DETROIT -- Justin Verlander had to wait longer than he wanted for his next postseason start, but the opportunity arrives at last Thursday afternoon. The Detroit right-hander approached Game 5 of the American League Championship Series with two prevalent hopes: That he can be himself and get this ALCS back to Texas by starting the Tigers' comeback from a 3-1 series hole; and that the weatherman goofed by thinking Verlander was to pitch Game 4. Game 4 was delayed more than two hours by rain, which, of course, has been Verlander's curse this October.
Two of the 24-game winner's three postseason starts have been drenched, and it is rather remarkable that the Tigers are still in the thick of October baseball with the resulting minimal contribution of their ace. In the first two weeks of the playoffs, Verlander has been able to log a total of 13 innings and make a total of 227 pitches between the raindrops, a drop in the bucket for a workhorse who led the Majors with 251 innings pitched and threw 200 more pitches (3,944) than anyone else. The rains have been a source of frustration. But could the interruptions now have a benefit, leaving Verlander stronger for his Game 5 start than he normally would be at this late stage of the year?
- 2011 Regular Season
- Overall: 34 GS, 16-7, 2.94 ERA, 74 BB, 206 K.
- Overall: 34 GS, 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 57 BB, 250 K.
- Key stat: 3.0 BB/9 IP, down 1.1 from last year.
- Key stat: 264 innings so far this season, including playoffs.
- At Comerica Park
- 2011: 1 GS, 0-0, 5.40 ERA. Career: 1 GS, 0-1, 6.75 ERA.
- 2011: 16 GS, 10-3, 2.37 ERA. Career: 98 GS, 57-23, 3.24 ERA.
- Against this opponent
- 2011: 1 GS, 0-0, 5.40 ERA. Career: 1 GS, 0-1, 5.56 ERA.
- 2011: 1 GS, 0-1, 2.00 ERA. Career: 9 GS, 6-2, 3.60 ERA.
- Loves to face.: Jhonny Peralta, 2-for-16, 8 K. Hates to face: Ramon Santiago, 3-for-7, 1 2B.
- Loves to face: Ian Kinsler, 4-for-20, 5 K. Hates to face: Adrian Beltre, 10-for-34, 1 HR.
- Game breakdown
- Why he'll win: The Rangers won Game 1 with the same pitching matchup.
- Why he'll win: His 24 regular-season wins are the most since 2004.
- Pitcher beware: Has given up 13 hits and six walks in 9 2/3 playoff innings.
- Pitcher beware: Has allowed 13 earned runs in his past 20 innings.
- Bottom line: Step it up.
- Bottom line: Turn it around.
Verlander dismissed that notion: Whatever extra energy he might have is offset by having had his regular routine go haywire."I would rather have thrown as many bullets as I normally do," Verlander said. "I try to keep myself in rhythm. I base what I do a lot off feel. If something is wrong, I like to feel it. I like to feel myself getting in the rhythm on the mound during the game. "It's kind of tough for me when things get shortened. Like you said, I've only had 13 innings through two weeks. But, hey, doesn't matter. Go out there and do it." Verlander will have to do it to prolong the series. The odds have to be considered on his side, given that the Tigers have ended up losing two of his three postseason starts. Detroit won 23 of the slam-dunk AL Cy Young Award winner's last 27 regular-season starts after May 7. "We got 'Ver' going, and he's been dealing all year," said Rick Porcello, the junior member of the Tigers' rotation who himself dealt brilliantly for five innings in Wednesday's 11-inning, 7-3 loss to Texas. "That's the guy you look to to bounce back from something like this." Leyland had a sound defense for refusing to give in when Verlander lobbied for the Game 4 start. He had worked four innings and thrown 82 pitches before two lengthy rain delays ended his shift in Game 1 on Saturday in Arlington. "We think this is the best thing for Justin Verlander and, in turn, that means it's the best thing for the team," Leyland said. "We really believe this is the best way to go, the common sense thing. "You have to win four games [to win the ALCS]. Somebody else has got to win games." Verlander did want the chance to win Game 4. "I went and talked to [Leyland] a few times," the pitcher said. "I told him I would be ready. He just kept saying no, no, no. I finally went in there and said, 'Hey, I'm going to prepare to throw Game 4. You make the decision after that.'" Leyland stuck to his guns -- as he had for Game 5 of the AL Division Series, when he insisted Verlander would not be available for bullpen help against the Yankees. Verlander never left the bench as the Tigers won, 3-2, to advance to the next stage. "He got a lot of flack for that," Verlander said, "and that worked out pretty well. We need the utmost faith in his decision-making. I just go out there whenever my number is called." Verlander, however, did dispute his manager on one issue: Leyland flat-out said, yes, he is tired; hey, it's that time of the year. "I think he's a little tired. That's why he's not pitching [Wednesday]," Leyland said. "No, I feel good," Verlander said, convincingly. "My last start my body and my arm didn't feel great. But that happened plenty of times throughout the season. It's going to happen. "I've worked real hard to be strong this time of year. And I feel like I am. I don't think there's anything else I can do. I feel good. Just need to get my mechanics in order. I've done everything I can possibly do to get myself prepared." That included extensive sideline work since the start in Arlington, a start after which Verlander said, "I just didn't have it." "I threw two bullpen sessions," he said. "I felt like I fixed [the issues that afflicted him in Game 1]; I felt like I was flying off the ball, pretty bad with my front side. It was a little bit inconsistent the first [bullpen session], but I felt like I got better the next time. "Once you go out there on the mound in the game you don't worry about that stuff. That's why I threw two bullpen sessions to try to create that muscle memory and get my body back where it needs to be. Now it's a matter of going out there and doing it." And, if need be, dodging those raindrops.