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10/09/11 3:25 AM ET
Rain a recurring obstacle for Leyland
Second storm in as many series cuts Verlander's night short
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Mother Nature can mess with the mind and a pitching rotation. And for the second consecutive Game 1 of a playoff series, it did just that to Justin Verlander and the Tigers.
Much like in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees, rain knocked Verlander out of Game 1 of the AL Championship Series early on Saturday night at Rangers Ballpark. Against the Yankees, he lasted an inning before the game was washed out and suspended. Against the Rangers, he had gone four innings before two periods of rain came.
"If anywhere in the country has a drought, you can just bring me in and I'll be happy," Verlander said after taking the defeat.
The Tigers lost both games, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Rangers, who jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. But even worse, because of the weather, manager Jim Leyland was forced to ask Rick Porcello to work two innings of relief when the top of the fifth inning lasted more than two hours because of two lengthy rain delays.
Prior to the start of the series, Porcello was named to start Game 4 on Wednesday in Detroit. But Leyland said afterward that he was going back to the drawing board to re-evaluate the situation. Verlander threw 82 pitches and is slated to start Game 5, if necessary. That may now be in question. Porcello tossed 22 pitches and said the first relief outing of his career shouldn't infringe on his ability to make his assigned start.
"I'll be fine," Porcello said. "I'll have a couple of days rest, and I'll be good to go."
Then there's veteran starter Brad Penny, who's on the playoff roster but hasn't pitched since Sept. 25. Asked in the clubhouse if he'd like to a make the start, Penny said succinctly: "That would be nice."
Leyland took several questions about Detroit's rotation during his media session and grew a bit testy in the end with the redundancy of it all.
"I'm trying to be patient, and I think I just explained it," Leyland said. "We're going to sit down and talk about it. I'm sorry I don't have an answer for you. You can talk to me until you're blue in the face about the rotation. I don't have anything for you. I'll repeat that -- I don't have anything. As soon as I get it, I'll give it to you."
It was that kind of night. Verlander didn't have much in the early going as he spotted the Rangers a 3-0 lead. When rain stopped a budding Tigers rally for 41 minutes in the top of the fifth, the right-hander and top candidate for the AL Cy Young Award this year went down to the batting cages and made some adjustments to his mechanics.
Verlander said he had just tossed "six or seven perfect pitches in a row" and Leyland wanted him back out there, despite the delay. The game then resumed and the Tigers scored twice before play was halted again with the bases loaded and two outs. This time, the delay lasted 69 minutes and Verlander was finished for the night.
"When the second [delay] came about, [taking him out was] a no-brainer," Leyland said. "I think that this was a little bit of a weird night, obviously, with the rain the way it was. ... And I guess it's a little weird Verlander was involved in both of these rain situations."
Verlander didn't think it was weird as much as it was frustrating. In the ALDS, he came back in Game 3 and threw 120 pitches in a gutsy 5-4 Tigers win. Leyland then iced Verlander out of any sort of relief role in Game 5. It all worked out when Doug Fister throttled the Yankees for five innings and Game 2 winner Max Scherzer came out of the 'pen and faced six batters before top relievers Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde finished the series-clinching 3-2 win.
"I really thought as a team that we were getting into a rhythm there, so it's quite frustrating," Verlander said. "The rain just killed the momentum."
There's no guarantee that it will work out so well again. Obviously, one of Leyland's options would simply be to move Verlander up a game and pitch him on Wednesday at Comerica Park on three days' rest, dropping Porcello to Game 5.
Verlander said he'd be ready to go.
"I'm always ready," Verlander said. "I'll be prepared no matter what the situation is."
Verlander, who has a tough give-and-take relationship with his crusty manger, said he expects to have that conversation with Leyland.
"I'm sure I will," Verlander added.
But those are the best-laid plans of Mice and Men. Long after Saturday's game had ended, the skies burst again at Rangers Ballpark. At this point, there's no telling what Mother Nature has in store for any of us.