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DET@BOS: Verlander strikes out seven over six innings

BOSTON -- Five days ago, Justin Verlander threw 100-mph fastballs in the eighth and turned in an inning to remember during a loss in Cleveland. On Tuesday, he threw a 100-mph payoff pitch in the fourth inning that cost him.

It was a full-count delivery with two outs and the bases loaded in a one-run game, and it was Verlander's best pitch under the circumstances. If the Tigers' ace was going to give up the lead, he was going to make Daniel Nava swing the bat and make contact. Nava sent the payoff pitch into left field off the Green Monster to clear the bases, and in the process sent Verlander on his way to his first five earned-run outing since the end of last season in a 6-3 loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

"Justin wasn't as sharp as normal," manager Jim Leyland said, "but give them credit. They swung the bats real good and we just couldn't get enough offense going."

It was a vastly different outing for Verlander than his previous time out, but it was same result. Together, they marked the first set of back-to-back losses since April 11-16 of last season. They also provided a reminder that just because Verlander has turned in so many victories after Tigers defeats over the last year and a half doesn't mean he's an automatic.

Verlander, who often goes out of his way to wait for reporters for postgame remarks, was not available after the game.

What Verlander provides is a chance, one the Tigers usually don't have to provide an offensive outburst to convert. They couldn't get more than a run for Verlander last Thursday off Justin Masterson and the Indians' bullpen. Detroit found a couple extra runs Tuesday thanks to Prince Fielder's solo homer and RBI single after a Jhonny Peralta homer.

By then, though, the Red Sox had gotten their big inning off Verlander, whom Boston's hitters forced out of his routine of saving his top fastball for the later innings. By then hitting his top fastball, they ensured he didn't last into the later innings.

The Red Sox put their leadoff hitter on base against Verlander in four consecutive innings starting with David Ortiz's double in the second. Mike Aviles beat out a double-play ball to allow Ortiz to score, but Verlander fanned Nick Punto on three fastballs to keep it at that.

A leadoff walk to Nava in the third inning went for nada when Verlander retired the heart of the Red Sox's lineup from there, though he took an Ortiz comebacker off his leg to do it.

Three singles in the fourth, starting with Kevin Youkilis on an 0-2 changeup leading off the inning, put Verlander in a bind with one out. He had overpowered Punto on fastballs his previous time up, so he hit 98 mph on a 2-0 pitch to jam him into a soft liner to Peralta at shortstop and take away the sacrifice fly opportunity.

Up came Nava, who fouled off a 98-mph fastball before Verlander fired his first triple-digit fastball for ball one. After Verlander missed with a curveball, he hit 99 or better on three straight pitches.

The first at 99 missed for a 3-1 count. Nava swung and missed at the next to run the count full. Having missed with the curve already, Verlander went back to 100. It was a classic example of one of Verlander's favorite phrases for challenging a batter: Here it is, hit it.

Nava hit it. It wasn't hard, but he got enough for an opposite-field double.

"He stayed inside a fastball pretty good," Leyland said. "You give the kid credit. He stayed on it. He's had good at-bats. I don't know him very well, obviously, but he's had very good at-bats since we've been here."

Verlander (5-3) lasted six innings for the 53rd consecutive start, continuing the longest such streak by a Major League pitcher since Steve Carlton 30 years ago. However, Verlander gave up five runs for just the third time in his last 63 starts. He allowed 10 hits for the first time in 50 starts since the Twins had that many on Sept. 2, 2010.

Verlander is allowed to have outings like this, and it's amazing he hasn't had more of them. It's the struggles the Tigers have encountered in games Verlander hasn't started that give his outings almost a must-win feeling.

Add in the Tigers' Monday loss and last week's series sweep in Cleveland and Detroit is winless with Verlander and Doug Fister on the mound their last two turns through the rotation.

Instead, they'll try to find their spark through rookie Drew Smyly, whose win last Friday at Minnesota ended their three-game losing streak. His other win this year at Yankee Stadium snapped a five-game skid.

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