CLEVELAND - Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings and made sure Detroit stayed in step with first-place Chicago in the AL Central, leading the Tigers to a 4-0 win over the downward spiraling Cleveland Indians on Friday night.
Coming through the way he almost always does, Verlander (14-8) allowed six hits. He escaped jams in the fifth and sixth innings with help from Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, big men best known for their powerful bats, who made stellar defensive plays.
The Tigers came in trailing the first-place White Sox by one game.
Detroit took a 4-0 lead after two innings against Corey Kluber (1-4)
The Indians, who were within 3 1-2 games of first when they rallied to beat Verlander on July 26, are 16-44 since the All-Star break.
Verlander had been scheduled to pitch Thursday night in Chicago against White Sox ace Chris Sale. But rain postponed the series finale and marquee pitching matchup, pushing the AL's reigning Cy Young winner back. The one-day delay didn't have much affect on the Tigers' top gun, who on a chilly, October-like night, pitched as if it was the postseason.
Verlander needed some help, though, and got it from Fielder and Cabrera, his beefy corner infielders who both came up golden with their gloves.
After winning just once in his past six starts, Verlander came in with a season-high 2.91 ERA. All he needed was an outing against the inept Indians to drop it back down to 2.82.
The defending AL MVP lost his two previous starts to Cleveland this season, including the July 26 game when he gave up four runs in the seventh and lost 5-3. Verlander had also been winless on the road since July 15, going 0-3 with a 6.46 ERA in five outings.
The Indians didn't get a runner to second until the fifth, when Casey Kotchman blooped a leadoff single and went to third on Lonnie Chisenhall's double.
Cleveland was threatening, but Verlander hardly seemed frightened.
He got Matt LaPorta on a weak tapper in front of the plate for the first out, then struck out Ezequiel Carrera, setting him up with a 99 mph fastball for strike two and then locking him up with an 89 mph change-up.
Jason Donald followed with a hard grounder down the first-base line that Fielder stopped with a dive that carried him from the infield dirt onto the grass in foul territory. From his knees, Fielder tossed the ball to Verlander, who raced over to cover first. As Fielder got back to his feet, Verlander gave his 275-pound-plus teammate a congratulatory chest bump.
In the sixth, the Indians put runners on second and third with one out. Verlander got Russ Canzler to fly to short right, and Cabrera ended the inning by making a backhanded diving stop on Kotchman's line-hugging smash before bouncing up and throwing to first for the final out.
Verlander raised his right fist in the air and held it there as he waited in the middle of the infield to swat Cabrera on the backside as he ran to the Tigers' dugout.
Verlander didn't ease into anything.
The right-hander fired several 97 mph fastballs in the first, which he ended by snagging Carlos Santana's comebacker and starting a 1-6-3 double play.
Verlander took the mound with a 2-0 lead after the Tigers strung together four two-out singles off Kluber.
With two outs, Cabrera singled up the middle and Fielder followed with a hard shot to short right that ate up second baseman Jason Kipnis, who was playing deep on a overshift. Delmon Young's single made it 1-0, and Brennan Boesch ripped another hard RBI single up the middle.
The Tigers went up 4-0 in the second when Austin Jackson hit an RBI double and scored on Cabrera's single.
Notes: Tigers manager Jim Leyland can't return to Progressive Field without thinking about when he managed Florida in the 1997 World Series, when snow fell before Game 3. "I'll never forget it," he said. "I was hitting fungoes during batting practice and they were playing `Jingle Bells."' ... Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera missed his fifth straight game with a sprained right wrist. Cabrera, who injured himself nearly two weeks ago, received a cortisone shot. Manager Manny Acta is hopeful Cabrera will be back in the lineup at some point this weekend. ... Indians OF Michael Brantley missed his second game with a strained chest muscle he hurt swinging in the batting cages in Texas. He's expected back during the series.
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