|ESPN.com: MLB Playoffs 2011||[Print without images]|
|Justin Verlander took the loss in his only start against the Rangers during the regular season, a 2-0 setback in early April.|
“Verlander faced the Rangers once this season, on April 11 in Detroit, and threw a complete game in a 2-0 loss to Alexi Ogando and relievers Darren Oliver and Neftali Feliz. A few weeks later he threw his second career no-hitter in a 9-0 victory over Toronto, and he was on his way to an incredible season. Verlander finished 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and a major league-leading 250 strikeouts, and now he has a chance to join Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Roger Clemens, Denny McLain, Don Newcombe and Vida Blue as the seventh starter to snag a Cy Young-MVP double. Rollie Fingers, Willie Hernandez and Denny Eckersley achieved the feat as closers. Verlander's stamina is almost as impressive as his stats and his stuff. This year he threw a major league-leading 3,941 pitches during the regular season, while the Angels' Dan Haren ranked second with 3,774. Verlander's natural gifts are obvious, and he credits his endurance to a rigorous winter workout regimen that gives him the freedom to focus on shoulder exercises and light leg work from April through September. Verlander doesn't even lift weights during the season because he has said he thinks throwing is sufficient to keep his upper body in shape. Still, there's something freakish about his ability to maintain or even ratchet up his velocity deep into games. Verlander freely admits that he checks out the gun readings on the scoreboard after every pitch to keep tabs on his stuff during games. Since he's blessed with the ability to hit triple digits, he can dial back and throw at 90 percent and still have enough oomph to overpower hitters. That gives him a distinct advantage over most pitchers. Factor in his unhittable curve and plus changeup, and it's the repertoire from hell. "You'll see him get people on base and he'll throw 100,'' teammate Brad Penny said. "Then nobody is on base and he'll throw 92, 93 or 94. He's saving his bullets for when he really needs them. Justin reminds me of Bartolo Colon [when he was at his peak]. He's smart. He uses it when he needs it.'' Verlander entered this season with a 7-11 career record and a 5.05 ERA in April, and he came to spring training in Lakeland, Fla., and vowed to get off to a better start. "He told me, 'I'm not having a bad April this year,''' Penny said. "His first outing he was throwing 96 or 97, and everybody else was just trying to build up. I told myself, 'He's ready.'' Verlander's 2-3, 3.64 April wasn't great compared to the rest of his season, but it set the stage for things to come. And now the Tigers are four wins away from a pennant, and Verlander is rested and ready to go. Detroit will start Verlander in Game 1, followed by Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello. That starting pitching contingent is probably the biggest obstacle to Texas reaching the World Series for a second straight season. In the end, the manager knew best, as usual. Verlander lobbied to pitch in relief Thursday, but Leyland resisted. The Tigers beat the Yankees to advance, and they'll get the very best that Verlander has to offer in the series opener. "Him and I always seem to differ one way or another,'' Verlander said of Leyland. "He says 'po-tay-to,' and I say 'po-tah-to.' After the game the other night, I can't quite remember, it was in the middle of the celebration. He came up to me and said something along the lines of, 'You never trust your skipper, do you?' "It worked out all right, didn't it?''
He's very good. He's one of the best in the game -- if not the best. We all know that.” -- Ian Kinsler, on Justin Verlander
Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via email.Follow Jerry Crasnick on Twitter @jcrasnick.