Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander can all but sew up the AL Championship Series tonight with a victory over the New York Yankees. The Tigers hold a 2-0 lead in the series and a win tonight would force New York into having to win four straight.
The Yankees situation has gotten so desperate that they thought about starting C.C. Sabathia on three days rest. Instead, manager Joe Girardi decided to stick with Phil Hughes.
New York had reason to consider Sabathia. They are going against Verlander. There is no pitcher in baseball more equipped to pitch in the post season.
Verlander gives Detroit something that every great team used to have. He is a pitcher who can go the distance. When the big right hander takes the mound, Tigers manager Jim Leyland can almost rest assured that he will get at least seven innings of quality work. If it is up to Verlander, Leyland can give his bullpen the night off. Verlander always goes out with the mentality of pitching nine innings. He is what the term ‘old school’ means.
With the Yankees on the ropes, Verlander will pitch with a killer instinct. He knows that a win tonight will not only put New York down three games to none, but leave them having to win two straight on the road. Detroit does not have the best pitching staff. If Verlander can put them up 3-0 it will make everyone else’s job easier.
Verlander has a record of 1-1 in three games against the Yankees this season. He did not figure in a 7-6 Detroit loss on April 27. Verlander went 6 1/3 innings that day giving up five runs on seven hits. Four of the runs were earned.
On June 3 he lost a 5-1 decision to Hughes in New York. Verlander pitched 6 1/3 that day giving up five runs on nine hits and walking four. It was Hughes who went the distance as he gave up one run on four hits.
In his last start against the Yankees, Verlander was sharp. On August 6, he struck out 14 over eight innings while giving up two runs in a 7-2 Tigers victory.
New York has scored only four runs in the first two games of the series. They were shut out at home Sunday by Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez and Phil Coke. The Yankees are in a team slump at the moment as Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are struggling. They will not get any help from Verlander tonight.
A game like this is where pitchers such as Verlander build their legacy. There have been many great ones who did well in the regular season, but not so good at playoff time. Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina and Dwight Gooden come to mind. If Verlander wants to avoid being part of this list he must win games like tonight.
In the AL divisional series against Oakland, Verlander won games one and five. His series totals were one run on seven hits while striking out 22 over 16 innings. Verlander pitched a complete game shutout in game five.
Tuesday he will have to do the same if not better. Hughes will do all he can to keep the Yankees close. Verlander must make sure that they never get a chance to see any light at the end of the tunnel.
If he goes nine innings, the Tigers may very well walk off with a three games to none lead.
He just might, as pitchers like Verlander live for moments like tonight.