OAKLAND -- Guillermo Moscoso was no-hitting the Tigers through five innings Sunday. Yet Justin Verlander was controlling the game. Always was. His toughest opponent might have been himself.
That's the impact Verlander has on a contest. The first base hit Moscoso allowed was the only one the Tigers needed. Once Austin Jackson homered leading off the sixth inning, Verlander had the A's where he wanted them. The other runs in Sunday's 3-0 Detroit victory -- Brandon Inge's pinch-hit double in the eighth inning, then Ramon Santiago's squeeze bunt in the ninth -- were extra tallies, just cushion to keep Jose Valverde in position for his 46th save and punctuate Verlander's 12th straight win.
Verlander has the first 24-win season in the Majors since Randy Johnson in 2002, and the first in the American League since Bob Welch won 27 in 1990, many on this same field at Oakland Coliseum as a member of the A's. Verlander is the first pitcher in the Majors to win 12 consecutive starts since Johan Santana in 2004; only five pitchers in Major League history have longer streaks, none since Ellis Kinder won 13 straight in 1949.
And yet he still wasn't completely happy with it.
"Better today," Verlander said. "Obviously, I'm somebody who's always striving for perfection. That's never going to quite be the case, so there's always going to be things to work on. I felt like the last two have definitely been trending the way I'd like."
He keeps finding points to pick. His teammates keep running low on things to say.
"Outstanding. Unbelievable. Great. Pick one and write it down," catcher Alex Avila said. "This has been typical Verlander."
Still, Avila catches every Verlander start, so he knows his thought process.
"This start, he had a lot better command of his fastball than his previous couple outings," Avila said. "It's just minor adjustments as the season goes on, but he's such a focused and determined individual right now that even when he's not on his A-game, he's tough. Today, he was, and he really made some pitches when he needed."
Get Verlander a 1-0 lead, and it feeds into his mentality to focus and fight for every pitch in every game. This kind of contest set him up beautifully. It came two days after the Tigers had clinched their first division title since 1987, but the standings didn't matter a bit.
He wanted better fastball command and he found it, spotting about 60 percent of his fastballs for strikes, including seven swings and misses according to MLB.com Gameday and brooksbaseball.net. He wanted a better overall mix, and he got that, too.
And he wanted the curveball. Oh, he really wanted it. The 2-2 curveball he threw to Brandon Allen with two outs and the potential tying run on base, he wanted enough that he discussed it with home-plate umpire Mike DiMuro on his way off the mound after Allen lined out to right on the next pitch. It eventually took manager Jim Leyland out of the dugout to break it up.
It wasn't a heated exchange, but it was animated.
"Of course I [wanted it]," Verlander said. "Called a ball. I just spoke my mind to Mike, and he let me know what he thought. Most of the time, when pitches are close but called balls, we think they're strikes.
"I was probably a little bit more animated because it's a 1-0 game. A situation like that, I know that every pitch is crucial. It's amplified, really. You never know what'll happen on the next pitch. Thankfully, I got an out, and it was a moot point."
Said Leyland: "We talked to him about it. There's a lot of emotion there, obviously."
The exchange highlighted Verlander's attention to detail, but it was about as high stress of a situation as he faced.
For just the second time in A's history, Oakland didn't have a plate appearance with a runner in scoring position. The only runner to step on second base was Josh Willingham, and he was supposed to be at first, having strayed too far on David DeJesus' second-inning fly ball that Delmon Young tracked against the sun for a flyout double play.
Verlander had just a pair of 1-2-3 innings, but he never had more than one baserunner in an inning. Willingham was the only leadoff hitter he allowed to reach base. Many of his outs came early in the count.
"He's not just a thrower," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He wasn't just pitching 97, 98 [mph] and blowing everybody away with his fastball. He pitched with his breaking ball and tuned it up a couple times but for the most part was using that breaking ball in off counts, using all four pitches. That's what makes him tough to deal with. You know the plus-velocity is there, and he's throwing other pitches in those counts when you have to look for his fastball."
When Verlander's on, that' s how he wants it -- any pitch located at any time.
"Getting there," Verlander said.