Baseball shares one thing with contract bridge -- even aces can be trumped.
Kansas City bumped around Detroit's Justin Verlander on Tuesday night, rapping out 12 hits and eight runs in 5 2/3 innings. The Royals beat the Tigers 9-8.
The right-hander's streak of having thrown 100 pitches in every start for more than two years is still intact, but after two innings, it looked as if even that measure of durability was going to get shorted out.
Going into the game, Verlander's numbers for 2012 were very similar to those he put up in 2011, when he was named AL Cy Young Award and MVP winner. He won his 20th game a year ago at this time, though, whereas now he's 12-7 and hasn't won since Aug. 6, turning in four consecutive no-decisions.
"I feel like most of the hard balls I gave up were in the first inning," Verlander said. "It's frustrating, but it's part of the game. Give them credit for putting the bat on the ball. I need to pitch better. I don't think I pitched as bad as the numbers showed, but I need to throw the ball better, especially when the guys jump out and give me three early."
Most of the problem was in Verlander throwing too many fastballs in hittable areas of the plate. He may have felt the six hits he allowed in the second inning, five of them consecutively, were garden-variety cheapies -- broken-bat hits and grounders that found seams in the infield -- but the pitches he made were still too hittable.
Detroit handed him a 3-0 lead, but after striking out the first two batters, he gave up four hits and three runs in the first to knot the score.
That, manager Jim Leyland felt, was the key. Verlander had four chances to choke off the threat but couldn't do it. That gave Kansas City life, and the Royals took advantage of it.
Verlander straightened out after the second inning for the most part, relying a little less on his fastball and going more to off-speed stuff.
The seven runs allowed in the first two innings were a first in Verlander's career. The 12 hits he surrendered were the most since he allowed 13 on Aug. 11, 2006, and he hadn't given up eight runs in a start since April 6, 2009.
He'll break out another deck of cards Sunday when he faces the Chicago White Sox and Chris Sale, who also got trumped Tuesday by the Baltimore Orioles.