Justin Verlander, sporting a scruffy beard on his 33-year-old face, chuckled when the Detroit Tigers showed a video montage of some of his significant strikeouts during a career that started more than a decade ago.
”Man, the first strikeout they showed against (Travis) Hafner I looked pretty doggone young, fresh-faced,” Verlander said. ”A lot of great moments along the way, and a lot of great moments here in this stadium in front of these fans. A lot great seasons. It really all brings that back to the forefront pretty quickly. Most importantly, we won.”
Verlander struck out 10 batters, including the 2,000th of his career, to help Detroit beat the Minnesota Twins 6-3 on Wednesday.
”Personal accomplishments are nice, but what I take the most pride in is being out there every fifth game,” he said. ”Numbers come with time.”
Talent and an ability to adapt have also helped.
While Verlander can’t throw around 100 mph like he could when he made his debut July 4, 2005, at Cleveland, he can still blow mid-90s fastballs past players and mix his other pitches to keep them guessing. And, he is willing to make changes as he did by dropping his arm slot recently.
”It’s a huge part of this game, being able to make adjustments on the fly, mid-season, mid-at-bat,” Verlander said. ”It’s been good since I made that adjustment.”
Verlander (3-4) allowed six hits and three runs over 7 1/3 innings while matching his season high in strikeouts. He joined Mickey Lolich as the two pitchers in franchise history with 2,000 career strikeouts, and became the 76th in baseball history to reach the milestone.
”Ver has to catch up to Rocket (Roger Clemens) to really impress me,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus joked. ”But it’s an outstanding accomplishment. Ver has been one of the elite pitchers in baseball since he arrived on the scene. Since the end of last July, when a lot of people doubted him, he’s kind of shown he’s got some left in the tank.”
The Tigers have shown they can compete and win, too. They’ve won four straight, equaling a season high, after losing 11 of 12 games.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is simply struggling.
The Twins have lost 11 of 13, dropping to 10-29 for the worst record in the majors.
”We talked a lot about the first inning, being ready,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. ”Some of the basic things that you would hope at this level. We got to catch the ball, hit the cutoff man, all those kind of things that just jump out at you when you’re playing poorly. Give extra bases, extra opportunities. It’s a tough hole to dig for your starting pitcher when you don’t make plays early.”
Ian Kinsler and the Tigers took advantage of Minnesota’s mistakes, which included three errors.
He led off the first with an infield single and advanced to second on an errant throw from shortstop Eduardo Nunez. Kinsler scored when J.D. Martinez followed with a single and left fielder Eddie Rosario was charged with an error, missing home plate on a throw that should’ve gone to second to prevent Martinez from getting to that base.
Kinsler finished 3 for 4, hitting a solo homer in the sixth and an RBI single in the fourth. He has hit homers in four straight games for the first time in his 11-year career, and has become the first leadoff hitter to do that for the Tigers since Dick McAuliffe did it in 1969.
Ricky Nolasco (1-2) gave up nine hits and four runs over five innings.
Francisco Rodriguez pitched a perfect ninth to earn his 11th save in 12 chances.