Justin Verlander returns to his All-Star form

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Justin Verlander returns to his All-Star form

From Comcast SportsNet
BALTIMORE (AP) -- Justin Verlander put on a show at the All-Star game, with horrific results. Against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, the reigning Cy Young Award winner staged a pitching clinic that ended quite nicely for the right-hander and the Detroit Tigers. Verlander allowed three hits in eight innings and the Tigers cruised to 4-0 victory, their seventh win in eight games. In his first appearance since yielding five runs in one inning for the AL in an 8-0 loss Tuesday night, Verlander (10-5) struck out eight and walked two. He retired 16 of the last 17 batters he faced before leaving after 117 pitches. "He was just in total command and I knew he would be, particularly after the All-Star game," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "The fans wanted to see him throw it 100 (mph) and he threw it a 100. Today he pitched the way he can pitch and has been pitching. ... Today the horse did what the horses do." Verlander allowed only two runners past first base. The only hits against him were a single by Jim Thome in the first inning, a double by Thome in the third and single by Mark Reynolds in the seventh. It was the Anti-All-Star game for Detroit's ace, who couldn't wait to get back on the mound after the debacle in Kansas City. "Yes, but at the same time, I had to tell myself that that's not the kind of pitcher that I am," Verlander said. "Everybody that has watched me or followed the Tigers or myself knows that that's not me. That's not the way I normally pitch so it's easy to turn the page." It was Verlander's 117th win for Detroit, tied with Denny McLain for 13th on the team career list. He improved to 7-0 in 10 lifetime starts against the Orioles, including 5-0 at Camden Yards. "When he had some struggles in the All-Star game I wasn't too excited about it," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "I kind of had an idea he was going to be on top of his game today." Jose Valverde worked the ninth to complete the four-hitter. Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera homered for the Tigers, who took two of three from the Orioles. Making his second start and appearance in the majors, Baltimore's Miguel Gonzalez (1-1) gave up three runs, six hits and five walks over 5 2-3 innings. In his first start, the right-hander allowed just one run in seven innings against the Los Angeles Angels. In this one, the rookie fell behind 1-0 after throwing two pitches. "I kept the team in the game. That's what I'm trying to do," Gonzalez said. "I felt good. Good pitches. They got hit. That's just baseball." Thome had three hits for the Orioles, who have lost 10 of 14. Second baseman Robert Andino left in the sixth inning after hurting his left shoulder diving for a single. X-rays were negative, and he will receive an MRI on Monday. Baltimore was under three runs for the 14th time in 25 games. Wilson Betemit struck out three times and J.J. Hardy failed to hit the ball out of the infield in four at-bats to extend his hitting slump to 4 for 55 (.073). Blame it on Verlander. "After the All-Star game, I thought we were going to have a real good shot of lighting him up, but I think he was just setting us up," left fielder Chris Davis deadpanned. "He's good. He won MVP last year for a reason. I felt like at times that he was just toying with us." Jackson opened the game with a drive into the center-field seats, his third leadoff homer of the season and seventh of his career. He also extended his run-scoring streak to 12 games, most by a Detroit player since Rocky Colavito scored in 12 straight in 1961. The Tigers added a second-inning run when Brennan Boesch doubled and scored on a single by Jhonny Peralta. Detroit made it 3-0 in the sixth. Prince Fielder walked, took second on a single by Boesch and scored on a single by Alex Avila. Orioles right-hander Steve Johnson, the son of former Baltimore pitcher Dave Johnson, made his major league debut in the eighth. He escaped that inning after walking the first two batters, but gave up Cabrera's 20th home run in the ninth. Johnson was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk before the game and optioned back afterward to make room for Chris Tillman, who will start for the Orioles in Minnesota on Monday night. NOTES: Orioles RHP Jason Hammel will undergo surgery on his right knee to remove loose cartilage. He is expected to miss at least a month. He was placed on the 15-day DL. ... Detroit's Jim Leyland managed in his 3,264th game, 15th-most in major league history. ... Baltimore's Mark Reynolds ended a 0-for-17 drought with a seventh-inning single.

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After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

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USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."