SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants knew full well before Wednesday night just how good Justin Verlander was. Just the same, they decided to make him prove it.
Verlander had trouble locating in Game 1 of the World Series, and the Giants took advantage, cruising to an 8-3 win at AT&T Park. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner wasn't terrible, exactly. He wasn't missing by a lot. But Verlander was off by enough that a tenacious San Francisco lineup chased him after four innings and dropped his record in World Series games to 0-3.
Verlander's previous two starts, though, came six years ago. The Verlander of 2006 was a less refined pitcher who lacked the range of skills the current version can flaunt. It takes a lot to beat Verlander v.2012, both from the hitters facing him and from the pitcher himself. But it happened on Wednesday.
Rather than jumping on the first close pitch they saw, which is a mindset that hitters can fall into against elite pitchers who pound the zone, the Giants remained selective. They took plenty of pitches early in counts, fouled off borderline offerings and waited on the pitches they could hit. Verlander threw just enough of them to pay a steep price.
"His fastball command was not good. He got out of sync; he got on fast forward," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "He just did not pitch well tonight, it's that simple. But ... I want to start by giving the Giant hitters credit. I would not take anything away from them."
Verlander's control was not bad. He threw 64 of his 98 pitches for strikes, right in line with his 66 percent strike ratio this season. Verlander's command, on the other hand, was off. He didn't locate well within the strike zone, and he missed his spot on several potential put-away pitches.
That resulted in long at-bats, lots of foul balls (30, to be exact), and a staggering average of nearly 25 pitches per inning for the star righty. The Giants wanted to make Verlander earn every out, and they did.
"Our guys, we were second to last in strikeouts this year, so we put the ball in play," said San Francisco hitting coach Hensley Meulens. "Our thing before the game today, we were going to grind at-bats. We were going to make [Verlander] work and make him work and make him work, and we did. We got his pitch count up."
Justin Verlander's three World Series starts
It started by being willing to take pitches early in the count. That can be a dangerous move against a pitcher like Verlander, who has both exemplary control and dominating put-away pitches. If a hitter takes strikes early in the at-bat, he can find himself in a pitcher's count. Being behind Verlander 0-1 or 0-2 is no way to get on base in most cases.
But their reads were right on, and it worked out perfectly. Giants hitters took 14 of 19 first pitches from Verlander, and 10 of those 14 were balls. That meant they were ahead more often than not, changing the complexions of the at-bats. None of San Francisco's 19 plate appearances against Verlander ended in fewer than three pitches.
So Verlander was working in every single at-bat. For a pitcher of his strength and stamina, that's not necessarily a terminal diagnosis, but it's worth remembering that he's very deep into the season.
Verlander threw a combined 271 1/3 innings last year, and he was less effective in the playoffs than he'd been in the regular season. Coming into Wednesday, Verlander's 2012 total was 262 2/3. It's not unreasonable to think that battling through difficult at-bat after difficult at-bat is more taxing for a pitcher that deep into the season.
So the Giants were happy to keep jabbing. They laid off of Verlander's curveball, allowing him no swinging strikes and one called strike on the pitch. They put five fastballs in play, and four of them went for hits -- that's as many hits on fastballs as Verlander induced swinging strikes. Put another way, San Francisco batted .800 when it put Verlander's fastball in play.
Clearly, Verlander wasn't locating the pitch where he wanted to. Just as clearly, the Giants weren't going to let him get away with it, just because he's Justin Verlander.
"I tip my hat to the guys," Meulens said. "They took the plan out into the field, and it worked out for us tonight."