Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 4/21/12
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander didn't throw a perfect game or even a no-hitter Saturday, but against the hottest team in baseball, it might as well have been. The White Sox's Philip Humber might have thrown a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners, but the Mariners lineup doesn't quite equal that of the Texas Rangers, which Verlander said is the best in the American League right now. The Rangers (12-3) came into the second game of the doubleheader against the Tigers (10-5) on an eight-game winning streak after pummeling first-game starter Rick Porcello for nine runs (eight earned) on 10 hits in one inning (plus three batters in the second). They had scored 44 runs in their last four games and the team batting average was .313. The Rangers made Verlander work for every out, pushing his pitch count up to 101 through five innings. Verlander threw 131 pitches in his last start in Kansas City and manager Jim Leyland told him he had up to 120 pitches. "It seemed like everybody in that lineup is locked in," Verlander said. "Some of the ways you can see that are at-bats where they really battle. Pitches that most guys dont even foul off, those guys are just fouling off, staying alive, staying alive. "That makes it tough on a pitcher. To be able to beat those guys when pretty much their whole lineup is about as good as they could be right now, thats a good win." The only run the Rangers managed against Verlander came in the fourth inning. Verlander walked Michael Young, who then took second on a passed ball and third on a flyout. David Murphy's sacrifice fly scored the unearned run. The Tigers dug in against converted closer Neftali Feliz for three runs in the bottom of the fourth. Verlander, Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde hung on for a hard-fought 3-2 victory. "I thought he was terrific," Leyland said of Verlander. "With that team, outs are tough. You can see why they're a championship team. "They grind their at-bats out probably as good as anybody in the league or better. They really, really grind their at-bats out, to their credit. That was not an easy chore." Verlander has now gone at least six innings in his last 46 starts dating back to Aug. 22, 2010. Catcher Alex Avila said the thing that impressed him most about what Verlander did was that he did not give in. "With all the foul balls and the at-bats they were grinding out, it would have been easy just to try to throw one down the middle there or overthrow a little bit, and he just kind of stuck with his game plan, stuck with his rhythm and didn't give in," Avila said. "He looked fantastic today. "You gotta tip your cap to them for making him work like that. They're just locked in." In addition to Verlander leading by the way he pitched, he's also showing the same leadership in the clubhouse. With what happened in the first game, the bullpen could have been destroyed if Duane Below did not come in and throw six scoreless innings in relief of Porcello. It was the longest outing by a Tigers reliever since Steve Sparks threw 7 23 scoreless innings on June 1, 2003, against the Yankees. "I think Id be remiss if I didnt talk about Below," Verlander said. "As soon as I came out of the game, I told him hes the reason we are where we are, to be lined up for a chance to close this ballgame down. "He did a helluva job in that first game, and hes the reason we won the second game." True, Below made it possible for the bullpen to line up for the seventh, eighth and ninth in the second game but Verlander was the real reason the Tigers beat the Rangers. "Justin pitches great against everybody," said Ramon Santiago, who had the game-winning, two-RBI single. "He was the MVP last year for a reason because he pitched great. When we need that win, he always comes up big. It was great to see that." Since he did not throw a perfect game, Verlander pronounced his outing "OK." "Couldve pitched better. Couldve pitched a lot worse," Verlander said. "I give credit to those guys for just battling. There wasn't one easy out all day." It wasn't easy but the ace still beat the hottest team in baseball, which made the win just about perfect for the Tigers.
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