Tigers start fast, fall short in Game 1
Verlander allows seven runs; bats muster two runs in loss
DETROIT -- Finally, the Tigers came back to work on Saturday night from six days' rest. Anthony Reyes and Albert Pujols quickly put them back to sleep.
Whether or not the long break had any effect on the American League champions heading into their first World Series since 1984, their Game 1 performance looked like a team that hadn't played in a while. After Reyes outpitched Justin Verlander in the historic battle of rookie starters, sending Detroit to a 7-2 loss to the Cardinals at Comerica Park, the Tigers have one day to get back in tune.
"We had a week or so off," Brandon Inge said, "and it seemed like we were just a little bit stale."
Asked if there was a bright side to take into Game 2, Inge smiled.
"Yeah," he said, "we can't play much worse than that."
The outcome goes against the theme touched on all week, that the record of teams going into the World Series with five or more days of rest is good. Those teams' record in Game 1, however, is just 5-4 since 1988. Though both the 1995 Braves and '96 Yankees won the World Series after six days off, the Yanks lost their opener in a 12-1 rout.
This one wasn't quite that bad, but it was just about as decisive. Gone are the Tigers' seven-game postseason winning streak since Game 2 of the AL Division Series, the American League's eight-game winning streak in the World Series, and Detroit's home-field advantage for this set. They lost at home for the first time in these playoffs, and they'll now have to win at least once in St. Louis next week to earn their first world championship since 1984.
At least early, the Tigers seemed to have plenty of life. Detroit's hitters put up half of their offense in the first inning, reaching for two low changeups and turning them into base hits. Craig Monroe doubled down the left-field line with one out before Carlos Guillen yanked another offspeed pitch to right for an RBI single.
Not only was it Detroit's last hit until the seventh inning, there weren't many more good swings on Reyes the rest of the night. Seventeen consecutive Tigers went down in order after Guillen's hit, four of them by strikeout. At one point, the 25-year-old right-hander retired six straight batters without allowing a ball out of the infield before a Guillen ground ball skipped off of second baseman Ronnie Belliard's outstretched glove and rolled into right field.
"I just think you give the other team credit," manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought Reyes pitched great. I said before that whether we won or lost this series, we're not going to have a cop-out."
Leyland didn't want to hear the layoff factor at all, regardless of result. The flip side of being sluggish, he said, would've been that the time off allowed them to get healthy had they won.
Excuse or not, the result suggested it couldn't be ignored. While Inge saw a team that appeared stale, Ramon Santiago actually thought they might've overcompensated.
"We were very anxious to play," said Santiago, who started at shortstop with Guillen moved over to first. "Maybe we were too anxious today, but that's part of it. You're excited to play in the World Series. Maybe too much energy."
But even if energy wasn't an effect, the timing seemed to be. Their at-bats weren't as solid against Reyes as they were against such proven veteran pitchers as Randy Johnson and Barry Zito. By throwing first-pitch strikes over the plate, Reyes worked them into quick outs and made the Tigers look like the offense that struggled down the stretch in the regular season.
As many first-pitch strikes as they saw, they hadn't seen many live pitches at all since last Saturday. Excuse or no, it was an adjustment the Tigers couldn't make.
"The majority of hitting is timing," Inge said. "When you're off for that long and you're not seeing that live pitching day in and day out, your timing gets thrown off a little bit. And even a fraction of your timing being thrown off, it is going to affect you a lot. It's the difference between a strikeout and a base hit.
"I felt like maybe some of the guys were just a little off tonight. And by no means is this an excuse, because to be honest with you, there is no excuse. We should've hit better than we did, but I'm saying that could've had something to do with it."
By the time Craig Monroe's solo homer off Reyes' first and only pitch of the ninth inning closed the scoring, the Tigers needed a long string of hits to make it into a game again. The Cardinals had long since knocked out Verlander, pouncing early on the AL Rookie of the Year favorite.
Verlander had pitched on long rest twice this season. He came out of the All-Star break after 10 days off and shut out the Royals for seven innings. After the Tigers shut him down for a start in early August to rest a tired shoulder, he came back on nine days' rest and was shellacked by the White Sox. Both times, he felt like the rest helped him.
On Saturday, he said, his fastball simply wasn't there. The velocity was off on the radar guns, and he could tell without looking at the readings.
"That's why I threw more offspeed," he said.
That strategy worked against Pujols in the first inning, setting him up with fastballs before he swung and missed at a changeup to end the inning. Once Chris Duncan put up his third-inning RBI double, Verlander tried to move ahead of Pujols with a first-pitch fastball that wandered over the middle of the plate. Pujols deposited it into the right-field seats for a two-run homer and a 4-1 lead.
A leadoff walk to Pujols set up Verlander's undoing in the sixth. Verlander fell behind on a 3-0 count to Jim Edmonds before he lined a single to right. Rolen's ensuing double was the last hit off Verlander before two Inge errors on a Juan Encarnacion bouncer brought in the sixth and seventh runs.
It took Monroe's homer to ensure the Tigers had more hits than errors. Excuses or none, the quality of play was not what they wanted.
"We didn't play well," Leyland said. "We didn't swing the bats well. And overall, we just didn't give a good performance."
Eight of the last nine teams to lose Game 1 have gone on to lose the World Series. The lone exception was the 2002 Angels, who lost their opener to the Giants. Fittingly, they were coming off five days' rest when they did it.
"Tonight, honestly, it was just a bad game," Inge said. "We got outplayed, outhit, everything tonight. This is one of those games you have to use as motivation, if anything."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.