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Sunday, October 9, 2011
Rain dampens Tigers' Verlander plans

By Jim Caple


To “Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain," Detroit fans will have to come up a new baseball mantra ... just as soon as they can come up with a rain-related word that rhymes with Verlander.

For the second time in a week, the league’s best pitcher had his playoff start shortened by rain when Game 1 of the ALCS was delayed in the fifth inning. Not that Justin Verlander was in top form anyway. His command was off and he allowed three runs in four innings – which was enough to lose the game -- and threw 82 pitches. He threw 49 in the first two innings.

Detroit's Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander looks on after giving up a solo home run to Nelson Cruz.
So how does this affect the series? Well, it definitely doesn’t help the Tigers, who need Verlander to be the ace he was during the season. Manager Jim Leyland said he and his staff would have to talk and figure out what to do about Game 4 Wednesday. His choices are to start Verlander on short rest or go with previously scheduled starter Rick Porcello. Porcello pitched two innings in relief of Verlander but only threw 22 pitches, so he still could be able to go Wednesday. Regardless of which way Leyland goes, this is the bottom line: The less Verlander is on the mound, the worse it is for the Tigers. Losing Game 1 puts them in a big hole.

Texas starter CJ Wilson, meanwhile, couldn’t be happy with the decision to resume the game after the first rain delay in the top of the fifth inning. Wilson struggled the first two innings — five baserunners — but he had gotten into a groove, striking out the side in the fourth and taking a 3-0 lead into the fifth. He gave up a leadoff double to Ramon Santiago when the clouds opened and the umpires halted the game. Play resumed after a 41-minute delay, but only for 13 minutes. Which was just enough for Wilson to give up a run-scoring double, walk three batters (one intentionally), throw a wild pitch, load the bases and turn his 3-0 lead into a 3-2 lead before the rains resumed. And that lead held up thanks to the exceptional work by the Texas bullpen.

Alexi Ogando continued his dominance of the Tigers, throwing two scoreless innings and picking up the victory (in an official scorer's decision because Wilson did not pitch five innings). He was the only Texas starter to beat Detroit this season, going 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA. Manager Ron Washington held him out of the postseason rotation, though, out of concern that he had already been extended enough in his first full season as starter. He’s been lights-out in relief, adding great depth to the Texas bullpen. The Rangers relievers were great, allowing no runs and only a bunt single in 4 1/3 innings. They struck out eight, including three by Neftali Feliz.

In addition to Verlander, the Tigers must also be concerned about the loss of Delmon Young from the lineup. They definitely missed him Saturday. The Tigers staff can pitch as well as possible — but Detroit still will need to score runs.