SEATTLE -- Gerald Laird couldn't resist the joke on his way out after Tuesday night's win, saying he was "Verlander's psychologist today."
OK, so Justin Verlander probably didn't need that much counseling, despite his frustrations over home-plate umpire Brian Knight's strike zone. But somebody had to make sure nobody said a magic word that would either set off Verlander or prompt Knight to eject the reigning American League Cy Young winner and MVP.
As the catcher in between the two, Laird had that role. The problem was, he also was the only healthy catcher the Tigers had while Alex Avila was dealing with a sore knee, so he couldn't afford to pick up the fight and take the damage for his pitcher. In fact, manager Jim Leyland reminded Laird of that fact on his way out after his ejection.
So Laird played negotiator.
"I just told [Knight] I'll take care of it," Laird said. "I said, 'It's just the heat of the game, that's all it is. He wants his pitch.' I said, 'I think they're close, but I'll take care of it.' And then next inning, I said, 'He's just a competitor. He wants his pitches. There's no hard feelings.'"
Normally, Laird would be picking up his pitcher's cause, an irony he noted afterwards.
"I can't get thrown out right there," Laird said. "I'm trying to be the smart guy. Usually, I'm the other guy yelling at the umpire."