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.

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

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It Was All Worth It

Cliff Lee went 2-0 in the Rangers' ALDS matchup against the Tampa Bay Rays

By: Chris Ross

When you go to the casino to play the slots do you expect to win? Do you go to a casino expecting to win when you put all your money on double zero? The odds aren’t terrible, but they aren’t in your favour either.

In professional sports, general managers constantly flirt with the odds when they decide to pick up rental players.

Rental players are generally players who are picked up by a team for the last portion of the season in hopes of helping the team win its respective league championship in exchange for that player’s market value. Obviously, the better the player, the steeper the price. A big risk to take for one shot at glory if you ask me. The chances of a rental player being worth the value given up to get him are very low and past situations have demonstrated this fact many times. However, for the Texas Rangers, ‘renting’ Cliff Lee from the Seattle Mariners has already proven to be worth it.

The Texas Rangers earned their shot at taking on the New York Yankees in the ALCS by knocking off the Tampa Bay Rays tonight on the backs of another stellar Cliff Lee postseason performance. Lee went the distance, giving up 6 hits, an earned run, while fanning 11 in the 5-1 victory.

Wait, so then why does one playoff round make the Cliff Lee rental a worthwhile endeavour?

Under most circumstances I would say it doesn’t, but with the Texas Rangers you have to look at where they would be without their ace and where they are now.

In general, I am an advocate against the acquisition of rental players. Teams are forced to give up their potential future, prospects and draft picks, for a player that can hardly guarantee even a real shot at a title. There are too many examples of teams falling short of the mark after acquiring a soon-to-be marquee free agent. In the NHL you look to an example like Nashville and Peter Forsberg, where the Predators gave up a 1st and 3rd round pick along with Scottie Upshall and Ryan Parent, only to be knocked out in the first round of the playoffs

How about just reminiscing to last year’s World Series where the Phillies fell short of a title despite the acquisition of, wouldn’t ya know it, Cliff Lee.

The difference here is that the Texas Rangers franchise is currently navigating through uncharted waters all thanks to one Mr. Lee. The Texas Rangers had never won a playoff series prior to last night’s ALDS victory and for a franchise that had never reached the second round of the postseason it seems like it is already a success to have overcome a team that was considered by some to be Major League Baseball’s elite.

I don’t think that anyone can logically argue that without Cliff Lee the Rangers would have beaten the Rays.

There is almost no doubt that the Rangers would have still taken NFC West-like AL West, but they got Cliff Lee for one thing only and that thing is the playoffs. Lee did not have the best win-loss record, nor did he pitch his best ball with the Rangers during the regular season. He went a mediocre 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA, but seriously it didn’t matter.

Cliff Lee pitched two marvellous games against the Rays. As I mentioned earlier, he pitched a complete game tonight in the biggest game of the season and pitched 7 great innings in game 1. Oh yeah, in 16 playoff innings he didn’t walk a batter.

The Rangers did go on to win game 2 but then at home they lost game’s 3 and 4. Now imagine them having C.J. Wilson instead of Cliff Lee at the front end of their rotation, everyone moves one spot up and who knows what happens in the series. My best guess is that they lose, but that’s just me.

Think about it, what if the Mariners had decided to keep Cliff Lee? Maybe the Rangers decided they didn’t want to give away their future in first-basemen Justin Smoak to seal the deal?

Well that didn’t happen. The Mariners decided to get something back for their key off-season purchase and the Rangers felt that Lee was worth Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson.

It will be a few years before we can truly decide who got the better end of the deal, but right now it looks like a win-win situation with the only possible losers being the Seattle Mariners. Justin Smoak, the key piece in the deal, disappointed in his time with the Mariners. He hit a brutal .209 with 8 homers and 34 runs batted in. However, don’t be too quick to judge. Smoak isn’t even 24 years of age yet so there is lots of time for him to develop.

In the end what does it all mean?

The franchise’s first playoff series victory, a legitimate chance at playing for the World Series, and a team that might not be in the place where they are right now without a certain someone. I’d say that Cliff Lee is already well worth the price.

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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