DETROIT — Orioles center fielder Adam Jones has seen enough of Justin Verlander to know that the deeper the Detroit Tigers' ace right-hander gets into games, the more unbeatable he becomes.
“You'd rather face anybody,” Jones said. “Their bullpen's pretty good, but you'd rather face their bullpen than face Verlander, and especially in the later innings, he gets a tad angry and he hits that 98, 99 [mph] mark.”
Jones knows from experience, because the Orioles had never beaten Verlander heading into Tuesday night's game at Comerica Park. But Tuesday, the Orioles worked Verlander's pitch count and hit two homers off him — including Jones' three-run shot in the fifth — beating him for the first time ever in a 5-2 victory before an announced 34,706.
In 12 previous starts against the Orioles, Verlander was 8-0 — the only active pitcher with at least 10 starts to be unbeaten against them — with an 2.93 ERA.
The Orioles (41-31) won their 21st game on the road, tying them with the Boston Red Sox for most in the American League. With a win in today's series finale, the Orioles can extend their majors-leading series win total to 16 heading into an off day in Toronto.
The Orioles received a strong start from left-hander Zach Britton (1-1), called up before the game from Triple-A Norfolk to make a spot start. In his second major league start of the season, Britton held the American Leagu's top hitting lineup to one run on five hit over 5 1/3 innings.
“I think to me, it's the story of the night, [Britton] coming up and throwing the way he did,” said Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, who hit a two-run homer off Verlander in the fourth. “Him giving us a chance to win was a big deal.”
The Orioles didn't score in the first three innings, but they stretched Verlander (8-5) to 60 pitches after three frames.
“I've seen him throw 120, 125,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Sixty [pitches] at three [innings], I've looked out there some nights and seen him still out there in the eighth, so you just try to pitch well. You know you have to pitch well to beat him. That's the key.”
The Orioles, who lead the majors with 95 homers, broke through in the fifth. Hardy hit his third homer in over his past five at-bats against Verlander, sitting on a 1-1 hanging curveball for a two-run shot that gave the Orioles a 2-0.
“I don't know,” Hardy said when asked about his success against Verlander. “Speechless. I couldn't tell you how it happened. I feel like I just kind of blacked out and I'm happy about it.”
Jones, who was 2-for-26 in his career against Verlander, followed the next inning with a three-run shot, his 15th of the season, on a first-pitch 95-mph fastball that he took to the opposite field.
“Not many people have success against Verlander in the first place,” Jones said. “Whatever you can get off that guy is a plus, because he's a very stingy pitcher out there.”
In two starts against the Orioles this season, Verlander has pitched to a 6.00 ERA, well above his season mark of 3.72. Even more uncharacteristic were Verlander's four walks Tuesday, the second most he's issued through 15 starts this season. Two of the batters he walked scored, and he was finished after five innings and 102 pitches, allowing five runs on seven hits.
Britton built on his recent success at Norfolk, where he recorded four quality starts in his last five outings, pitching to a 2.03 ERA in that span. On Tuesday his only costly mistake was leaving a 2-2 pitch up to Matt Tuiasosopo in the fifth inning, which the Tigers left fielder blasted to right for a solo homer.
Britton, who walked three and struck out one, stranded runners at first and second in the fourth and fifth innings.
“I think I threw OK,” Britton said. “I'd like to go deeper in the game with that lead. Walked a couple guys I probably shouldn't have, maybe be a little more aggressive in those situations. I felt like it was OK. Lot of things to improve on.”
Britton also received some help from his defense. Manny Machado added to a growing list of highlight-reel-worthy defensive plays in the fourth, when he ranged to his right and made a diving backhanded play down the line to rob Torii Hunter of extra bases.
Machado, who had his career-high 14-game hitting streak ended in Monday's series opener, opened the fifth with his majors-leading 33rd double of the year. In the season's 72nd game, Machado is nearly halfway to Earl Webb's record for doubles in a season (67) set in 1931. With two hits on the night, Machado also recorded his 30th multi-hit game, also the most in the majors, and he now leads the majors with 101 hits.
Nick Markakis followed Machado's fifth-inning double with a walk, one of three for him on the night, setting the stage for Jones' three-run homer. Matt Wieters drew a one-out walk in the fourth and scored one batter later on Hardy's homer.
The Tigers (39-30) scored their only other run in the seventh on Austin Jackson's RBI single against Darren O'Day.
Controversy arrived after that, when Hunter hit a sharp grounder to Machado at third with runners at first and second. Machado reached to tag Brayan Pena running between second and third and then threw to second for the force, but second-base umpire Laz Diaz ruled that Machado hadn't tagged Pena.
Showalter popped out of the dugout to argue that Diaz pointed to Machado to signal an out. After the game, crew chief Tim Timmons said the point was to Timmons, who was the third-base ump, to signal to him that the call was his because he had the better view.
The Orioles were able to get out of the inning, stranding runners at first and third when O'Day induced a pop-up from Miguel Cabrera and left-hander Brian Matusz needed just one pitch to retire Prince Fielder, also on a pop-up.
The Tigers also brought the tying run to the plate twice in the ninth inning against Orioles closer Jim Johnson. Johnson issued a one-out walk to Jackson, and Hunter singled, but Cabrera grounded into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play on the first pitch of his at-bat to seal Johnson's AL-leading 26th save.
As for Britton, Showalter wouldn't say whether he had earned another start.
“He's an option,” Showalter said. “We'll proceed and see where it takes us. He did a nice job, all things considered. I'd like to see him get a little deeper. … He was crisp. He attacked the zone. He was talking about trusting himself and [going] after it and see what happens, and he did.”