DETROIT – Maybe it was a lineup destined to fail.
Or more accurately, maybe it was a lineup destined to score only one run and muster five hits.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge put out a lineup for Thursday’s game that was short on power and even shorter on experience with regulars Jack Cust, Justin Smoak and Chone Figgins on the bench.
But, with the way Detroit’s Justin Verlander was pitching, Wedge could have tried any sort of combination of players and the result wouldn’t be much different.
The Tigers’ ace and three-time All-Star carved up the Mariners (32-31), tossing eight innings, allowing one run on five hits and striking out 10 while walking one to lead Detroit to a 4-1 win at Comerica Park.
“Verlander was good tonight,” Wedge said. “I’ve seen him too many times over the years. When he’s at his best, he’ll get stronger as the game goes on. He was better late than he was early and I thought he was really good early, too. It was just one of those days.”
Brendan Ryan had two of the five hits against Verlander, and he could only shake his head about how difficult it was to hit against Verlander.
“It’s not fun,” Ryan said. “It’s not fun at all. He’s throwing the kitchen sink at you and his fastball is 98 (mph). You are facing closer’s stuff with a pitch or two extra and he’s throwing all of them and he’s throwing all of them well.”
How tough is Verlander? After bouncing a ball to the left side that shortstop Jhonny Peralta gloved but couldn’t make a play on in the first inning, Ryan noticed that no one was covering second base, and he bolted to the open bag to advance a base. The move was one-part risky, one-part crazy and all-parts due to who they were facing.
“Often times the second baseman is backing up first, I always look for it and it’s not always there,” he said. “It was there. Essentially, once you get past the second baseman there is nobody there. So I figure if I can beat the second baseman I’m safe. And off Verlander, if we are able to bloop something in, that’s huge. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out today.”
With Ryan on second with one out, Verlander got Adam Kennedy to pop up to first and then struck out Miguel Olivo on four pitches to end the inning.
Ryan would be one of two Seattle runners to reach second base.
The other was rookie Greg Halman. In the fifth inning, Halman lined a ball up the middle for a one-out single. He stole second, then advanced to third on Luis Rodriguez’s fly ball to right.
With two outs, Verlander blew a high fastball past Jack Wilson for a strikeout but the ball was too high for catcher Alex Avila and it skipped off his glove to the backstop. It allowed Halman to sprint home for the Mariners’ only run as Wilson ran to first.
“It’s exciting,” Wedge said. “(Halman) did a great job on the steal. Verlander is not easy to steal off of. Then he gets to third on the fly ball and then gets home on the other play.”
And that was all the offense the Mariners could muster. No extra base hits, no more runners in scoring position. Nothing.
“It’s not an easy job,” Ryan said. “You just pray you don’t foul off the one ball you get (to hit). For a power pitcher, I don’t feel he uses his fastball as much as other power guys would. But you can’t argue with the results.”
Seattle starter Doug Fister is far from a power guy, but he put up a decent performance, too, except for the fifth inning and one bad pitch to Brennan Boesch.
Fister held Detroit scoreless over the first four innings, despite having runners on base every inning.
And yet, each time he was able to pitch his way out of trouble, including the third inning where he gave up a leadoff triple to Avila, and in the fourth inning when he gave up a leadoff double to Boesch.
“It was just making pitches that were called for,” Fister said. “It’s a matter of going out there and attacking each hitter.”
But Fister (3-7) couldn’t replicate his escape act for a fifth consecutive inning.
He gave up a leadoff single to Peralta and Avila followed with his second triple – a line shot to right-center that center fielder Franklin Gutierrez couldn’t track down.
Fister struck out Ryan Raburn and got Austin Jackson to ground out before Don Kelly singled home Avila to push the lead to 2-1.
A one-run deficit would have been difficult to overcome against Verlander, but not impossible.
But it wouldn’t matter.
Fister tried to throw a cutter in on the hands of the left-handed hitting Boesch but instead left it over the plate. Boesch hit a two-run homer.
“I left it a little too middle,” Fister said. “He capitalized on my mistake. He’s a good hitter and kept it fair.”
Fister would finish the game, needing just 87 pitches to go eight innings. “That’s a positive that comes out of the game,” Fister said.
Once Verlander got the lead, he struck out five over the next three innings, allowing singles to Ryan and Kennedy.
“He is a compete pitcher,” Wedge said. “His emotions are more under control. He’s always had great stuff. But now he pitches with that stuff. We saw it tonight.”
Seattle (Erik Bedard: 3-4, 3.46 ERA) at Detroit (Brad Penny: 5-4, 4.76), 4:05 p.m., Root Sports, 1240-AM, 1030-AM