Detroit – For 15 minutes Monday, the Baltimore Orioles made Justin Verlander look like one of baseball’s worst pitchers.
It didn’t last.
The Detroit ace allowed five runs before getting his second out, but he didn’t give up another run during his eight innings of work, allowing the Tigers to rally for a 6-5 victory.
“This is one of my favorite starts of my career,” Verlander said. “In the past, I would have fallen apart — when I struggled in the first, I would never make it out of the fourth. Tonight, I went eight and kept us in the game.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that the performance validated Verlander’s All-Star status.
“To pitch the way he did after that first inning — that just shows that he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball,” Leyland said.
The game was tied 5-5 with two outs in the ninth when Clete Thomas hit a 1-2 fastball from Danys Baez (4-5) into the shrubs above the fence in center field.
“I’ve never hit a walk-off homer before – not at any level,” he said. “When I was rounding first and realized it had gone out, I didn’t know how to react. It feels better than you even think it will – and that’s something you always dream of doing.”
Fernando Rodney (2-2) picked up the win with a scoreless inning of relief.
Neither starter was involved in the decision, as Orioles rookie Chris Tillman gave up five runs in six innings in his second career start.
Tillman, who was acquired from Seattle along with Adam Jones and George Sherill in a six-player trade that sent enigmatic left-hander Erik Bedard to the Mariners.
“The nerves were gone, and I felt comfortable out there,” Tillman said. “I just had to get out of that first inning a lot better with a five-run lead.”
The Orioles stunned Verlander by scoring the five runs in the first, starting the game with four hits.
Brian Roberts led off with a homer, and the next three batters singled to load the bases.
Aubrey Huff made it 2-0 by grounding into a force at second before Ty Wigginton doubled in the third run and Luke Scott added a two-run double.
“After that, he was a completely different pitcher,” Huff said.
Baltimore got only three more hits in the game.
The Tigers got right back into the game with three runs in the bottom of the first on an RBI double by Placido Polanco and a two-run double by Miguel Cabrera.
“That was huge,” Leyland said. “In a situation like that, you always want to put up a zero, and then you are up 5-0 going into the second with your leadoff hitter coming up again. When we come right back with three, that sends up a red flag that we’re still in this game.”