Commentary

Red Sox catch up to Justin Verlander

Daniel Nava delivers decisive blow as Boston gets over .500 for first time

Updated: May 30, 2012, 10:32 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, the reigning American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner, arrived at work on Tuesday at Fenway Park and was ready to continue his career success against the Boston Red Sox.

Well, the Red Sox had other thoughts.

It obviously wasn't Verlander's best outing and the Red Sox produced some solid at-bats and timely hitting en route to a 6-3 win over the Tigers. The win pushed Boston over the .500 mark for the first time all season.

Detroit's ace right-hander allowed five runs on 10 hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in six innings of work. It was the most hits and earned runs he's allowed this season.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Nava
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesDaniel Nava strokes a 100 mph fastball from Justin Verlander for a three-run double that gave the Red Sox a 4-0 lead.

"They made pretty good adjustments against me," Verlander said. "I felt like I was pitching decent and they were hitting some decent pitches. Obviously this is a good lineup and they are more than capable of doing that. I can't say I pitched bad, but it was a battle because of the way they were putting together at-bats against me. There were a lot of guys on and a lot of high-intensity pitches."

The five earned runs were the most Verlander has allowed on the road since June 22, 2010 at the New York Mets, and the 10 hits were the most he's allowed on the road since Sept. 2, 2010. It also marked only the second time he has allowed both five earned runs and 10 hits on the road, with the first dating back to Aug. 26, 2006.

Basically, the Red Sox took advantage of his mistakes all night.

Verlander had not allowed more than seven hits in any of his first 10 starts this season, but he surrendered eight through the first five innings on Tuesday.

Despite all that, Verlander was able to extend his streak to 53 consecutive starts of six-plus innings, which dates to Aug. 8, 2010.

For the Red Sox, designated hitter David Ortiz went 3-for-4, including two doubles and a solo home run. Left fielder Daniel Nava went 1-for-4, but his one hit was the biggest of the game, a three-run double off Verlander in the bottom of the fourth.

"He doesn't make many [mistakes], so when he does we need to be able to capitalize on it," said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who had to leave the game due to illness. "David was hitting everything, it seemed like, and Nava came up big with that three-RBI double that we needed."

During Nava's first at-bat, leading off the bottom of the first, he was having trouble picking up the ball, which is understandable since he's never faced the Cy Young and MVP winner. After grounding to third, Nava knew he needed to keep it simple.

He drew a walk in his second plate appearance in the third before his heroics in the bottom of the fourth. Verlander offered Nava six pitches during the at-bat, including fastballs of 98, 100, 99, 99 and 100 mph, along with an 80 mph curveball. Nava said he got out of his approach a little because he had a hitter's count at 3-and-1 and swing right through a 99 mph fastball.

"I tried to calm myself down and keep it simple," Nava said.

On the next pitch, the runners were all moving because there were two outs, and Nava delivered an opposite-field shot to clear the bases and give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead.

"He gave me a tough at-bat," Verlander said. "Obviously, that was the turning point in the game. The thing I'm disappointed about is not being able to get ahead of him. If I get ahead in that situation, he's not able to get the fastball in that situation."

Nava's at-bat was the only time Verlander reached 100 mph on the gun. He said after the loss he was purposely reaching back for a little extra.

"The bases were loaded and there were two outs. You don't want him to get on base, so I gave him everything I've got," Verlander said.

Since Nava hadn't faced Verlander before Tuesday, he made adjustments and was able to catch up to the nasty fastball Verlander can produce.

"The ball comes out of his hand and it explodes and that's why he's a Cy Young winner," Nava said. "The first time through I really had to make some adjustments because I got owned on that first at-bat."

The radar gun is shown on the left-center field video board at Fenway Park, but Red Sox hitters did not have to look up there to know Verlander was throwing hard.

"I wanted to be as comfortable as I could in the box, and how comfortable are you with a guy who's that good?" Nava said. "So I knew it was coming hard, but that's all I knew. I didn't even know it was 100, the one I hit, until someone told me. That's one less thing you want to worry about when a guy is throwing 100. When a guy is throwing 95, that's enough, so when you see 100 -- gosh."

Verlander said he needs to do a better job against batters he hasn't faced in the past and credited Nava with a good at-bat. Nava, however, believes it was the pitcher who had the advantage.

"You can look at it both ways," Nava said. "The way scouting is these days, they probably know as much about me. I would have to say the advantage would go to him because he's a Cy Young winner."

Everyone in Red Sox Nation knows all about Nava's first at-bat in the big leagues, when he hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw as a major leaguer, on June 12, 2010, against the Philadelphia Phillies. That was a special moment for Nava, but producing the way he did off Verlander also will be a lasting memory.

"It's something that helped our team and I was just trying to put together a good at-bat," he said. "Fortunately, it was a situation with guys on base. Sometimes you want to do more in that situation, you want to hit the home run, so that's why I wanted to simplify things, look in a zone and look for a pitch I can handle and put a good swing on it. I know it sounds corny, but going outside your approach doesn't help."

The Red Sox simply beat Verlander, who entered Tuesday's game having not allowed a run over his past 16 2/3 innings against Boston. He registered a quality start in each of his past five outings against the Red Sox, posting a 2-0 record and a 1.40 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings of work.

That success did not continue on Tuesday.

"I'll give credit where credit is due," Verlander said. "I think they did a damn good job battling and stuck with their game plan."

And the Red Sox were rewarded with surpassing the .500 mark for the first time this season off the best pitcher in baseball.

ESPNBoston.com contributor Billy Humphrey provided information for this report.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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