Detroit jumped ahead of the Seattle Mariners, 1-0, two batters into the game Tuesday night at Safeco Field.
With reigning American League MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander on the mound for the Tigers, it seemed possible the visitors already had all the runs they would need.
When Detroit increased that to 5-0 after two innings, it seemed certain.
As it turned out, that second hunch was correct. But the Tigers’ win didn’t come easily as the Mariners took it to the bases-loaded final out before Detroit – and Verlander – got the victory, 6-4.
“It was a heck of a ballgame,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “Our guys didn’t lay down. They battled their tails off. When you’re down early like that against one of the better pitchers in the league, our guys didn’t give in at all. I’m really pleased with the way they battled through at-bats and made their guy work and got themselves back in the ballgame.”
Before the game, Wedge had been asked what he would tell his young players about facing Verlander.
“You just have to remember how good you are,” he said. “That’s as important to me as anything. Regardless of what it says on the back of your bubble gum card, you have to remember how good you are because of how young you are and what you’ve accomplished to get here and what your future is going to look like.”
The advice might have stuck, because the Mariners never seemed awed despite what is on the back of Verlander’s baseball card: 2011 American League MVP and unanimous Cy Young winner.
He also showed up at Safeco with the third-best hits-allowed-per-inning in the league, tied for third in batting-average allowed, fifth in strikeouts, sixth in strikeouts per walk and tied for seventh in ERA.
Still, after Detroit’s early eruption against Seattle starter Kevin Millwood, the Mariners began climbing back with a three-run third inning. The rally started with consecutive one-out singles by Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan and Ichiro Suzuki, and it culminated with a two-out single by Kyle Seager.
The next batter was John Jaso, and when the count reached 2-2, Detroit manager Jim Leyland was tossed for arguing balls and strikes.
Verlander left after six innings, holding a 5-3 lead.
For his part, Millwood bought his teammates time by holding the Tigers scoreless in the third, fourth and fifth innings. Then he called it a night and was relieved by Shawn Kelley.
“Millwood struggled early and then kept us in the ballgame, got us to the middle innings, and we’re back in it,” Wedge said. “We weren’t going to be able to go to the bullpen early after (the Monday game). We didn’t have enough arms down there. We really needed Kevin to step up and stay in there. Not only did he stay in there, he was able to shut them down for those final three innings.”
In the seventh, Prince Fielder launched a towering home run into the right-field seats against Kelley.
However, the Mariners answered with a small-ball run of their own in the bottom half.
Then they tried to duplicate the winning ninth-inning rally they had pulled off the night before. Mike Carp and Michael Saunders opened the inning with walks. But Ackley couldn’t get a bunt down before striking out. Another out and another baserunner later, the bases were loaded for Jesus Montero, who fouled out to right to finally end it.
Detroit (15-14) ended a five-game losing streak against Seattle (14-18) that dated to June 11, 2011.
“Our guys, they weren’t giving away at bats,” Wedge said. “They were battling all the way to the last out of the ballgame.”email@example.com 253-597-8808 Twitter: @donruiztnt