"I'm not a little guy," Verlander joked of his encounter with the extra-large Fielder. "But I've seen him take a couple of guys out like it was football."
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Verlander survived, and the
Verlander pitched seven shutout innings, getting huge defensive plays from Fielder and Miguel Cabrera to snuff Cleveland threats, and Detroit stayed within one game of first-place Chicago with a 4-0 win over the downward spiraling Indians on Friday night.
Coming through the way he almost always does, Verlander (14-8) allowed six hits and delivered another dominant performance. But if it wasn't for diving stops by Fielder and Cabrera, big men best known for their powerful bats, the right-hander could have been in trouble.
"Game-saving plays," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Everybody's going to talk about defense, but those guys made terrific plays on the corners."
Detroit jumped to a 4-0 lead after two innings against Corey Kluber (1-4), who managed to hang around for five innings but couldn't overcome two shaky ones.
The Indians, who were within 3 1/2 games of first when they rallied to beat Verlander on July 26, are 10-36 since that win and 16-44 since the All-Star break.
"I don't think anybody's thinking that far back," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "We're trying to keep things present."
Verlander had been scheduled to pitch Thursday 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 the unlikely pair of Fielder and Cabrera, beefy corner infielders who both came up golden with their gloves.
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 bump.
"It wasn't hit hard, but those are the balls that can create into chaos because it got right down the line," Fielder said. "I was glad I was able to get it."
In the sixth, the Indians put runners on second and third with one out. Verlander got Russ Canzler to fly out, 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.
"That's a huge pickup," Verlander said of the two stops. "When you're out there on the mound and you're battling and one of your teammates makes a play like that, that's teamwork at its best. Obviously, I was pretty pumped up about it."
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.
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 an overshift. Delmon Young's single made it 1-0, and Brennan Boesch hit an RBI single.
The Tigers went up 4-0 in the second on Austin Jackson's RBI double and Cabrera's run-scoring single.
- 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."'
- Since 2008, Cabrera is batting .338 (113 for 334) with 22 homers and 76 RBIs in 86 games against Cleveland.
- Donald was hit on the right wrist by Verlander in the seventh. The Indians said X-rays are pending.