Seasoned Verlander ready for bright lights
Dominating ace looks to use '06 experience as catalyst
NEW YORK -- Justin Verlander's magnificent season notwithstanding, it will all be for naught if that success doesn't roll over into the postseason.Verlander is taking his 24-5 record and 2.40 ERA into Friday night's Game 1 start against the Yankees and left-hander CC Sabathia in the best-of-five American League Division Series. On the eve of the opener at Yankee Stadium, Verlander said he really has yet to digest those numbers with the postseason beckoning. "Yes and no," Verlander said on Thursday. "I understand the numbers, how they worked out and where they stand. But at the same time, there's so much other stuff going on, there's not really a chance to sit back and let it soak in. Once the last pitch is thrown, hopefully after we have won a World Series, I can sit down, look back at it and enjoy it. For right now, I'm focused on Game 1." It's a redo of 2006 when the Tigers played the Yankees in the ALDS, defeating them in four games on the way to the World Series. The Tigers lost to the Cardinals in five games and haven't won it all since 1984. Verlander is the only pitcher left from that '06 Tigers rotation. He was a rookie then and obviously has improved in the years since. "Justin's had an amazing season this year and every year I played with him from 2006 up until 2009," said center fielder Curtis Granderson, who was traded by the Tigers to the Yankees after the '09 season. "And he's continued to get better and rightfully so. You saw it last year and again this year." Verlander is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in his two starts against the Yankees this year. He opened the season against Sabathia on March 31 in New York and neither earned a decision as the Yankees won, 6-3. Since 2006, during Sabathia's tenures with the Indians and Yankees, the two faced off eight times and Verlander won four of them. The two have started against each other five times since Sabathia signed with the Yankees as a free agent prior to the 2009 season. Verlander is 2-2 with the most recent no-decision. Sabathia, 19-8 this season with a 3.00 ERA, said his battles against Verlander have always been good ones. But this one should be special because it's the first time the two have squared off against each other on the big stage of the playoffs. "Hopefully it's a good one," Sabathia said. "We've faced off a lot, me playing in that [Central] division for a long time. He's had one of the best seasons for a pitcher ever, I think. And it's going to be tough. So we just have to wait and see what happens." Playing with the Yankees, Sabathia is a postseason perennial and was a member of their 2009 team that defeated the Phillies in six games to win the World Series. For Verlander, this is only his second slice of the postseason apple. He was 1-2 with a 5.82 ERA in the 2006 postseason, winning against the A's in the AL Championship Series and losing twice to the Cardinals in the World Series. But it is light years since then, Verlander said. "I'm a totally different pitcher now, as opposed to back then," Verlander said. "Just being a wide-eyed rookie, first experience in Major League Baseball, first time in the postseason, it was quite an experience for me. Looking back at that now, at least I know what to expect. Obviously, I haven't been there as many times as some of the guys in the other clubhouse, but I have been there before. "So I'll just kind of draw on those experiences and hopefully calm my nerves a little bit and use it to my advantage."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.