Verlander brings heat, crowns Royals

AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann

Justin Verlander and Alex Avila celebrate following the Tigers 3-2 win over the Royals Monday night.

Justin Verlander found himself in a familiar position after the eighth inning with a two-run lead on Monday night against the Kansas City Royals.

Unlike his two previous starts when he and the Detroit Tigers bullpen blew leads in the ninth inning, Verlander went the distance this time and made sure he got his first win of the season. Verlander threw 131 pitches, one shy of his career high, and now has an MLB-best 33 120-pitch games since 2010.

Verlander this season has allowed one earned run in the first eight innings of his three starts, and five earned runs in the ninth inning. Prior to this year, he had allowed just one earned run in the ninth inning in his first seven seasons combined.

9th Inning Fastball Avg Velocity
Starting Pitchers, Since 2009

Verlander cranked up the heat in the final frame, averaging 97.5 mph with his fastball. He threw four heaters to Alex Gordon in the last at-bat, and each one hit 100 on the radar gun. Those were the four fastest pitches he threw the entire game.

Since 2009, Justin Verlander has the highest average fastball velocity for any starter in the ninth inning. He is the only starter in that time frame to throw a pitch over 100 mph in the ninth inning.

Verlander also had success getting ahead and finishing off the Royals batters. He allowed just one hit in 17 at-bats that reached a two-strike count, and this season opponents are now hitting .073 (3-41) with two strikes against Verlander.

Big Game shuts out Red Sox

James “Big Game” Shields lived up to his nickname on Patriots Day in Boston, tossing 8⅓ scoreless innings as the Tampa Bay Rays avoided the sweep against the Boston Red Sox with a 1-0 win this afternoon.

James ShieldsShieldsShields allowed just four hits – all singles – as he shut down a Red Sox offense that had averaged more than 10 runs per game in the first three games of the series. This was just the third 1-0 shutout by the Rays over the Red Sox and all three have come at Fenway Park.

Shields heavily featured his slider against Boston, throwing it 41 times, and using it to get 10 outs. Both of those are his most in any start over the last three seasons. He had thrown just 28 sliders in his first two outings this season and recorded only five outs in nine at-bats with the pitch.

Around the Diamond

• The Minnesota Twins beat the New York Yankees for just the sixth time in 34 regular-season games in the Bronx since Ron Gardenhire’s first season as Twins manager in 2002. Justin Morneau homered and now has five home runs in 11 career games at the new Yankee Stadium. He has five homers in 80 games at Target Field.

Dillon Gee pitched seven innings of one-run ball as the New York Mets beat the Atlanta Braves 6-1. Gee recorded 11 groundball outs, one shy of his career-best, and induced grounders on 65 percent of balls hit into play, the highest groundball rate in a game in his career.