ST. PETERSBURG -- The Tigers took three out of four games from the Rays at Tropicana Field last August in part because Brad Penny outpitched David Price on a crazy night. Friday night's showdown with Justin Verlander might have been the payback.
"Two outstanding pitchers, two of the best in the league obviously, went at it," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after the Tigers' 4-2 loss. "Tonight, their guy got the best of it, and our guy's command just wasn't what he wanted it to be. We knew runs would be hard to come by, but that's all part of it."
The showdown wasn't exactly a knockout, considering it took a perfect ninth inning from former Tigers closer Fernando Rodney to keep Miguel Cabrera from stepping to the plate as the potential tying run. Still, three shots out of the park killed Verlander's chances of pulling this out. It took a stiff back to knock Price out, but his seven innings of two-run ball had already made his point.
So had two home runs from Rays leadoff man Desmond Jennings.
"The old saying that solo homers don't hurt you does not apply to tonight, not when you give up three of them," Verlander said. "Just fell behind some guys and put them in fastball counts, and they were able to take advantage of it."
It's not just that Verlander hadn't allowed a three-homer game in nearly a year and a half since the White Sox did it at Comerica Park on April 22, 2011. He had allowed seven home runs all season going into Friday, and four of them came in a pair of starts against the Yankees. He had allowed just two home runs in four previous starts at Tropicana Field, covering 28 innings.
Verlander allowed a home run in three straight innings Friday. If the Tigers were facing a different pitcher, he might have gotten credit for limiting the damage and keeping them solo shots. But he knew coming in that he wouldn't have that margin.
His fastball command wouldn't allow it.
"It was kind of like walking a tightrope, because against a guy like Price, you know you're not going to get many runs," Verlander said. "But at the same time, I was trying to be economical so that I could at least go six, seven innings. It was tough."
Tampa Bay milked 29 pitches out of Verlander in an opening inning that featured two singles, a walk and a run, and 20 more pitches when he struck out the side in order in the second. Nine of those pitches went to ninth batter and former Tiger Will Rhymes.
Verlander still got his strikeouts, eight of them over six innings, but even those at-bats took a toll on him. At one point, he had nearly as many strikeouts (seven) as balls put in play (eight), but two balls left the park.
The first came from Jennings moments after he ran down Quintin Berry's foul ball with a tumbling catch into the seats down the left-field line. He led off the third with Verlander looking for a quick inning, having started the frame with 49 pitches.
Verlander looked to get ahead with an easy fastball at 91 mph and missed on his location.
"That's what I was talking about trying to be economical, trying to get some quick outs," Verlander said. "And that was not a quick out. It was a quick something, but not a quick out."
It was a quick reaction from Jennings.
"Verlander throws his fastball a lot, and you know he's going to throw it," Jennings said. "I got into fastball counts and put a good swing on a couple balls."
Verlander actually threw more offspeed pitches, especially once he found his changeup was moving better than it had been in a couple months. When Jennings had a 3-1 count in the fifth, right after an 11-pitch battle from Rhymes, he readied for the fastball and got it at 96 mph. It was lower than the first, Verlander said, but still over the plate.
"He's just dead-red fastball, and I split the plate with it," Verlander said. "So he's probably going to hit it hard somewhere."
Add a Ben Zobrist home run leading off the fourth, and Verlander (8-5) had a 4-1 deficit.
"He just seemed out of sync," Tigers catcher Gerald Laird said. "Usually he's really good with command, and his ball just kind of leaked back to the middle of the plate. Usually his four-seamer away stays away, and they just kept coming back to the plate. When that happens, it tends to find the barrel."
Price (11-4) held the lead there as long as his back allowed, becoming the American League's first 11-game winner in the process. Former Ray Delmon Young had two of Detroit's five hits, including a solo homer in the fifth. Ramon Santiago doubled and came around on back-to-back groundouts in the seventh.
"He was using the strike zone to his advantage and making pitches," Laird said of Price. "He's got tremendous stuff. He had electric stuff and he mixed it up pretty good tonight."
Left-hander Jake McGee replaced Price to start the eighth and retired the Tigers in order to hand the lead to Rodney, who earned his 22nd save.