The two teams who are tied for second place in the AL wild card standings open a key three-game series on Friday at Comerica Park.
Detroit (75-65) has won consecutive contests in walk-off fashion, including a 3-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Thursday to take the three-game series. Sean Casey and Placido Polanco hit run-scoring singles in the ninth to help the Tigers rally, one night after Timo Perez’s RBI single in the 11th gave them a 2-1 victory.
“Obviously, this is huge,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I’m not saying we can’t lose another game, but it is too late in the season to make up many of them.”
Leyland’s squad now tries to win three in a row for the first time since a four-game run July 15-19, a stretch that began with a win over Seattle. Detroit is just 18-29 since that winning streak ended, though, and is six games behind first-place Cleveland in the AL Central.
The Tigers and Mariners (74-64) are both three games back of the New York Yankees in the wild card race. Seattle dropped two of three games in its recent series with the Yankees, getting outscored 22-5 in the last two defeats.
The Mariners allowed eight runs in the seventh inning on Wednesday en route to a 10-2 loss - their 11th in 12 games. Prior to that skid, Seattle was only one game behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels in the AL West, but it has since fallen eight games back.
“We’ve got to get out of it,” said Mariners manager John McLaren, whose team is beginning the final series of its 10-game road trip. “We’ll see what we are made of.”
McLaren might not be happy with what he sees Friday with his club facing Detroit ace Justin Verlander (15-5, 3.67 ERA), who is 3-0 with a 3.26 ERA in three career starts versus the Mariners, including two this season. The right-hander held Oakland to one run and six hits over 6 2-3 innings in a 6-1 win on Saturday.
He walked three and struck out 10 to win his second straight start and fourth in his last five. It was the third time this season he has struck out 10 or more.
“I thought today was some of the best stuff he’s had all year,” said Leyland, who gave Verlander an extra day of rest before this start after he threw 129 pitches. “His fastball was electric today, as good as I’ve seen it. He’s a rare dude, because it’s hard to find guys 24 years old with an electric fastball, electric curve and above-average changeup.”
That stellar performance followed a 16-0 win over the Yankees on Aug. 27, when the reigning AL Rookie of the Year allowed three hits in seven innings.
Verlander’s 7.56 run support average is the best in the majors while Miguel Batista (13-10, 4.59), his opponent on Friday, is tied for the third-worst mark in the AL at 4.20. Batista has gotten just one total run of support over his last three starts.
The right-hander allowed 14 runs and 19 hits through eight innings to lose back-to-back starts to close August. He pitched much better on Saturday, holding Toronto to one run and five hits over seven innings, but didn’t get a decision in the 2-1 defeat. Batista walked three and struck out a season high-tying seven.
The 36-year-old veteran is 1-2 with a 3.72 ERA in eight career games, including four starts, versus the Tigers. That lone victory came on July 14, when he gave up one run over six innings and struck out six in a 6-4 win.
Detroit designated hitter Gary Sheffield, who was 0-for-3 on Thursday in his return from the 15-day disabled list, is batting .310 (9-for-29) with five homers lifetime versus Batista.
The Tigers have won four of the seven matchups between these teams this season.