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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tigers fans get premium Verlander vs. Beckett matchup

Think you can’t get better than last night’s 1-0 duel between the Tigers’ Phil Coke and the BoSox’s Clay Buchholz?

Wait ‘til you get a load of tonight’s matchup: Justin Verlander (4-3, 2.91 ERA) vs. Josh Beckett (3-1, 1.75).

Could you pick out a better head-to-head battle of American League aces?

“Probably not,” manager Jim Leyland acknowledged before his Tigers (22-20) left for the two-game series in Beantown.

“That’s a nice matchup for everybody, but obviously, we’re trying to win the game. So you don’t get caught up in that so much as a manager.

“Beckett’s been tremendous. I’ve seen him on TV twice now. He’s been tremendous. I’ve never seen him better, really. So it should be a good matchup. Sometimes those things get all hyped up, and they fizzle out.”

The only thing that’s fizzed out lately has been the Tigers offense. Since putting up 43 runs in a five-game span vs. the Blue Jays and Twins — all road wins — the Tigers’ bats have been punchless, averaging a mere two runs in the last four games. They’ve scored just twice in their last 25 innings.

That’s unlikely to change against Beckett, who leads all AL starters in ERA, and has yet to give up a run in May. His scoreless streak of 18 1/3 is just one out shy of his career long, and he’s 2-0 at Fenway Park, with an 0.34 ERA.

“Right now,” Boston manager Terry Francona told, “he’s going through that period where we're seeing the Beckett that we really like, the guy that commands three pitches, competes, working quick. He’s been reliable, that’s a nice word to use.”

So has Verlander.

Dating back to his first start in May, the Tigers ace has allowed just 10 hits and four runs in three starts (for an ERA of 1.57 over that span), giving up just three hits in his last 68 batters faced, and none for a 51-batter stretch that spanned his May 8 no-hitter.

“With Verlander, sometimes you’ve got to pick a pitch, because I don’t know that you can hit both speeds,” Francona told the Boston Globe’s Michael Vega. “You’re talking about a guy who can hit 100 and he’s got off-speed pitches that are good. You’ve got to see what he’s doing, first of all, but it sounds to me like he feels pretty good about himself. Make him work hard and maybe get him out of the game early, get him to make a mistake and don’t miss it.”

After pushing back the rotation one day for Sunday’s rainout, the Tigers opted after Tuesday’s game was washed out to keep the rotation on schedule, and skip Rick Porcello. Part of the decision was assuredly that Wednesday’s starter, Phil Coke, has already flown out to Boston, to get as much rest as possible on what could’ve been a very, very late night. But don’t discount the fact that the Verlander-Beckett showdown could’ve been washed away had the Tigers again moved everyone back a day.

The game will be broadcast on FOXSports Detroit at 7:05 p.m., as well as on the radio at WXYT-FM (97.1) and -AM (1270).

If you don’t feel like watching it alone, though, and you’re in Oakland County, you might want to head to Lake Orion, where the Tigers are hosting their first-ever Tweetup and road game viewing party at the Buffalo Wild Wings (770 North Lapeer Road). There will be prizes, including these items, courtesy of the Tigers marketing department (@WhosYourTiger on Twitter).

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