The ballyhooed Justin Verlander-Yu Darvish matchup Thursday night looked nothing like a duel between two anticipated Cy Young contenders.
Instead, the opener of the four-game weekend series between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers resembled a Willie Blair-Mark Clark from 1999.
Except Verlander was worse than that, but Darvish kept going and going after an early stumble.
The Rangers chased the 2011 MVP and Cy Young winner before he could get nine outs, scoring seven runs in the third inning and eight overall against Verlander en route to a 10-4 victory on a night when Darvish started slowly but ended up lasting eight innings.
The right-hander allowed three runs in the third, but benefited from a clutch two-run double by Mitch Moreland and three-run homer by Geovany Soto in the biggest inning a team has had against Verlander in his career.
“Any time you face him, it’s going to be tough,” Moreland said. “It was a good inning for us. That’s just the way our team goes out and tries to make it work. We’re going to grind out every at-bat, and 1 through 9, we’re trying to make it tough and trying to create opportunities. That inning we were able to do it.”
The first four Rangers reached to start the fourth. Verlander uncharacteristically issued walks to Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre to bring home runs. But the Moreland double and Soto homer, his first of the season, came after Verlander had struck out Nelson Cruz for the second out in an inning.
Verlander was ahead of Moreland 0-2 in the count, but the Rangers’ hottest hitter drove an 0-2 pitch to the right-field wall to score Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus.
“I wanted to get a good pitch to hit,” Moreland said. “I definitely didn’t plan on getting down 0-2 to him, but I got a pitch over the plate. It was a slider, and I was able to get the barrel to it and make something happen.”
Soto just cleared the left-field wall four pitches later.
It was the 38th pitch of the inning for Verlander (4-4) and his 70th and final pitch of the game.
“Justin is one of the best pitchers in the game,” Soto said. “He had some good stuff, but we got the best of him tonight.”
The stunning performance by Verlander, who allowed a run in the first inning, came after the Tigers had taken a 3-1 lead in the top of the third against Darvish.
Don Kelly started the inning with a solo homer, and Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez delivered runs with a sacrifice fly apiece in a 36-pitch frame for Darvish.
“I think I threw really well the first two innings, just the one inning in the third that went really bad,” Darvish said. “But other than that I didn’t change a thing.”
Jhonny Peralta started the fourth with a homer, but Darvish (7-1) settled down enough to retire 15 of the final 16 batters he faced. He matched his career-high of 130 pitches, allowing seven hits and striking out a season-low six.
“Yu Darvish, in my opinion, is a stud, and I don’t think we overworked him tonight,” manager Ron Washington said. “The thing about Yu Darvish, he bends but he never breaks. That was a tremendous lineup he went through and after the third inning he settled in and continued to pitch.”
Darvish was at 63 pitches after three innings, but finished with innings of 17, 11, 13, 11 and 15 pitches. The Tigers managed only Peralta’s homer and a fifth-inning single by Prince Fielder in the final innings against Darvish.
“He locked in,” Moreland said. “Every time he throws, whether he’s got his best stuff or not, you know you’ve got a chance to win. When he’s on he dominates teams. When he doesn’t have his best stuff, he’ll find a way to make it work.”