ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - Jeff Niemann kept the Rays in the game. Tampa Bay's offense, however, couldn't solve Justin Verlander.
Verlander became the first 19-game winner in the majors, Alex Avila hit his 15th homer and the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers beat the Rays 5-2 on Monday night to end Tampa Bay's five-game winning streak.
Niemann, who was 7-0 in his 10 previous start, allowed four runs and six hits over 7 1-3 innings.
``We had a chance to win that game,' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ``Our pitcher gave us a chance. He really did pitch well enough to win.'
The Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the second when Avila hit a two-run shot off Niemann (8-5).
Jhonny Peralta made it 4-1 in the eighth on a two-out, two-run single off reliever Juan Cruz. The hit came after Jake McGee, who replaced Niemann with the bases loaded and one out, struck out Avila.
``We thought runs were going to be stingy and they were,' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ``Tonight, Justin got the better of him (Niemann). He's a real good pitcher on a real good roll right now.'
Verlander (19-5) won his seventh consecutive start, giving up one run and three hits in seven innings. The 19 wins match his career high, set in 2009.
``We got some good swings - not many,' Maddon said. ``It's not easy. He's that good.'
Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton left with a right shoulder strain, which occurred right before he ran into the wall on Delmon Young's eighth-inning double.
``I think I just kind of overextended the right arm,' Upton said. ``It mostly went numb and it started to hurt a little bit.'
Upton's injury is not thought to be serious, but he is expected to sit out Tuesday's game. Desmond Jennings will move from left to center and fill in for Upton.
Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, who gave up a solo homer in the ninth to Evan Longoria, both pitched one inning to complete a six-hitter.
Don Kelly extended the Tigers' lead to 5-1 on a ninth-inning homer.
Matt Joyce, batting leadoff for just the second time this season, homered in the first against Verlander to put the Rays ahead. Joyce entered 5 for 9, including a homer, against the right-hander.
Verlander got a no-decision in his other start against the Rays this season, allowing six runs and nine hits over six innings of Detroit's 7-6 win on May 24. This time he struck out eight and walked three, improving to 6-1 overall against the Rays.
``There's a reason he was 18-5 coming into the game,' Upton said. ``I thought Jeff pitched as well as he did.'
The Rays had at least one baserunner in five of Verlander's seven innings, but had just two at_bats - with no hits - with runners in scoring position against the Detroit ace.
Tampa Bay designated hitter Johnny Damon had a one-out double in the sixth, tying Rickey Henderson for 46th place all-time with 510. Damon was stranded at second when Longoria hit a grounder and Ben Zobrist struck out.
Niemann worked out of a two-on - both on walks - and one-out jam during the seventh by getting a foul pop from Kelly and striking out Ramon Santiago.
NOTES: Longoria has 60 RBIs in his last 62 games. ... Tampa Bay LHP David Price (11-10) enters his start Tuesday 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA in five games, including three starts, against the Tigers. ... Detroit RHP Brad Penny (8-9) will make his 25th start of the season Tuesday.
The Associated Press News Service
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