Justin Verlander no longer lights up radar guns with a high-90s fastball, and the righthander gets roughed up far more frequently than he did in his prime. But the 33-year-old occasionally can summon the form that used to make him an annual AL Cy Young Award candidate.
Last night was one of those times as the Yankees’ winning streak ended at five games. They lost to the Tigers, 6-1, before 39,050 at the Stadium as Verlander outpitched Masahiro Tanaka and Ian Kinsler had five RBIs.
“He pitches,” Joe Girardi said of Verlander. “Yeah, he’s lost a few miles per hour off his fastball but he’s still got really good stuff.”
Verlander (6-5, 3.77 ERA) allowed one run and five hits in 6 2⁄3 innings. He struck out five and walked one against the Yankees (31-31), who had scored at least five runs in seven of their previous nine games.
“He was able to locate on the outside corner and locate on the inside corner,” said Carlos Beltran, who entered the night in a 9-for-19 stretch with 11 RBIs but went 0-for-4.
Tanaka, pitching on the regular four days’ rest for a third straight outing — which has been an issue throughout his Yankees career — allowed five runs and six hits in 6 1⁄3 innings. Tanaka (3-2, 3.08) had allowed two or fewer runs in 10 of 12 previous starts.
“I’m sure there’s something to it,” Girardi said of the effectiveness of Tanaka on four days’ rest compared to five days. “But as a manager, when you’re playing 40 out of 41 days, you can’t have a six-man rotation. Your roster would be all screwed up.”
The big blow against Tanaka was a three-run homer by Kinsler with one out in the fifth that snapped a 1-1 tie. Kirby Yates took over with one on and one out in the seventh and allowed two hits, the latter a two-run double by Kinsler that made it 6-1.
The Yankees loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth against Alex Wilson, forcing Tigers manager Brad Ausmus to bring in Francisco Rodriguez. He earned his 18th save by getting Chase Headley to ground out.
After walking Jacoby Ellsbury with one out in the third, Verlander retired 13 of the next 14 batters before Didi Gregorius doubled with two outs in the seventh. Former Yankee Shane Greene replaced Verlander and struck out Headley on three pitches.
Nick Castellanos put the Tigers (31-30) ahead in the second, driving a belt-high 0-and-2 fastball into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center for his 12th homer.
“The location of some of my pitches,” Tanaka said through his translator in pinpointing his primary difficulties. “I got hurt by that.”
The Yankees tied it in the third. Headley, 5-for-13 with a homer against Verlander entering the game, slashed a full-count fastball to the opposite field down the leftfield line. The ball appeared to hit the foul pole but was ruled a triple, even after a replay review that seemed to show the mark of the baseball. Rob Refsnyder followed with a single up the middle to tie it at 1.
Justin Upton led off the fifth with a single and stole second. One out later, Jose Iglesias singled to right to put runners at the corners. Kinsler, swinging first pitch, lined a cutter “that backed up,” Girardi said, inside the leftfield foul pole for his 12th homer and a 4-1 lead, plenty for Verlander on this night.
“He was throwing four pitches for strikes. I think the slider’s been really good for him lately,” Headley said. “When you have a plus fastball, that makes everything you have better. We never really got a lot going against him.”