The Tigers sent out Justin Verlander, and it was more than enough.
The defending American League MVP and Cy Young award winner went eight scoreless innings that day, striking out seven batters and allowing just two hits. It was a heartbreaking loss for a Red Sox team that didn't know the defeat was about to precipitate much worse.
On Tuesday night, Verlander met the Red Sox again, a Boston team that battled back from the cellar to reach .500. But that wasn't the only thing different about the Sox this time around. They also had new faces on the roster, guys like Daniel Nava and Scott Podsednik. Better yet, they had their usual faces in the lineup — but this time, they were playing like they knew they could.
"It wasn't necessarily the guys I didn't know," Verlander said of why the Red Sox got to him and won 6-3 in their second matchup. "It was the guys I do know."
David Ortiz was one of those guys, going 3-for-4 with two RBI and a majestic home run. Another was Podsednik, whom Verlander would have seen plenty in Podsednik's time with the White Sox. With different leggings on, the veteran caused trouble, going 2-for-4 on Tuesday night.
In the final box score, every member of the Red Sox had a hit save Ryan Sweeney — who was causing another kind of damage with his catches in right field. Most of Boston's offense was contact-heavy punches, a far cry from how the Red Sox bats looked a month ago.
Overall, Boston combined for 10 hits and five earned runs against Verlander — both his highest totals of the season. Tuesday also tied for his shortest outing on the year, at just six innings.
"I think they did a good job battling and just stuck with their game plan," Verlander said.
Verlander said he wasn't battling with his control as much as the Red Sox were forcing him to prolong at-bats with their aggressiveness.
"I felt like they made a really good adjustment against me," he said. "I felt like I was actually pitching decent, and they were hitting some decent pitches. Obviously, this is a good lineup, and they're more than capable of doing that. I can't say I pitched bad, but it was a battle because of the way they were putting together at-bats against me."
The Red Sox have long known that they're better than their .500 record. The Tigers weren't under any illusions coming into the series, either.
"They're a very good team. They're always a very good team," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "You know, right now they're bringing the bats very good, and their veteran has done some damage the last couple days — you know, Big Papi. They're very good."
Leyland pointed to the Red Sox' recent additions of Will Middlebrooks and Daniel Nava, who broke the game open with a double in the fourth inning that scored three runs.
"You give the kid credit," Leyland said. "He's had good at-bats. Obviously, I don't know him very well, but he's had very good at-bats since we've been here."
Nava may have played the hero in that at-bat, but he was challenged plenty in what he saw from Verlander before it.
"The ball comes out of his hand and explodes pretty good," Nava said. "He throws one by you, he's a Cy Young winner and all that good stuff, and it's different. First time through, I really had to make some adjustments because I got owned my first at-bat."
Verlander said his problem facing Nava was that he fell behind in the count. Verlander turned it up with two straight 99-mph fastballs to work the count full, but his next high-speed offering was ripped down the left field line.
"That was the turning point in the game," Verlander lamented. "The thing I think I'm most disappointed about is not being able to get ahead of him. If I'm ahead, then he's not able to get to the fastball necessarily."
Nava produced the turning point in the game. A second straight win against a quality team — which finally pushed the Red Sox past .500 — may signal a turning point in the season.
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