Verlander keeps rolling vs. White Sox
Ace goes distance for first career win in Chicago
CHICAGO -- Even as Justin Verlander was wrapping up one of the best outings of his career Wednesday, he knew what he was dealing with.
With Verlander two outs shy of a complete-game victory in a 2-1 duel over the White Sox, in stepped Jim Thome, who had pounced on Verlander his last time up for his seventh career homer off Detroit's ace. And ever briefly, a hint of doubt crept into the mind of a pitcher who has rarely hurt for confidence this year.
Would Verlander dare risk Thome home run No. 8 to tie the game and deny him his first career victory at U.S. Cellular Field? Would Verlander repeat the walk of Thome in the second inning?
"The funny thing was, I seriously considered pitching around him," Verlander said afterward. "But that goes against everything that I've thought, and everything that has gotten me to the point I am right now, how aggressive I've been and how my mentality has been.
"So it was a quick thought, but then in my mind, I'm like, 'You know what? I didn't get this far to pitch around anyone. I don't care who it is.' That just goes with the way I've thought about the other team from when we started talking about it. If I were to pitch around him, that goes against everything that I've been working for to get me here."
One could almost see the ghosts of Verlander's past six losses here being chased off by the swing Thome tried to put on Verlander's 98-mph high fastball. Yet Verlander calmly stepped off the mound as if his No. 1 nemesis was just another victim.
Six pitches later, after Josh Fields went down swinging at another 98-mph heater -- this one on Verlander's 122nd and final pitch of the night to wrap up the complete-game six-hitter -- Verlander gave a first pump back to his own dugout.
For a young man whose entire season has been a statement after leading the American League in losses last season, Wednesday was a statement game. And it left manager Jim Leyland struggling for new statements about how well Verlander is pitching these days.
"It's hard to describe how well he pitched," manager Jim Leyland said. "Just absolutely tremendous."
White Sox Ozzie Guillen, never at a loss for words, contributed.
"I don't remember seeing Verlander throw the ball that way, that good," Guillen said. "He's always got a great arm, but most of the time, he's wild. That's why in the past, [we've gotten to] him. But he threw a lot of breaking balls for strikes. He was outstanding. Besides [Kansas City's Zack] Greinke, this is one of the best performances I've seen."
Guillen probably can't remember because he has rarely seen it. Verlander had dominant stretches in games against the White Sox, such as his duel with Gavin Floyd in April 2008, but never pulled them out. A big inning, an untimely home run -- maybe a few untimely homers -- would take the game out of his control.
Yet at no point Wednesday night did Verlander not appear in control of the game, which is actually fitting given what has gotten him to this point.
"From the start of the game to the end of the game, he looked completely in control," Leyland said, "totally different than last year."
Two singles and a four-pitch walk to Thome were the only baserunners Verlander allowed through the first five innings. The second time through the White Sox lineup, he struck out the middle of the order with three consecutive strikeouts -- Jermaine Dye swinging at a curveball off the corner, Thome watching a curveball drop over the plate, then Paul Konerko watching an upper-90s fastball start outside before catching the corner.
"It's nice when you've got the option of a 95-mph fastball, a hook off the table and a changeup," Leyland said.
It's even better being able to command them. Verlander threw 89 strikes Wednesday, the highest total of any Tigers pitcher since Jeff Weaver in 2002.
Danks wasn't far off of Verlander's pace, allowing five hits over 7 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts. However, Adam Everett's solo homer leading off the sixth inning broke up the scoreless battle before back-to-back singles from Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera plus a hit-by-pitch to Brandon Inge loaded the bases for Ryan Raburn's run-scoring walk.
"It feels good to go out there and give us innings," Danks said. "That's part of the job description is to give us innings and give us a chance to win. At the same time, Verlander only gave up one run. You've got to tip your hat to him."
Thome's homer halved that lead, but didn't dampen Verlander's spirit. Nor did Verlander temper Leyland's willingness to keep him out there.
Considering both closer Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya were resting Wednesday, Leyland said before the game he'd be tickled with seven innings and a lead from Verlander. Instead, Verlander calmly pitched right past that.
Yet even if those late-inning arms were available, Leyland admitted afterwards, he wouldn't have made the switch.
"On a normal night, I don't have anything better down there than that," Leyland said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.