In the end, though, it wasn't Verlander who beat the Rangers, but the Tigers' bullpen and the bottom of their batting order. That combination won the day as the Rangers lost, 4-3, on Saturday afternoon.
The Rangers managed just two hits on the afternoon, three fewer than the Tigers got from the bottom three hitters. Both Rangers hits came in the first five innings against Verlander. Manager Jim Leyland then used a combination of four relievers to retire the last 12 Rangers hitters on the afternoon and put this one away.
"They've got some premium pitching over there," said Hank Blalock after the Rangers lost for the second straight day at Comerica Park. "Their bullpen just shut us down."
Blalock hit a home run off Verlander in the second, and Josh Hamilton, taking advantage of two Tigers errors, had a two-run single in the fifth to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead. But that was it offensively.
"We didn't do what we did very well, and that's swing the bat," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Games like that, we just have to find a way to stay in the game and give us an opportunity to pull it out. We did just that, we just didn't pull it out."
Harrison struggled all afternoon trying to hit the outside corner against right-handed hitters and was in trouble in every inning. He allowed nine hits and walked five. What he did do well was hold the Tigers to 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and that's how the Rangers stayed in the game while trying to figure out how to deal with Verlander's 95-98-mph fastball.
"Matt did very well," third baseman Michael Young said. "We would have loved to have seen him get out of that last inning. He struggled with his fastball command, but he stayed after them. Verlander made some big pitches in some big spots, but we're capable of doing more offensively."
The Rangers' whole lineup couldn't keep up with the bottom third of the Tigers' order. Gerald Laird, Brandon Inge and Adam Everett were a combined 5-for-9 with three walks.
"I made some good pitches, but the walks were frustrating," Harrison said. "I made some good pitches and some ground balls found some holes. I just have to keep going ... too many walks, way too many walks."
Placido Polanco, the Tigers' No. 2 hitter, also caused problems for Harrison. After Hamilton's single put the Rangers up, 3-2, in the top of the fifth, Polanco struck back with a leadoff double in the bottom of the inning. He ultimately came home after a single by Magglio Ordonez on Marcus Thames' sacrifice fly.
Polanco came up with another big hit in the sixth after Everett singled with one out and Curtis Granderson flied out. This time, Polanco grounded one past the third-base bag, and by the time David Murphy ran it down in the expansive foul territory, Everett was on his way home with the go-ahead run.
That was it for Harrison, the Rangers' No. 5 starter who Washington was hoping to match up against the bottom of other teams' rotations throughout the season. Instead, he had to go against an ace in his first outing.
"He kept us in the ballgame," Washington said. "He went against their No. 1 and left the game with us only down one run. That's something."
The Rangers stayed down one run. Verlander, who struck out eight and walked four, was gone after five innings and 97 pitches. Leyland came back with two left-handers in Nate Robertson and Bobby Seay, and they combined to retire eight straight hitters. Right-hander Ryan Perry then got Nelson Cruz to foul out to end the eighth, and Fernando Rodney, throwing just as hard as Verlander, struck out Murphy, Chris Davis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to end the game.
"Verlander did very well, but I thought the rest of their guys were hittable," Murphy said. "We just didn't get it done. I got a few pitches to hit against Robertson and didn't get it done. You've got to give them credit."
The Tigers get credit for winning when their No. 1 faced the Rangers' No. 5 starter. This one would have gone down as a steal. Instead, it's a loss.