His excellence has been described in many ways in his career with the Tigers, but on Saturday night, a new phrase could be used:

Justin Verlander – he’s a hit.

Verlander got the first two hits of his nine-year career and, picking up steam as he went along, held San Diego to two runs over seven innings.

Miguel Cabrera’s third-inning RBI double put the Tigers ahead to stay in what became a 6-2 win. Joe Nathan, who had struggled in his last three outings, pitched a scoreless ninth in a non-save situation.

Cabrera said he felt better at the plate. He smiled when someone said, “You have 2,000 hits, and Verlander has two.”

Verlander was smiling, too. He tried not to when he got to first base after the first hit, in the second.

“I looked over there and saw all of my teammates cheering, and I couldn’t help it,” he said.

His offensive showcase was the dominant topic in his post-game interview session at his locker.

“It felt really good to get that out of the way,” he said of the first hit. “But more importantly, we won the game.

“The guys are just as happy as I am. These guys have given me a hard time for many years about it – not having a hit – and every year it’s a new joke. I’m just glad those guys aren’t going to make fun of me any more.”

He was asked where he will display the ball from the first hit. And here was the answer from the man who has trophies for rookie of the year, the Cy Young Award and MVP, which makes him the only American Leaguer to win all three:

“On my mantel somewhere – probably front and center.”

He singled again on his second bat, a liner to right on which he dashed to first and barely beat the throw from right fielder Chris Denorfia, who wasn’t playing much deeper than a second baseman on a shift.

Verlander’s first big-league at-bat came at Wrigley Field as a rookie in 2006. His quest for a hit was sporadic, arising anew each time he pitched in an NL park, where the DH isn’t used and the pitcher is in the lineup. After waiting so long for a hit, how unbelievable is that his first two hits would come in the same game?

“I think it’s been an anomaly I haven’t had one,” Verlander said. “I’ve hit five or six that have been caught. They found a hole today.”

It looked like Verlander’s bid for his first win of the season would come down to Nathan coming in for the ninth with a two-run lead. In his three previous save chances for the Tigers, Nathan had blown two leads and given up five runs in 2 2/3 innings. Then San Diego intentionally walked Cabrera with two out in the ninth to load the bases, and Austin Jackson followed with a two-run double. That gave Nathan a four-run cushion.