The flirtation with history lasted five innings. Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander permitted only one walk. Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda did not allow a Tiger to reach base. The first 25 batters of the game failed to reach base, a streak that ended when Yasiel Puig walked in the fifth. Rare is the day when two pitchers travel this deep into a game with a no-hit bid in sight, but that was the story at Comerica Park in Sunday’s series finale as the sixth inning began.
The sixth was, well, slightly different.
“The sixth inning,” Maeda said, “was regrettable.”
Verlander buckled first, yielding a solo home run to new Dodgers outfielder Curtis Granderson. The run support did not prop up Maeda. He surrendered four runs in the bottom of the inning and left on the hook for the loss in a 6-1 defeat.
“I thought Kenta threw the baseball really well,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Just that one inning got away from him.”
Verlander gave up only more hit as he struck out nine across eight innings. His performance snapped a six-game winning streak for the Dodgers (87-35). Maeda finished the sixth inning but went no further. Tony Cingrani gave up a two-run double to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera in the eighth when Enrique Hernandez and Puig failed to communicate and let the baseball fall in right-center for a hit.
Maeda had silenced the Tigers through five by leaning on his fastball and his slider. He was aggressive with both, generating soft contact and missing bats. In the sixth, a pair of misplaced sliders undid him.
“He threw really well,” catcher Austin Barnes said. “That’s probably the most upsetting thing about it, how well he threw. To give up four runs, that hurts a little bit.”
The Dodgers did not make much hard contact until the fourth inning. Verlander let an 0-1 slider to Corey Seager float over the plate. Seager ripped it into right field. Sprinting toward the warning track, Tigers outfielder Alex Presley jumped to interrupt the ball’s flight and preserve Verlander’s afternoon.
He lost his chance for perfection in the fifth. Puig held off on a trio of elevated fastballs above the zone, then passed on a curveball at his feet for a walk.
“He did an amazing job of hitting all the zones,” said Granderson, a Tigers teammate of Verlander’s from 2005-2009. “The top of the zone, the bottom of the zone. Inside and outside. Not too many balls in the middle of the plate.”
Maeda was a worthy adversary. He struck out six in five innings. Puig ran down a ball near the wall in right field off designated hitter Victor Martinez’s bat for the third out in the fifth.
The sixth inning is rare territory for Maeda. He has made 19 starts this season. He has surpassed five innings on five occasions. In his last outing before Sunday, he recorded one out in the sixth against San Diego, but departed after giving up four runs and a pair of homers.
The possibility of preserving this game for posterity disappeared in the top of the inning. Verlander tried to tie up Granderson with a slider inside. Granderson slashed the baseball into the right-field corner, where it whacked against the foul pole. It was his first hit as a Dodger — and the first of the game.
The homer left Maeda alone in pursuit of a no-hitter. He did not last much longer. The bottom of the sixth began with backup catcher John Hicks shooting a curveball into center for a single, Detroit’s first baserunner. The next batter, third baseman Andrew Romine, doubled.
With two runs in scoring position, the lead stood in peril. Maeda could not hold it. He flung a slider inside to shortstop Dixon Machado, who cracked a grounder down the third-base line. Justin Turner dived but the ball bounced past him for a two-run double.
“If we limit the damage there, get out of there with two runs, it’s a different ball game,” Barnes said.
Maeda retired the next two batters. He was less successful with Justin Upton, the Tigers’ left fielder. Upton swatted a pair of homers on Friday night. He added a third on Sunday, blasting a hanging slider off the left-field pole to make it 4-1.
Granted the lead, Verlander did not yield. He does not reside on the same plane he did earlier in the decade, when he won the American League MVP and Cy Young awards in 2011. After eight brilliant innings Sunday, he improved his record to 9-8 and reduced his earned-run average to 3.96 — a big part of why, in addition to the $56 million on his contract after 2017, he remains on the moribund Tigers, rather than a playoff contender.
Roberts chuckled when asked if he hoped not to see Verlander again this season.
“He’s a heck of a pitcher,” Roberts said. “I know that.”
Added Roberts, “He showed he’s a stopper. And Kenta was right there with him. Until that sixth inning.”
2:10 p.m.: This article was updated with more details from the game and comments about it.
This article was originally published at 1 p.m.