MINNEAPOLIS - Even on a day when Justin Verlander said he couldn't find a single pitch that was working for him, he still managed to do just enough to secure the first 20-victory season of his career.
It was the kind of outing that exemplified what a special season Verlander is having, and the kind of outing that has the Detroit Tigers thinking they have all the pieces for a deep October run.
Verlander became the majors' first 20-game winner, grinding through six innings in the Detroit Tigers' 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday.
Verlander (20-5) gave up four runs on eight hits with six strikeouts and three walks to become the first pitcher to win 20 games before the end of August since Arizona's Curt Schilling in 2002.
"There's been times I've picked these guys up and there's been times they've picked me up," Verlander said. "To get to 20 at this point in the season, obviously you can't do it all on your own. These guys have helped me along the way and today was a good example of that."
Minnesota's abysmal offense made it tougher on Verlander than expected. Luke Hughes had a home run, a double and three RBIs and Jason Repko put one of Verlander's vaunted fastballs into the upper deck in left field for his first homer of the season.
"Name a pitch, I had trouble finding consistency with anything," Verlander said.
But former Twin Delmon Young's RBI single in the seventh gave the Tigers the lead for good and put Verlander in position for the win.
The six innings pitched tied a season low for Verlander.
"Get the win and get the 20 so the 20 is out of the way and he's not searching for it anymore," Young said. "Now he can just go out there and try to win every start he goes out there because he's already got the magic number."
Verlander left after giving up the second single of the day to .170-hitting Drew Butera in the seventh. Jose Valverde picked up his 39th save.
Alex Avila and Miguel Cabrera hit solo homers for the Tigers in the second inning off of Carl Pavano (6-11) and Cabrera added an RBI single in the seventh for a 6-4 lead.
Pavano gave up six runs — five earned — on nine hits with four strikeouts and a walk in 6 2-3 innings.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland has been quoted as saying he doesn't think a pitcher should be eligible to win the MVP award, a stance that raised some eyebrows considering the incredible season by his own ace.
He tried to clarify his position before the game.
"I want everyone in here to know and please print that I support Justin Verlander for MVP to the hilt," Leyland said. "I want to make that perfectly clear. The question was asked to me if I thought a pitcher should be the MVP and my answer to that is no, I do not. But under the way the system is, I will certainly support Verlander to the hilt as a possible candidate for the MVP."
Leyland said he thinks there should be a most valuable player and most valuable pitcher award. But in the absence of that, he is supporting Verlander.
In a year when no position player in the AL seems to be running away from the pack, Verlander may actually have a chance to become the first pitcher to win the award since Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley in 1992.
Verlander threw his second career no-hitter in May and has taken two more into the eighth inning. He is 11-1 against division opponents and is the biggest reason the Tigers started the day with a 6 1/2-game lead over Cleveland.
No-hitter No. 3 seemed to be a distinct possibility when he took the mound against a Twins offense that had scored one run or fewer in six straight games. With Joe Mauer (neck) and Michael Cuddyer (wrist) on the bench, the injury plagued Twins sent out a lineup with eight of their nine players hitting .255 or worse.
But Ben Revere started the game with an infield single and it was apparent early that Verlander didn't have his best stuff. He needed 28 pitches to get through the first inning and gave up back-to-back homers to Hughes and Repko to start the fifth.
"He's a pretty tough competitor," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We gave him a good run for the money, but that does you no good other than its a better feeling."
Hughes added a two-run double that tied the game 4-all in the sixth and Verlander's pitch count finished at 120.
"I've got some work to do in between this start and the next one. ... I know there's some things I need to work on and get fixed, and that starts tomorrow," Verlander said, before cracking a smile. "Tonight's a different story."
NOTES: The previous Tigers pitcher to get 20 wins was Bill Gullickson in 1991. ... Toronto's Roger Clemens in 1997 is the last AL pitcher to win 20 games before September. ... Valverde made his 500th career appearance. ... Gardenhire said CF Denard Span (head), returned home to Tampa, Fla., to rest and planned to return to the Twin Cities to start working out when the Twins hit the road next week. It's still unclear if Span will play again this season. ... Official scorer Stew Thornley announced a scoring change from Friday night's ballgame. He changed an infield single from Delmon Young to a fielder's choice and error on 2B Matt Tolbert, meaning LHP Scott Diamond now had four earned runs charged to him from the start rather than five. ... LHP Brian Duensing (8-13, 5.12) takes the mound for the Twins on Sunday in the series finale against RHP Brad Penny (9-9, 4.82). Duensing has had a horrendous August, going 0-5 with an 8.65 ERA. He lasted just two innings in his previous start, an 8-1 loss to the Orioles. ... Penny has been improving lately, going 2-0 with a 4.04 ERA in his last three starts.