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Verlander pitches Tigers past Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Leyland has perfected the level head, in his 15th season as a major league manager. Detroit's once-staggering lead in the division race has dwindled, but the Tigers are following Leyland's example and trying to keep their cool down the stretch.

``I'll panic when my kid flunks math," Leyland deadpanned after Justin Verlander pitched the Tigers past Minnesota, 7-2, last night to extend their American League Central lead to five games over the second-place Twins.

Verlander gave up one run in seven innings for the Tigers, who once led the division by 10 games but are a mere 10-18 since Aug. 7.

``It's nice to get a win under your belt, but we're smart enough to know that this thing is going to go back and forth to the end," Leyland said. ``That's what a pennant race is all about."

Curtis Granderson hit a tone-setting homer on the third pitch of the night against Scott Baker (4-8), and Marcus Thames took Baker deep in the second, a two-run shot that put Detroit, up 3-0.

Verlander (16-7) didn't need any more support, but he got a two-run single by Craig Monroe in the fifth and a home run by Ivan Rodriguez in the seventh.

Michael Cuddyer stopped the shutout with his 21st homer in the bottom of that inning, one of eight hits scattered by Verlander -- who walked two, struck out five, and had his curveball working well.

``He ate us up," manager Ron Gardenhire said. ``This guy tonight can do that to you. Some of the others we've faced, maybe not. But he was nasty."

Torii Hunter added an RBI single in the ninth but the Twins, who maintain a half-game lead over the Chicago White Sox, have scored more than two runs only twice in their last 11 games.

Verlander was given nine days off between starts in early August. Four of his five outings last month were shaky, but the rookie righthander has allowed only one run in 14 innings over his last two appearances.

``I definitely think it was beneficial. Any time you can get some time in there to rest your arm, it's going to help you," Verlander said.

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