Commentary

Verlander's All-Star disaster

The reigning AL MVP was the goat, but he kept it in perspective

Originally Published: July 11, 2012
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Justin Verlander can probably lay claim to the title of best pitcher in the game. But if you're looking for a one-man argument against MLB's "This One Counts'" initiative, he just might provide it. Baseball likes to promote the All-Star Game as ultra-important because it determines home-field advantage in the World Series, but Verlander approached Tuesday's game very much like an exhibition. He wanted to put on a show, and the results were secondary.

The National League won its third straight All-Star Game by a score of 8-0, and the game was devoid of suspense because of a horrific performance on the part of the Detroit Tigers' ace. Verlander, the American League's reigning Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner, allowed five runs in the first inning, and the Nationals batted around to take a 5-0 lead and put the AL in an inescapable hole.

Justin Verlander
H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports/US PresswireVerlander made All-Star history by becoming the first pitcher to allow five runs in the first inning.

It wasn't a case of poor stuff as much as questionable priorities. Verlander took the mound with every intention of bringing the cheese. Command and control weren't necessarily part of the equation.

"I know this game means something," Verlander said. "But we're here for the fans, and I know the fans don't want to see me throw 90 [miles per hour] and hit the corners. Just let it eat, and have fun."

Early in his career, Verlander had a reputation for getting too amped up at times and letting his adrenaline get the best of him. He's amended that profile in recent years by dialing back the velocity in the early innings and gradually picking up the pace as games progress. It's not uncommon for him to throw 93 or 94 mph out of the chute and eventually crank it up to triple digits.

Case in point: On April 17 against the Kansas City Royals, Verlander threw a 100-mph fastball past Alex Gordon on his 131st pitch to put the finishing touches on a 3-2 Detroit victory.

On All-Star Game night, Verlander had the velocity and precious little else to go with it. He allowed an RBI double to Ryan Braun, gave up back-to-back walks to Carlos Beltran and Buster Posey, yielded a bases-loaded triple to Pablo Sandoval, and was bad enough that the initial plans for him to throw two innings had to be scratched. He was replaced by Texas Rangers closer Joe Nathan in the second after throwing 35 pitches -- 19 strikes and 16 balls.

"I think when you face somebody that good, you just try to shorten your swing and hope you're able to find the barrel," Braun said. "He's probably the best pitcher in our game today. He wanted to come out and showcase the fact he has a great fastball, which everybody already knew. But everybody got to see it tonight."

Verlander surpassed 97 mph with 26 of his 35 pitches and cracked the 100 barrier six times. After Beltran fouled back a 100-mph heater, Detroit first baseman Prince Fielder looked toward and teammate and yelled, "Ver, 101!" Verlander obliged with a 101-mph four-seamer for ball four.

That prompted AL pitching coach Mike Maddux to visit the mound for a chat, but Verlander basically stopped him in his tracks.

"He came out there and I knew what he was thinking: 'Slow down and try to hit the glove,'" Verlander said. "Before he even got to the mound, I was like, 'Hey, I can't slow down now. It's already going.'"

[+] EnlargePablo Sandoval
H. Darr Beiser-USA Today Sports/US PresswireSandoval's three-run triple sealed Verlander's fate.

The unfortunate sequence of events will not prompt Verlander to look back on the 2012 All-Star Game as a completely negative experience. He arrived at the park several hours before Tuesday's game and spent a lot of time shooting the breeze with Adam Dunn, Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia, Chris Sale and other players in his little corner of the clubhouse. That opportunity to take a deep breath and mingle is always a Midsummer Classic highlight.

And he's on his way to yet another superb season for the Tigers. Verlander is tied for the major league lead with Felix Hernandez and Stephen Strasburg with 128 strikeouts, and he ranks first overall with 132 2/3 innings pitched. He also leads MLB with five complete games -- which is more than 24 big league teams.

Verlander plans to spend the next two days golfing and taking care of some odds and ends before the Tigers resume the second half Friday at Camden Yards in Baltimore. That's close enough to his native Virginia that he'll even have the opportunity to make a trip to his old backyard.

When Verlander faces the Orioles in his next start Sunday, he'll make sure to pack his curveball, changeup and some discretion -- not necessarily in that order.

"Hey I had fun," he said before leaving Kauffman Stadium. "This is why I don't try to throw 100 in the first inning. It usually doesn't work out too well for me."

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer