Detroit gets win #12, 70 wins from Hondo's prediction of 82!
Hondo S. Carpenter
Detroit overpowers Seattle in finale
04/23/2006 9:00 PM ET
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- The much-hyped meeting between Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez was "worth the price of admission," according to Tigers manager Jim Leyland.He didn't need a ticket. Instead, he paid with his stress level.
Verlander won the battle of the phenoms on Sunday, outdueling Hernandez with seven innings of one-run ball. The game itself wasn't decided until two backup catchers had put up two vastly different games and Fernando Rodney had blown a 95 mph fastball past Roberto Petagine with the would-be tying run on second.
Just as the previous two nights, Tigers pitching won out, stretching their winning streak to five with a 6-4 win over the Mariners on Sunday at Safeco Field.
The Tigers hadn't swept any series on the West Coast since taking a three-game set here in August 2000. Though they scored just seven runs all series until Craig Monroe's three-run homer in the eighth inning Sunday, they won on the strength of a pitching staff that entered Sunday atop the American League in ERA and batting average allowed.
"You want your starting pitching to give you a chance to win games," Leyland said. "Certainly they've done more than that in this stretch."
Verlander (2-2) is Detroit's only pitcher to lose so far this trip, and it wasn't for lack of performance. He struck out seven Athletics last Tuesday in seven innings of a 4-3 loss, while throwing seven pitches at 100 mph or higher.
The 23-year-old right-hander didn't light up the radar gun nearly as often on Sunday -- hitting triple digits twice in the first inning. Both came against Richie Sexson, including ball four at 101 mph.
What he lost in velocity and strikeouts, however, Verlander gained in effectiveness. He didn't allow a hit until Yuniesky Betancourt's two-out single in the fifth. He retired nine consecutive batters from the end of the second inning until Betancourt's hit, allowing just one ball in play out of the infield in the process.
Verlander's competitive instincts stayed out of his competitive game plan. He knew he had thrown 121 pitches his last time out, and he figured Leyland wouldn't let him last past 100 pitches this time out as a result.
"It's great for another young guy, another good pitcher to match up against," Verlander said. "But like I've said many times, it doesn't really matter who's on the other mound. I'm focused on what I can do."
The high strikeout total belonged to Hernandez. He struck out six of the first 16 batters he faced, and by the end of his outing had fanned Magglio Ordonez, Chris Shelton and Monroe twice each.
Much of Detroit's offense revolved around a rough afternoon for Hernandez's catcher, backup Rene Rivera, who was responsible for two unearned runs in the first inning. After Curtis Granderson's leadoff single and Omar Infante's one-out hit-by-pitch, the Tigers turned a double steal into a run when Rivera's throw went wide into center field. Infante later scored when Rivera couldn't hold onto a Hernandez pitch for a passed ball.
Whereas Rivera struggled, Vance Wilson's single off Hernandez led off a fifth-inning rally once Granderson followed with a single. Placido Polanco sacrificed them over for third hitter Omar Infante, who would've singled through a drawn-in infield if not for Betancourt's diving stop and throw to make it an RBI groundout and a three-run lead.
Once Betancourt singled in the bottom half, the Mariners had their chance to come back, until backup catching came up big again. Ichiro Suzuki followed Betancourt with a single before Jose Lopez lined a double into the left-field corner for the first run scored off Tigers starting pitching in 23 innings -- since Jeremy Bonderman's first inning last Sunday.
Ichiro tried to make it a one-run game when he followed Betancourt around third. Monroe made an off-balance throw to cutoff man Ramon Santiago, who fired home at the exact spot where Wilson was blocking Ichiro's path in front of home plate.
"We worked on this every day," said Monroe, referring back to fundamental drills in Spring Training. "[Santiago] knows exactly what to do. As an outfielder, we know our job is to get to the ball as fast as possible and get rid of it, and let those guys take care of the rest. It was a great relay."
Ichiro tried to run over Wilson, but bounced off him instead.
"It's got to be right on the line [to do that]," Wilson said of the throw. "It was perfect."
Another Rivera passed ball set up Monroe's second home run in as many days. Carlos Guillen advanced to second base with one out in the eighth and prompted Seattle manager Mike Hargrove to intentionally walk Shelton and set up the double play for Monroe. He deposited Clint Nageotte's 2-2 pitch into the left-field seats.
Verlander retired six of the final seven hitters he faced after his jam. Joel Zumaya, Detroit's other hard-throwing youngster, gave up three runs in the eighth on Sexson's RBI double and Adrian Beltre's two-run single. Fernando Rodney entered to walk Carl Everett and load the bases before loading the count on Petagine.
With one pitch to make, Rodney remembered seeing Petagine on television from a game earlier in the week homering off a breaking ball in a similar situation. "I wanted to give him my best pitch," Rodney said. "I have to believe in my pitch."
The guys who started the game didn't do much to thwart the belief in them, either. In the end, Leyland wasn't the only one who was a spectator at times.
"It's stupid to see two arms like that in the same game, and then Zumaya," Nate Robertson said. "It's just silly. I can get a running start and do a crow-hop and couldn't throw their low speed."