Soriano a catalyst for Yankees

Lasting legacy: Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon remains the all-time slugger at the Little League World Series. He was 5-for-5 with five home runs and five intentional walks in three games for Gary, Ind., in 1971.

He and his teammates remain heroes around their hometown, in part because theirs was the first all-black team to make it to Williamsport, Pa.

"I was 12 years old and really didn't know the significance of it,'' McClendon told Tracy Ringolsby of "Then you pick up the paper and it says, you know back then they didn't say the word black, so it says, 'First all-Negro team to ever play in the Little League World Series.'"

McClendon's team lost a nine-inning championship game to Taiwan. McClendon hit a three-run homer his first time up and then was walked intentionally twice. He was in the on-deck circle when the game ended.

"There were runners on first and second with two outs," said McClendon, who also struck out 12 in eight innings as Gary's starting pitcher. "I was on deck. On a 3-2 pitch, the umpire called a ball a strike. If the kid in front of me had walked, they would have had to pitch to me."

Rolling with the punches: Good scene on the Tigers' bench late Thursday. Torii Hunter sat next to Justin Verlander, and with some prodding got the workhorse to loosen up and smile a little.

While the Tigers remain the strongest team in the AL, Ryan Doumit's game-tying homer for the Twins was the latest example of Verlander's diminished mojo. The 2012 World Series turned when the Giants beat him in Game 1, and you wonder if manager Jim Leyland will make him his go-to arm this time around.

Verlander's 3.68 ERA is the highest among the Tigers' top four starters, and this isn't a trend that just started. Since the All-Star break last season, here are the ERAs and innings pitched of the Tigers' four horses — Max Scherzer (2.78, 2622/3 innings), Anibal Sanchez (2.90, 2141/3 innings since being acquired from the Marlins), Doug Fister (3.26, 2621/3 innings) and Verlander (3.32, 2791/3 innings).

Twitter @ChiTribRogers