Verlander, Tigers not themselves in Game 1

Verlander, Tigers not themselves in Game 1

Verlander, Tigers not themselves in Game 1
SAN FRANCISCO -- The smirk on Justin Verlander's face as Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones slowly ambled to the mound in the third inning seemingly said plenty. He had just watched an Angel Pagan infield double off the third-base bag, then a Marco Scutaro two-out single after back-to-back 98-mph fastballs had been fouled off. As he put it, the wheels weren't coming off.

The "wow" Verlander mouthed after the very next pitch, sent by Pablo Sandoval over the left-field fence for a two-run home run -- the second of Sandoval's three homers on the night -- said the rest.

This was supposed to be the mismatch for Detroit to take command of the World Series early on the road, or at least counteract the rust on its bats from five days off since the end of the American League Championship Series. As Verlander watched the Giants pull away early toward an eventual 8-3 Tigers loss, sending him toward his quickest non-weather-related exit since 2009 and his roughest postseason outing since his rookie season of 2006, it looked like a nightmare.

The Panda tore into the Tigers on Wednesday night, and by the time Detroit could answer, it was far too late to avoid their first deficit in a series this postseason.

"Extremely impressive," Verlander said of Sandoval's historic performance. "I wish I hadn't contributed."

In the grand scheme of the Series, it isn't nearly a nightmare. Unlike Verlander's 2006 World Series opener, when the Tigers struggled against Cardinals rookie starter Anthony Reyes, this was a loss on the road and a Tigers rotation that runs deeper than Verlander. As bad as Wednesday's loss looked, a win in Game 2 on Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8:07 ET first pitch) would still regain home-field advantage for Detroit with three games awaiting at Comerica Park, where the Tigers haven't lost this postseason.

The Tigers were 4-4 during the regular season after Verlander losses. A win this time would give them the road split most teams would take.

"Is it disappointing? Yeah," Verlander admitted. "Would you like to have won Game 1? Absolutely. But I don't know if you guys have been watching, but the three guys behind me have been doing pretty daggone well as well. It's not the end of the world by any means. I think we feel confident every day. There's nobody in there hanging their heads at all."

If the Tigers are going to even the series, however, they're going to have to play a better all-around game. For all of the bad fortune that came the club's way on Wednesday, Detroit didn't help its own cause much, either. Whether those five days off were a factor was a pressing question.

The Tigers scrimmaged against their instructional league players for two days, and they pitched and hit against each other. They did everything they could to keep their timing against live pitching and hitting. The end result suggests it didn't much matter.

"I think we played all right," Miguel Cabrera said. "We had five days off. I was thinking it's going to be a little tougher, about routine plays, about playing the game right. But it was all right.

"To this point, we have to give a lot of credit to San Francisco, because they were aggressive -- they swung early in the game and they scored a lot of runs early. I think we did everything to win the game, but they played better. They hit better."

The Tigers have seen early damage off Verlander before, notably during an August stretch when the Royals and Angels both jumped on his early pitches for big opening innings. In those cases, however, Detroit traced it back to Verlander needing to pick up his fastball from the get-go.

This wasn't a case of too little velocity. The Giants got to Verlander on command, extending at-bats with foul balls -- 30 of them -- until it was too late. San Francisco worked Verlander in a way no team had since the A's fouled off 33 of his pitches in a September meeting at Comerica Park. In so doing, the Giants bolstered their reputation as a solid contact-hitting team, a fact the Tigers knew well coming in.

"When he doesn't have a typical game to what he normally throws, it's fastball command more times than not," catcher Alex Avila said. "I've seen those nights before. There's times when obviously you manage it and still win a game and still pitch well doing it. We just weren't able to make the adjustment, and Sandoval hurt us."

Sandoval's first-inning drive to right-center field was the first home run Verlander gave up on an 0-2 pitch all season, and just the fourth of his seven-year Major League career. Verlander wanted to make him chase a high heater and left the 95-mph offering too close.

Verlander retired six in a row after that and came within a diving catch by Gregor Blanco of a tied game. Blanco's grab turned what could have been an RBI double by Cabrera into the end of a third-inning threat.

Pagan's well-placed double in the bottom of the third left Cabrera standing in disbelief as the ball rolled toward left field and Pagan kept on going into second.

"I was like, 'Uh-oh,'" Cabrera said.

It was the two-out spark that ignited the top of the Giants' order.

"It's a shame that starts a big rally like that," Verlander said.

Scutaro fouled off back-to-back full-count heaters before his liner up the middle plated Pagan. It also brought up Sandoval, whose 2-0 count brought out Jones.

"I asked him what he's doing out there," Verlander said. "He told me just to slow down a little bit. I told him, 'Well, all you did was get the crowd riled up.' We just had a little it of a laugh."

The next pitch was the fastball expected by Sandoval, whose opposite-field poke over the fence in the left-field corner put San Francisco clearly in command.

The early run support, Cabrera said, was the difference for Giants starter Barry Zito, whose 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball quieted the Tigers' offense in a way other finesse lefties, such as Kansas City's Bruce Chen, had done in the regular season.

"I think after that, [Zito] came with a lot more confidence and made some good pitches, controlled the count," Cabrera said. "I think that was the difference in the game. I think we battled, battled good, making him throw some pitches, but in this game, they scored a lot of runs and we don't have control over that."

Verlander, who had allowed two runs on 10 hits over 25 1/3 innings this postseason, left having allowed five runs on six hits over four innings. When Danny Worth pinch-hit in the top of the fifth, it marked Verlander's quickest exit for reasons other than weather since June 16, 2009, when the Cards chased him after four innings in St. Louis.

"I think you can pretty much sum it up, when you use five pitchers in a game that Justin Verlander starts, that's not good tonic," manager Jim Leyland said. "That usually doesn't work too good. I think momentum is your next day's pitcher."

That's usually the slogan when Verlander is the next day's pitcher. For once, the Tigers are hoping it holds for the following day.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.