ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers played 81 home games this year with only one rainout, and hadn't endured a weather delay during a game since May 24. For much of this season, the tarpaulin at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington saw less action than backup infielder Andres Blanco.
So naturally, with 50,114 die-hards poised to watch Justin Verlander take on C.J. Wilson in the opener of the American League Championship Series, the rain came in sheets, waves and installments. And local fans who turned on their televisions in search of baseball drama were treated to a seemingly endless loop of Doppler activity churning through Abilene, Stephenville and Wichita Falls.
"We needed this rain like four months ago," said Texas reliever Darren Oliver. "I needed it in my yard -- my plants were dying."
What's good for corn crops, water tables, golf courses and local morale doesn't necessarily translate into a crisp, coherent storyline on the ballfield. On nights like this, you don't so much win or lose a game as survive it. But you go home feeling water-logged either way.
With their best-laid plans ruined by one hour and 50 minutes worth of stoppages in play, Texas manager Ron Washington and Detroit counterpart Jim Leyland sat in their offices mulling over contingencies and knowing full well they would have to trust in their relievers. Texas' bullpen, entrusted with a slight edge, made it stand up until the final, soggy out.
Mike Gonzalez, Alexi Ogando, Oliver, Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz combined to strike out eight hitters and limit the Tigers to a measly bunt single in 4 1/3 innings of work, and the Rangers beat Detroit 3-2 to take a 1-0 lead in the ALCS. David Murphy contributed a big RBI triple in the second inning, Nelson Cruz hit a home run, and it was a great night all-around for Oliver's azaleas and rhododendrons.
Too much more of this, and people will start referring to Verlander as "The Rainmaker." A week ago, he was 25 pitches into a duel with CC Sabathia when the skies above Yankee Stadium let loose and forced MLB officials to suspend play. Verlander returned to start and win Game 3, but had to take a seat in the dugout and cheer on teammate Doug Fister in the series clincher.
Verlander's outing Saturday was longer than that aborted appearance in the Bronx, but every bit as exasperating. He threw 82 pitches over four innings, and thought he'd finally spotted a flaw or two in his delivery when the game's second rain delay forced him to call it a night with Detroit trailing 3-0.
"If they have a drought anywhere in the country, they should bring me in," Verlander said in the clubhouse after Game 1.
Rain or no rain, this was not the Verlander who threw a complete game against Texas in April, won 24 games during the regular season and struck out 11 Yankees in eight innings during the Division Series. Verlander walked two of the first four hitters he faced, and seemed to be fighting his mechanics and home plate umpire Tim Welke's strike zone. Verlander admitted that there were some borderline pitches that he would have liked to have in his favor, but chastised himself for bad location, and assumed full responsibility for the disappointing result.
"Of course there was some frustration," Verlander said. "Every pitcher expects every [pitch] that's close to be called a strike, but that's not the case. You have to move forward. That's the game of baseball. I wasn't upset with [Welke]. You want those close ones called your way, but that's not always the way it happens.
"My location wasn't very good at all, and my off-speed stuff wasn't great. It's just one of those days."
Wilson had some troubles of his own in the early going, allowing six baserunners in the first three innings only to pitch out of trouble every time. Things finally began clicking in the fourth, and Wilson struck out the side. But he was out of sync after a 41-minute delay, and the Tigers took advantage of a 13-minute window to cuff him around and climb back into the game. It didn't help that Wilson has been bothered by a sinus infection that was exacerbated by the humidity in Arlington.
"It's very simple -- you're either in the groove 100 percent or you're not," Wilson said. "It's difficult to quantify what that percent is, but you just know you're not. I don't think it was a sharpness thing. It was more of a location thing."
Halfway through this game, the Ballpark in Arlington tarp had made enough appearances that it was trending on Twitter. After the Tigers played cribbage, watched college football, napped and did whatever else it is that players do to kill time during rain delays, they could only wonder what they might encounter when play resumed. Hint: It wasn't a rainbow.
Texas had some big bullpen arms to begin with this season, and general manager Jon Daniels made some significant upgrades with midseason deals for Adams, Koji Uehara and Gonzalez. The Rangers' bullpen is now hazardous to the health of opposing lineups with too many slider-speed bats.
Ogando, who spent most of this season in the rotation, dominated the Tigers over two shutout innings. And Feliz struck out Wilson Betemit, Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn in the top of the ninth to send everybody home. His velocity on the three strikeout pitches: 99, 101 and 99.
"That's not really a fastball," Adams said. "That's a super-fastball."
Naturally, the rain prompted the media contingent to wonder what the big weather disruption means moving forward. Wilson, who threw 96 pitches, will most likely make his next appearance Thursday in Game 5 on regular rest. Although Verlander thinks he's capable of going in Game 4 on Wednesday after throwing 82 pitches, chances are Leyland will stick to the pre-series agenda and use him Thursday as planned.
"Certainly there's no tricks," Leyland said. "We're not trying to hide anything. We just haven't figured it all out yet."
After a wet day's journey into night, both Leyland and Washington deserve a little time to sit back and reassess their options. What's good for Darren Oliver's garden isn't necessarily good for managerial peace of mind.
Follow Jerry Crasnick on Twitter @jcrasnick.