Verlander (19-5) gave up a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first to Matt Joyce, but would surrender no more runs the rest of the way. Verlander struck out eight and walked three batters on 116 pitches.
Cleveland lost 3-2 on Monday against Seattle to push the Tigers’ lead in the AL Central to a season-high 5 1/2 games. Detroit (69-58) is 11 games over .500 for the first time all year and no longer holds the worst winning percentage among MLB division leaders — a distinction that now belongs at least temporarily to Arizona (69-59).
The idle Chicago White Sox moved into second place.
Alex Avila hit a two-run homer in the top of the second to give Detroit a 2-1 lead that almost was enough for the win. The Tigers scored two runs in the eighth and got a Don Kelly solo home run in the ninth to give Verlander some insurance, just in case.
The runs were needed after Tigers closer Jose Valverde started off the bottom of the ninth with a solo homer to Evan Longoria that cut the lead to 5-2. Valverde put the tying run at the plate after a single and a walk, but was able to retire the side without further damage.
Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta had two hits apiece for Detroit, including Peralta’s two-out RBI single in the eighth that pushed two runs across with the bases loaded.