

• Over the last 27 games, the Indians' bullpen owns a 2.32 ERA (100 2/3 innings, 26 earned runs), while giving up 80 hits, striking out 78 and walking 29.

• Outfielder Kosuke Fukudome has 15 RBIs in 37 games with Cleveland, one more than he had in 87 games with the Chicago Cubs this season.

Worth noting
• Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit has a 3-0 record and 1.62 ERA (seven earned runs in 39 innings), two saves and 39 strikeouts over his last 42 outings dating back to May 20. He has limited opponents to a .190 batting average (25-for-132) during the stretch.

• Only 13 players (Fausto Carmona, Chad Durbin, Frank Herrmann, Masterson, Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp, Lou Marson, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jack Hannahan and Shelley Duncan) on the current Indians active roster were on the Indians' Opening Day roster.

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