It wasn’t his prettiest outing, but Tigers ace Justin Verlander became the first major league pitcher of the 2011 baseball season to reach the 20-win plateau in Saturday afternoon’s 6-4 victory over the Twins.
Verlander yielded eight hits and four runs, and at one point allowed back-to-back homers to light-hitting Twins reserves Luke Hughes and Jason Repko, but he eventually settled in. The 28-year-old right-hander finished the start with six strikeouts and three walks, throwing 76 of his 120 pitches for strikes.
Verlander is the first pitcher to win 20 games before the end of August since Curt Schilling accomplished the feat for the Diamondbacks in 2002. Verlander is now sporting a 20-5 record, 2.38 ERA and 0.90 WHIP through 29 starts this season. He also has 218 strikeouts in 215 2/3 innings, and has walked just 48 batters.
While Angels ace Jered Weaver deserves consideration, Verlander is the clear favorite for the American League Cy Young Award with around five weeks to go. Verlander could also draw some MVP consideration.
Lost in the nifty base running by Dustin Pedroia that won Sunday’s game against the Rays, the Red Sox set a new major league record by striking out 11 batters in a row, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. Starter Eduardo Rodriguez struck out the final six Rays he faced and reliever Heath Hembree struck out five Rays in a row after that. Tom Seaver had the previous consecutive strikeout streak of 10, set on April 22, 1970 against the Padres.
The Red Sox also set a team record with 23 strikeouts in total: 13 by Rodriguez, five by Hembree, one by Matt Barnes, and four by Joe Kelly. Per Abraham, that’s the most strikeouts in a 10-inning game since at least 1913 and the most in a game of any length since 2004.
For Rodriguez, Sunday marked the first double-digit strikeout game of his career. He has pitched quite well since returning to the rotation at the start of the second half. Over 13 starts, the lefty has a 3.10 ERA with a 70/23 K/BB ratio in 72 2/3 innings.
Dodgers second baseman Charlie Culberson delivered a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the 10th inning, clinching the NL West for the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon. What a way to celebrate Vin Scully’s final home game behind the microphone.
The Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, but shortstop Corey Seager tripled in a run to tie the game. Rockies outfielder David Dahl untied the game in the top of the ninth with a two-out solo home run off of Kenley Jansen. But Seager once again rose to the occasion, blasting a game-tying solo shot in the bottom half of the ninth against Adam Ottavino. That would set the stage for Culberson in the next frame.
Culberson, a former Rockie, came into the afternoon with a .591 OPS and zero home runs in 53 plate appearances. He finished the afternoon 3-for-5 with the homer.
It’s the fourth consecutive season in which the Dodgers have won the NL West. The Cubs have clinched the best record, which means they’ll play the winner of the Wild Card game. The Dodgers will play the Nationals in the NLDS. The Nationals have a 1.5-game lead over the Dodgers for home-field advantage, so both teams are still playing for something of importance in the regular season’s final week.