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Tigers' season rests on Verlander

Tigers' season rests on Verlander

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ST. LOUIS -- Maybe it's because he's worked more than 200 innings for the first time in his career. Or maybe it's due to the extra rest he had before his last start. Or maybe it's the pressure any rookie must face in his first World Series.

Whatever the cause, Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander knows he must rediscover the form that helped him win 17 games during the regular season and do it quickly, as he will start Game 5 of the World Series on Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

For the Tigers, down 3-1 in the Series, Verlander's start is now an elimination game, a change in circumstance that Verlander was already pondering Thursday night.

"[I'm feeling] a little bit of everything: anxious, nervous, excited," Verlander said. "I just need to get out there."

Verlander and his teammates will be trying to send the Series back to Detroit for a possible Game 6, with lefty ace Kenny Rogers ready to go. But first the Tigers must get a win at Busch Stadium.

"You never want to be in a position where you lose and the season is over. [That's] not optimal," Verlander said. "As a starting pitcher, you want to be the guy your team can count on to keep it going."

He's well aware that the biggest start of his life just grew in importance due to the Game 4 loss, but Verlander says his emotions will soon be under control.

"After I make that first pitch, I'll be ready to go," he said. "I'll be fine."

Verlander's second start of the Series was pushed back a day due to Wednesday's rainout, but Verlander doesn't think the extra day will be much of an issue.

"It really doesn't [matter]," Verlander said after Game 4 was called. "It just gives you an extra day."

Verlander, who was 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA during the regular season, is 1-1 with a 7.47 ERA in the postseason, including a Game 1 loss to the Cardinals at Comerica Park on Saturday. In that game, Verlander allowed seven runs on six hits -- including home runs by Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols -- in five-plus innings.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland cited decreased velocity as a factor in Verlander's rough night in Game 1. It was Verlander's first start in 10 days, and the inactivity may have left the pitcher a little rusty. Leyland said Wednesday he believes Verlander will be ready to go.

"I think Justin will be fine," Leyland said. "I would expect he'll be fine for [Friday], and it's like I said, he's one of our four starters, and I think basically, other than Justin's performance, we've pitched pretty well."

Verlander also doesn't think his velocity will be an issue this time.

"I actually feel great," Verlander said. "I went out and threw the day after my start and I felt fantastic. Actually, I felt better than I did a couple of days on seven, eight days' rest. I felt good. Since then I felt good, and I'm ready to go."

Verlander has given up 13 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings during the postseason. He's also given up 20 hits, including five homers, and walked seven batters.

The dropoff in performance follows a second half during which Verlander's ERA was a run and a half higher than it was in the first half of the season, which leads to the obvious question of fatigue.

Verlander, 23, has worked 201 innings this year, counting postseason and regular season, which is 70 more than he worked in the Minor Leagues last year. Verlander was drafted in 2004.


Teams Down 3-1, Win World Series
Six teams in Major League Baseball history have trailed, 3-1, in the World Series and went on to win the Fall Classic. One of those teams? The 1968 Detroit Tigers, who accomplished the feat against none other than the St. Louis Cardinals.
Winning Team
Date
Losing Team
Boston Pilgrims 1903*Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh Pirates 1925Washington Senators
NY Yankees 1958Milwaukee Braves
Detroit Tigers 1968St. Louis Cardinals
Pittsburgh Pirates 1979Baltimore Orioles
Kansas City Royals 1985 St. Louis Cardinals
*Best of nine format; 5-3 World Series result

If it is a tired arm, that could explain the slight drop in velocity.

"Obviously I didn't want to be down, but me and [Tigers pitching coach] Chuck [Hernandez] worked on it a little bit," Verlander said. "We might have thought my mechanics had a little bit of an effect on it. I wasn't really driving with my legs as much as I had been earlier in the year. We worked on that a little bit. I think it was just a mix of maybe my mechanics and how my arm felt that day."

Verlander doesn't believe a tired arm is behind his recent problems.

"A week ago I might have said maybe, but after my last start, coming back, my arm felt great," Verlander said. "I don't know why, but it felt better than it did before the last one. Whether that has an effect on my velocity or not, I don't know, but I know from the last few days to today it's been feeling great."

Verlander's fastball did hit the mid 90s at times during Game 1, an encouraging sign.

"I heard a stat: five starts of the year a pitcher has good stuff, his best stuff, and that really holds true," Verlander said. "Something is always not working. If I have a good fastball, sometimes I don't have as good control of it, and vice versa."

Tigers catcher Pudge Rodriguez noticed improvement in Verlander as Game 1 wore on and thinks the right-hander will have better command this time.

"I think maybe [with the long layoff] he was a little rusty," Rodriguez said. "I thought his fastball got better the more he pitched. I think he'll be OK."

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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