Game 2 nothing new for Verlander
ALDS success provides springboard before rookie faces A's
OAKLAND -- Rookies are supposed to be nervous in the postseason.Due to the extra adrenaline, they are expected to have trouble calming down and struggle a bit in adjusting to the pressure of pitching in the playoffs. Just don't let Tigers rookie right-hander Justin Verlander know that. In the first postseason start of his career against the Yankees in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, Verlander held the vaunted New York lineup to just three runs in 5 1/3 innings. It was a clutch performance in a big situation for the Tigers, as they trailed, 1-0, in the series. But to Verlander, the start seemed to be just like normal, except for just one thing. "The atmosphere was definitely different," Verlander said of his first playoff start. "As far as the way I felt, though, I actually felt pretty calm and collected going out there. I thought I'd be a little too pumped up, a little too excited, and kind of have to idle myself down, but I felt all right." And that's why as Verlander approaches his start in Game 2 of the ALCS against the A's, there doesn't seem to be too much added anticipation. It's a much less intense situation for the starter as his team comes into this start with a 1-0 series lead. Excuse Verlander if he doesn't display the normal nervousness of a rookie, as that's been a trend that has followed him throughout his young career. His 17-9 record and 3.63 ERA in 30 starts this season made Verlander one of the top candidates to earn AL Rookie of the Year honors. The 23-year-old has shown the ability to look pressure situations straight in the eye and not even blink. It's that sort of poise that made Verlander's manager, Jim Leyland, equate Verlander to another very impressive rookie pitcher who defied expectations. "I compare him a little bit to Dwight Gooden when he first came into the league," Leyland said. "Everyone said, 'Man, this kid has got incredible poise.' My reaction has always been the same -- when you throw at 97 [mph] with a curveball off the table and a good changeup, it's pretty easy to be poised. It's that simple." Verlander has always had the stuff, and it's his ability to hit that vaunted 100-mph mark on the radar gun that has put him in a very elite category.
It was back on a trip to Oakland in April that Verlander first hit 101 mph on the radar gun as a member of the Tigers. The game itself didn't go as smoothly as Verlander would have liked, with the Tigers picking up a loss, but the pitcher has learned that while velocity doesn't necessarily guarantee wins, it certainly allows for a better chance."It definitely allows me to make some more mistakes in a ballgame," Verlander said. "It just gives me more room for error. Obviously, I don't want to make errors because it makes it all the tougher. But I can get away with some now and again." Learning to pitch is something that Verlander admits he's still doing and hopes to continue throughout his career. It's definitely a different pitcher who returns to Oakland from his first start here in April. Verlander's final two starts against this Oakland club showed that, too, as they went drastically better. The right-hander allowed just one run in each of his final two starts against the A's. And while Verlander continues to show poise and a will to succeed, the question of how such a young pitcher will do as the club progresses further in the postseason remains. Verlander had never before pitched in October, let alone September, after being shut down in early August last season in the Minor Leagues due to arm fatigue.
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That's why when asked where he was just a year ago, Verlander didn't hesitate with an answer."I had just bought my place down in Florida, so I was getting that situated -- not playing baseball, that's for sure," Verlander said. Knowing that Verlander had previously experienced problems with fatigue, the Tigers skipped over his final regular-season start to give him 10 days' rest before his first postseason start. This time, it will be just one extra day of rest that the young pitcher will get, but it's enough for Verlander to think that he should be just as ready to go in this start as he was his last -- this time hoping to help his team go up by two games before heading home. "I definitely think it's a good thing," Verlander said of the extra day. "I had 10 days before my last start, and [I] felt really good, so one extra day I think will benefit me."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.