CLEVELAND -- Justin Verlander called it intensity -- the triple-digit radar readings he posted in the eighth inning at Progressive Field. He could just as well have called it urgency.
"What was going through my mind? I'm going to give it everything I have and try to light a spark," Verlander said afterward his team's 2-1 loss.
Verlander hit 100, 101 and 102 mph to strike out the Indians in order in his final inning. The Tigers had six base hits in the game, none with men in scoring position, off Justin Masterson and the Tribe bullpen. That summed up both Thursday's loss and the three-game series.
As a result, the Indians swept the Tigers out of town in Detroit's first visit for the second straight year, a fact not lost on either clubhouse.
"This is eerily similar to last year, isn't it?" Verlander asked aloud in mid-answer.
Both times the Tigers fell to four games under .500. They went out of last year's sweep down 7 1/2 games in the American League Central; they're six back now. They made up last year's deficit to win the division by double-digit games thanks to a 12-game winning streak in September.
Yet for all the calmness in the clubhouse on Thursday compared with last year, when the shouts of a closed-door team meeting could be heard down the hall, Verlander's even-toned remarks had almost as much intensity as his eighth-inning fastballs.
"I think we've just got to find our groove, and we've got to find it quickly," he said. "We're a good team. We know that. And I think because we know we're good, maybe it's a little easy to sit back and say, 'OK, it's early. We'll find it. We'll find it.'
"At some point it's not early anymore, and you're going to have to make adjustments to find it as a team. It's just the game of baseball. That's why it's played on the field and not on paper."
And when asked when that point comes, he said, "For me, now."
Verlander did about as much as he could on Thursday. When he followed a 102-mph fastball to Asdrubal Cabrera by dropping an 84-mph curveball for his seventh strikeout, leaving Cabrera shaking his head, Verlander walked into the dugout, put down his glove, stepped up and leaned on the railing to watch if Detroit's offense could answer.
Once Indians closer Chris Perez stranded the tying run on base for his third save in as many nights, Verlander was one of the last guys to head down the stairs and into the clubhouse. He had done what he could, but the Tigers left 10 runners on base for the third straight game, and finished the series batting 3-for-28 with men in scoring position.
In the end, the difference between Verlander and Masterson was a two-out rally the Indians manufactured.
"Pure and simple, we're not hitting good enough, we're not getting pitches to hit with men on base, and when we are, we're not hitting them," manager Jim Leyland said. "In a lot of cases, we're swinging at pitches out of the strike zone with men on base. That's what it boils down to."
Detroit converted Quintin Berry's leadoff double in the third into a run thanks to to back-to-back groundouts, giving the Tigers their first run without a multihit inning or a home run since last Wednesday. But Masterson (2-3) stranded two runners in the first and seventh innings, the latter after Andy Dirks could not get down a bunt to create a sacrifice fly opportunity for Miguel Cabrera.
A leadoff double by Brennan Boesch in the second inning turned into an out at the plate when Alex Avila hit a sharp grounder to third, leaving Boesch with little choice but to charge home. It was a contact play and a bit of bad luck, since the middle infielders were playing back.
A good drive by Delmon Young in the opening inning came up short thanks to a running catch from Michael Brantley. Another potential chance to have Berry in scoring position after his leadoff walk in the fifth fell apart when Masterson arguably got away with a balk, leading to an argument that resulted in both Leyland and first-base coach Tom Brookens being ejected by first-base umpire Paul Emmel.
"I did do a quick pitch right there," Masterson said. "I've seen plenty of guys do a lot worse than what I did right there and nothing is ever called. I said, 'About time the Tribe catches a break.'"
Verlander, meanwhile, was rolling, retiring 11 of 12 batters after Shin-Soo Choo jumped on his third pitch of the game for a 454-foot home run into the second deck in right field. Verlander struck out Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana in the fourth before Brantley blooped a two-out single into right field.
Brantley took off on Verlander's next pitch and stole second. Verlander then fell behind Jose Lopez but evened the count at 2-2 before firing a 99-mph fastball. Lopez got just enough of it for a soft line drive to right.
"With two outs and nobody on, blooper, stolen base, blooper," Verlander recapped. "Stolen bases are part of the game, and so are bloopers, but I'd rather somebody score a run like Choo, hit one a freaking mile long, than the way those guys did."
The Indians will take it. They know what happened last year, too.
"Any time you can win a game against Verlander, it's pretty impressive," Indians manager Manny Acta said, "because that means that your starter did something really good and you played pretty much perfect baseball defensively. It's pretty impressive to beat both [Verlander and Doug Fister], because last year both of those guys were very tough on us."
Those two held Cleveland to two runs, only to watch the Tigers lose. They'll both need to pitch well for the Tigers to repeat last year. But they'll also need help.
"It's just disappointing the way we've been playing as a team," Verlander said. "Obviously, I think we all expected better. You can only say 'it's still early' for so long. We have to get this thing turned around."