DETROIT -- Justin Verlander looked invincible heading to the mound in the ninth inning of Wednesday afternoon's Tampa Bay-Detroit contest at Comerica Park.
But you have to get 27 outs, and the Rays used every one of theirs while taking a 4-2 come-from-behind win over the Tigers with a crowd of 28,180 fans watching.
Detroit's ace held a 2-0 lead and had thrown just 81 pitches, holding the Rays to just one hit through eight innings.
"Justin Verlander, with that kind of pitch count going into the ninth inning, you're feeling awful good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Pinch-hitter Jeff Keppinger led off the ninth for the Rays.
"Try and get on base," said Keppinger when asked his thoughts when he stepped in to face Verlander. "I mean, we've got to do something where we can at least bring the tying run to the plate and put a little pressure on him. I mean, he hadn't had much pressure the whole game."
A curveball began Verlander's undoing. He delivered the pitch, and even appeared to fool Keppinger, but Keppinger managed to thread a single through the middle.
"Actually on the pitch I hit, he buckled me," Keppinger said. "I just did a good job of keeping my hands back and just threw the bat at it."
One out later, Desmond Jennings singled to right.
With Carlos Pena hitting, Verlander uncorked a wild pitch that walked Pena and allowed Keppinger to score the Rays' first run. Evan Longoria then singled to left, driving home Jennings to tie the score and chase Verlander.
Verlander "kind of went away from what made him successful up to that point," Longoria said. "He started throwing some more fastballs. Just made a couple of mistakes in that ninth inning that sometimes we may not capitalize on. But today, we were able to capitalize on his mistakes and put ourselves in situations to get some big hits."
Daniel Schlereth took over and walked pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson to load the bases, prompting Leyland to call to the bullpen for Jose Valverde.
Ben Zobrist worked the count against Valverde to 3-2, then laced a single through the middle to drive home Pena and Longoria to put the Rays ahead, 4-2.
"[Valverde] got in a situation where he wasn't feeling the ball real good," Leyland said. "And he also got in a situation where it was 3-2. [Zobrist] knew he was probably getting a fastball, and he charged it and got a base hit. It was a [heck] of an at-bat."
Former Tiger Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for the Rays, closing out Detroit 1-2-3 to pick up his third save of the season.
The buildup to Wednesday afternoon's game felt like a championship fight between two heavyweights. That's because James Shields and Verlander truly are heavyweights among Major League pitchers.
Shields finished third in last year's American League Cy Young Award balloting. And of course, Verlander won the honor, along with the AL Most Valuable Player Award.
Wednesday, Shields got the win and Verlander took the loss. In victory, the Rays moved to 4-1. Meanwhile, the Tigers lost their first game of the season.
In the Rays' first five games, they have come from behind against Mariano Rivera and now Verlander. Both times, Shields turned out to be the beneficiary of the rally.
"We're fighters until the end," Shields said. "That's what we're all about. It's really good to see the signs early in the season this year. We didn't see that last year early in the season. And now we know what kind of team we have. We're going to fight one through nine. It's good."
Plenty of credit could be distributed for the Rays' total team win. But Longoria said it all started with Shields.
"I think that's one of the things we talked about from the get-go, from the offensive side," Longoria said. "Our pitchers are going to keep us in games and we're going to face a lot of good pitching. These are the kind of games that we're going to have to have during the course of the season to get us to where we want to be."
Wednesday afternoon's win will be well remembered. How well will depend on where this year's Rays team finishes. Already, there is a special feel about the group.
"I like the word 'heart,'" said Zobrist when asked to characterize the group. " ... We just have a lot of heart."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.