October 4, 2011 7 Comments
Bull. Horse. Stud. Ace.
Those words could all describe Justin Verlander and last night he proved that he isn’t just one, but all of those adjectives wrapped up into one freakishly hard-throwing individual.
Justin Verlander wasn’t his 0.92 WHIP or 2.40 ERA self last night but that’s what made his start that much more impressive. Like any real ace would, Verlander battled through 8 gruelling innings against an all-star team line-up masking as a Major League team.
For me, Justin Verlander was more impressive last night than he has been at any point this season. That includes the no-hitter I watched against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Like many true aces do, Verlander struggled through the first inning. No surprise there. It also was no surprise that Verlander started to dominant as many true aces do in October. But a 7th inning double by Brett Gardner tied the game up at 4’s. A very good start turned into something rather ordinary for the Detroit Tiger stud.
But the Tigers roared back in the bottom of the 7th retaking the lead. Working on a modified 3 days rest, Justin Verlander came out for the 8th even though his pitch count was above 100.
Amazingly, that wasn’t the only thing that was above 100 late in the game. A tired Verlander was topping out at 101 mph with the game on the line. He was throwing harder than he did all game in the 7th and 8th innings. The TBS broadcast put up a graph early in the 8th inning showing Verlander’s velocity progression of the game, inning by inning. Naturally, Verlander’s speed gradually increased each inning with a major spike in the all important 7th inning.
He reached back like only a true ace can.
It didn’t matter though. The Yankees still touched him for 2 runs in the 7th inning.
After his team clawed back for a run in the bottom half of the inning, he fought back like only a true ace would.
The tiredness was apparent in the 7th inning. It was apparent in the 8th inning. No biggie though because it was of the utmost importance that Verlander finish out the 8th inning. Setup man Joaquin Benoit had pitched 2 innings the night before. Jose Valverde had thrown over 30 pitches in game 2 as well. With a 1 run lead against the New York Yankees in the pivotal game 3, Verlander had to come out for the 8th.
In 8 innings, Verlander bent but he didn’t break. He threw a scoreless 8th and gave way to Valverde and his ongoing save streak.
Mentally, Verlander looks to be as tough as they come. Facing the Yankee ace, C.C. Sabathia, who threw 106 pitches in 5.1 innings, Verlander was clearly unphased after putting his team in a hole early in the game.
He did this all under the immense pressures of October baseball. The immense pressures of being considered the game’s best pitcher. The immense pressures of possibly being the first pitcher in a long time to win the MVP. The immense pressures of playing the hated and storied New York Yankees.
A man isn’t measured by what he does when things are going well.
Wins for pitchers are slowly diminishing in value, and with good reason I might add. However, Justin Verlander last night truly won this game for the Tigers. He didn’t no hit his opponent like Roy Halladay or casually waltz through the Yankees like Cliff Lee did in recent history. What he did was take the bull by the horns and, when his team staked him to the game’s final lead in the bottom of the 7th, he came out and did what he had to do in the 8th.
In the process he not only put his team up 2-1 in the ALDS but he also brought Jose Valverde one step closer (no pun intended) to being able to say “I told you so” to everyone for his ridiculously stupid and not quite as clichéd guarantee.
Quite a player indeed.
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