No way you saw this twist coming. The Tigers won again with — (dramatic pause) —their bullpen. And that helped them overcome another wobbly outing from —(dramatic pause) — Justin Verlander.

The only thing that makes sense about the Tigers these days is that they’re in first place. Oh, and their offense can be as explosive as advertised with Austin Jackson back in the lineup. That was on display Sunday as the Tigers slipped past the Red Sox 7-5, with huge help from the bullpen and a little help from the umps on a dropped-or-not-dropped fly ball by Boston right fielder Daniel Nava.

Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit salvaged another shaky start by Verlander, and when the Tigers’ acclaimed right-hander gets rescued by a bullpen under siege, you might think you’ve stumbled into an alternate universe. Frankly, Verlander has been feeling that way for a while.

The Tigers desperately need Smyly and Benoit to be good, and you could argue they’re two of their most important pitchers right now. Smyly posted another 22⁄3innings of scoreless relief, and has allowed one earned run in his last 10 appearances with an ERA of 0.52.

Those are eye-popping numbers, and so are these: Verlander is 8-5 with a 3.90 ERA, and in his last nine starts, his ERA is 6.04. Nine starts aren’t enough to stagger the former Cy Young and MVP winner, but they’re enough to baffle him. And to make him more insistent it can be fixed.

“I’m frustrated in myself, obviously, but there’s no point in getting upset,” Verlander said. “That’s sports, there’s ups and downs, nobody’s at the peak of their game forever. I’ll get back there. I will. It’s just finding that click, finding that rhythm.”

It’s been a while since Verlander was searching this fervently to command his pitches, going back to his 11-17 record in 2008. He lasted only five innings against the Red Sox, leaving with a 4-3 deficit after throwing 112 pitches.

Verlander has been so dominant, he’s naturally ratcheted expectations, to the point where any departure before the eighth inning rings a silent alarm. Well, in five of his last nine starts, he hasn’t made it past the fifth. (Silent alarm). His velocity is down a tad, but not much. He’s just not consistently putting pitches where he’s aiming, and while it’s far short of a panic, it is a puzzle.

“It’s not like I’m throwing the ball all over the place,” Verlander said. “It’s small, just catching too much plate, or just a little off. At this level, it doesn’t matter how good you are if you’re not locating your pitches. I’m healthy, so that’s not an issue.”