Verlander picks up 16th win after Tigers burn Rays' bullpen for three in 9th

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Justin Verlander got his 16th win of the season -- barely.

Verlander tied New York Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia for the AL lead in victories, Adam Everett hit a tiebreaking RBI single during a three-run ninth and the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (16-7) allowed one run and four hits over eight innings. He has won three consecutive starts.

"I'm not worried about 16, I'm worried about one, and that's today," Verlander said. "And even if I didn't get the win today, if we came away with the 'W' I'd be more than happy."

The Tigers expanded their lead to six games over Minnesota, which lost 5-2 to Cleveland.

Detroit closer Fernando Rodney allowed two runs in the bottom half of the ninth before nailing down his 32nd save.

Carlos Pena hit an RBI single with one out and Evan Longoria drove in another run with a double before pinch-hitter Willy Aybar grounded out with runners on second and third.

During the postgame celebration on the field, Rodney threw the game ball toward the stands and it ended up in the press box. No one was hit by the ball, which Rodney said he was throwing to the fans.

"Feeling the moment," Rodney said. "A little celebration."

Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he didn't see the throw, but planned to check into it. Rodney, after making 35 pitches, will not pitch on Saturday.

"I think he was a little more sluggish than normal," Leyland said. "I'm going to give him a day off for sure. He deserves it."

Tampa Bay rookie Jeff Niemann, who has a team-best 12 wins, gave up one run and six hits in 7 2/3 innings. The Rays, six games behind Boston in the AL Wild-card race, have lost six of nine.

"Verlander and Niemann were the key," Leyland said. "They were both brilliant."

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon feels Niemann should be the AL rookie of the league.

"I don't know who is better right now," Maddon said. "He's been fantastic."

Pinch hitter Ryan Raburn opened the ninth by drawing a walk from J.P. Howell (7-5) and went to second one out later when pinch hitter Marcus Thames walked. Everett then gave the Tigers a 2-1 advantage when he lined a single to left on the first pitch.

Curtis Granderson had a run-scoring single off Randy Choate and Placido Polanco hit a sacrifice fly against Russ Springer later in the ninth to make it 4-1.

"You want to quit and scream, but there's tomorrow, too," said Howell, who is 1/3 with a 6.42 ERA in his last 14 outings. "There's another opportunity tomorrow for you to improve."

Longoria put the Rays ahead 1-0 on an RBI double in the second.

Niemann retired 10 in a row before Miguel Cabrera tied it at 1 with a towering solo homer to left.

Tigers catcher Gerald Laird helped keep the speedy Rays in check, throwing out two runners attempting to steal second. Tampa Bay leads the majors with 169 stolen bases this season.

"He's got to be the best thrower in the league right now," Leyland said.

Game notes
Detroit has decided to have Verlander stay on his normal schedule and start Wednesday's game at Kansas City. With an off day Monday, there was an option to give him an extra day of rest. ... Rays CF B.J. Upton (sprained left ankle) could return early next week. ... Leyland plans to have RHP Jeremy Bonderman (blood clot) make his first appearance in a low-leverage situation. ... Jackson, traded by Tampa Bay to Detroit during the offseason, is scheduled to start Sunday's game against the Rays.