Justin Verlander. The V is for Victory

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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Bottom 3

A.J. Burnett has not been a very good sidekick to C.C. Sabathia this season.

By: Chris Ross

In the immortal words of American idol host Ryan Seacrest “America, this is your bottom three.” For the New York Yankees the bottom three of their starting rotation this season has been about as stable as Lindsay Lohan in a rehab centre. This is no doubt going to leave the Yanks with some serious problems this coming post-season.

The Yankees have one of the most potent offense in the league, and possibly their most dangerous, top to bottom, in the last decade. The averages may not be the sexiest you have ever seen, but don’t let that fool you. Go down the line-up and there are no weak spots, well unless you’ve got Granderson facing a lefty. You know that when you have Lance Berkman batting 8th in your order you have something good going for you.

For teams with weaker starting pitching, during the regular season it is fine to rely on your offense to consistently outscore the opposing team. I understand that the name of the game is to outscore your opponent, but you know what I mean, right?

However, when playoff time rolls around, trying to outscore teams 8-6 and 9-7 on a consistent basis isn’t going to fly. Most likely, night in and night out you are going to be facing higher level pitching than in the regular season. No more seeing the abysmal rotations of the Baltimore Orioles or the and as the old adage goes, good pitching beats good hitting. Generally, for a team to go deep into October the pitching has to be strong. Imagine trying to outscore the Phillies in a series when you have to face Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, or Cole Hamels on any given night.

When you flip it around, despite the Yankees massive payroll, the best they can roll out is legit ace C.C. Sabathia, 38-year-old Andy Pettite, who has been solid this year but has just come back from injury, and the wild cards in Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez.

Phil Hughes was very good in April and May but since then he has had his fair share of problems. Since the all-star break he has posted a 4.96 earned run average, while going just 6 and 6. It will be a tough decision for manager Joe Giradi to decide on how much, he is going to use the inexperienced, 24-year-old Hughes, if at all

A.J. Burnett is supposed to be Robin to Sabathia’s Batman but that obviously hasn’t worked out the way the Yankees front office envisioned it would since he signed that lucrative 5 year $82.5 million contract a couple of years ago. Burnett has been atrocious this year and if not for the Yankees weak starting rotation there is no way that he would even be considered to start in October. Burnett is 10-15, with a 5.33 ERA (6.19 post all-star), a .286 opponent batting average, and his lowest strikeout total in the past 4 seasons (140 to date).

I guess when you consider Burnett and Hughes the 3rd slot in the Yankees rotation must go by default to Vazquez. Vazquez is now 34 and it looks like last season’s “rejuvenation” was no fluke. Vazquez has been great, especially post all-star break amassing, a 6.64 ERA, while holding opponents to a marvellous .301 batting average. Okay, I hope you can tell that I’m being sarcastic, but seriously, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures and there is a possibility that Vazquez could be called on to start for the Yankees. I’m just not sure how bad that actually is compared to their other options because Vazquez has shown that he can still pitch at times this season.

Starting pitching isn't the only problem for the Yankees

There is also an issue that has not been an issue in the past decade for the Yankees, which is Mariano Rivera’s abnormal inability to lockdown games recently. Mariano Rivera is now 4 decades old and talks of him slowing down have been swirling around for the last few years. The difference is that those talks are finally coming to fruition, which is just another pin potentially bursting the Yankees World Series bubble in 2010.

Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Jorge Posada, Lance Berkman, Brett Gardner, and Marcus Thames. Are these guys going to be able to overcome the expected Yankee pitching troubles and sustain a deep post-season run?

Despite declining numbers from A-Rod and Jeter, it could very well be enough to overcome a Twins or Rangers matchup in the first round, who are teams also strapped for quality depth in their rotation. However, when it comes time to face a team with real pitching, I don’t think you will see the Yankees reeling off enough victories to take a 7 game series.

Even though it may be an early October exit for the Bronx Bombers, have no fear Yankee fans. The off-season will fly by like an elementary school kid’s summer after you overpay…err… acquire Cliff Lee.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I’m now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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