ARLINGTON -- It wasn't totally a lost night for Justin Verlander. At one point, the Major Leagues' most wonderful pitcher of 2011 threw a bunch of "perfect" pitches. Only problem, nobody saw them. Not the 50,114 fans at Rangers Ballpark for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Not the Rangers. No one but the guy catching them inside the batting cages adjacent to the visitors' clubhouse on Saturday night, while the first siege of rain was pelting the field outside.
"Funny thing ... I went throwing during the first rain delay," said the Tigers' ace, referring to the 41-minute stoppage in the top of the fifth. "And I figured out what was causing my problems -- a little flaw in my mechanics that I worked on. I felt great [down there]. I threw seven, eight perfect pitches in a row and was excited to go back out there. "I never got that opportunity." It never came, because more rains did come, halting play for another 69 minutes, still in that top of the fifth. The Tigers had scored twice before the second deluge, but would score no more. Thus, the early 3-0 hole dug by Verlander proved inescapable. The Tigers were stuck with a 3-2 defeat. Verlander was stuck with that unbecoming line: four innings, five hits, three earned runs and 33 balls among 82 pitches. This wasn't the pitcher the nation had seen all season, the one who claimed a Triple Crown by leading the AL with 24 wins, an ERA of 2.40 and 250 strikeouts. However, it was the Verlander we have seen during much of his stop-and-start postseason. He came out of Saturday night's abbreviated start with a 5.54 ERA for 13 innings' work against the Yankees and the Rangers. And this one wasn't a fluke. "I just didn't have it. My location wasn't good at all, my stuff wasn't great," Verlander said. That was evident as he walked two of the first four men he faced during a 25-pitch first inning. This is a guy who had issued multiple walks in only four of his 250 innings during the regular season. "His control was not very good," said Detroit manager Jim Leyland. "He didn't really have his curveball going for strikes. He had a tough time with it. I think probably trying to overthrow it a little bit." "I felt good adrenaline-wise," Verlander said, shaking off any suggestions he might've been too amped. "I wasn't great in the bullpen [before the game], and it carried over. I was not able to make the adjustments I needed the first couple of innings." He escaped that jam in the first, but in the second couldn't dodge a ringing run-scoring triple up the right-center alley by David Murphy, who soon scored on Ian Kinsler's single. Two innings later, Nelson Cruz made it 3-0 by depositing a 2-and-0 fastball into the left-field seats. "Ball one, ball two, cookie -- that's not me," said Verlander, reconstructing the Cruz at-bat. Since pitchers are men, not machines, there is nothing puzzling about one of the game's finest coming up with a mechanical yip this late in the year. "It happens the entire year," Verlander said through a forced smile. "You go on runs when things are great, and you have periods when things aren't great and you try to figure it out as quick as possible. Most guys have been around ball a long time, they know you can never expect anything." Included is the expectation that your ace will show the way and win Game 1. And if he doesn't, the expectation that his team is doomed. "We heard that the last series," said Verlander, alluding to Game 1 of the ALDS in New York, the two-day 9-3 loss after his one-inning start was stormed out. "We heard, 'Verlander did not get the win, this team is beat.' That wasn't the case. The guys behind me [in the rotation] came in and showed what they got. "Losing the first in a seven-game series is even less judgmental. We all have faith in those [other starters] and look forward to seeing them work." We can look forward to again seeing Verlander work, too, perhaps also seeing the evidence of Saturday night's mid-storm correction. And we might get that opportunity earlier than thought: Verlander was designed to start Game 5, but could he now be moved up since the scheduled Game 4 starter, Rick Porcello, was the first out of the Tigers' bullpen Saturday night? "Sure," Verlander said in response to whether he could bounce back in four, rather than five, days. "I'm sure we [Leyland and him] will have that discussion." Can Verlander be as effective on three days' rest after an 82-pitch outing as he was on two days' after 25 -- the situation setting up his eight gutsy innings in Detroit's series-turning 5-4 Game 3 victory over the Yankees? "This would be a little different," he said. "But I'll always be ready and prepared, no matter what the situation."