That bottom of the order

So now we know. The rain in New York contains kryptonite.

How else do you explain the early mortality of the best pitcher in baseball this year, Justin Verlander, and arguably the next best in the league, CC Sabathia, who were both all-everything during the regular season, then got doused by Bronx showers in Game 1 last Friday, and starting throwing like human beings in Game 3 Monday night?

No capes. No x-ray vision. No glowering, overpowering giants.

Instead, we saw early run, long pitch counts, jams that were unjammed, pitching from the stretch, walks, more walks, and a crazy stream of double plays.

For a while it looked as if neither pitcher would recognize himself in a baseball mirror. But eventually, that sheen of New York rainwater was replaced by good old-fashioned Detroit sweat, and one of the aces – the sure Cy Young Award winner of the year, arguably the MVP of the league, and the biggest reason to come to Comerica Park in years – started pitching like it.

Ring it up.

Justin Verlander saw the waving towels of crazed Detroit fans, heard the cheers of “M-V-P!” over and over, and put behind his early trouble (two runs in the first inning) to find a groove even Stella would envy:

He struck out Nick Swisher to end the fourth.

He struck the side in the fifth.

He struck out Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez in the sixth, using a 100 m.p.h. fastball on the latter.

Meanwhile, Sabathia was being pestered by a patient group of Tigers batters, who approached him the way lumberjacks approach a redwood tree. Whack. Whack. More whack. They took him deep in the counts, drew six walks, seven hits, four runs, got him to 106 pitches early in the sixth inning, and finally, thankfully, watched him leave.

Timber.

You thought it was over then. You thought Verlander had won the duel, bested the best, he would ride home down Woodward Avenue on a mighty horse, his sword tucked, his head bowed, his work done.

Not so fast.

That bottom of the order

Verlander, in the seventh, got nicked the way Sabathia was nicked – by the least likely guys in the lineup, and by his own hand. With two outs, he walked Jorge Posada, the seventh hitter. Then he hit the catcher, Russell Martin, with a pitch. Then, on a full-count, the crowd of 43,581 at Comerica Park on its feet, he surrendered a hard line drive to Brett Gardener, the ninth hitter, and the score was tied 4-4.

Brett Gardner?

“I was a little out of rhythm in the first, found it, then lost it for three batters,” Verlander would tell the TBS cameras.

And Verlander and Sabathia were, at that point, for all intents and purposes, right back where they were when the rain closed things down in the Bronx last Friday. Tied.

But with one difference.

Verlander was still in the game.

So when Delmon Young, with one out in the bottom of the seventh, belted a first-pitch solo home run, you could almost feel the power surge back into Verlander, who was cheering in the dugout.

“Amazing,” he would tell TBS. “What an acquisition he has been. … What a stud. … What an at-bat.”

You understand his enthusiasm. He knew he had a chance to win this thing, he knew he’d be going back to the mound.

And he did not disappoint.

Instead, the 28-year-old seemed to get stronger, throwing harder. He struck out the mighty Robinson Cano looking. He exceeded 100 m.p.h. – and this was the eighth inning! He was like one of those runaway trains were the accelerator is pressed down. You had the feeling if the game went into extra innings he’d be throwing faster than a NASCAR entry.

Ring it up.

Preserving the day

Wait. A word here about Jim Leyland’s lineup work. As those guys in the Guinness beer ads yell, “Brilliant!”

He started Ramon Santiago in place of Ryan Raburn and batted him second. Santiago drove in the Tigers’ first run with a punch single over third base, and drove in the go-ahead run with a hard double to the left. Brilliant.

He stuck with Brandon Inge – a guy whose bat was so weak this year he got sent to the minors – and Inge was huge (odd to say that phrase, given his size), getting the Tigers’ first hit, a double, adding a single and scoring twice. He inserted Don Kelly for defense, and Kelly delivered with a big hit as well. Brilliant and brilliant, right?

And while we’re at it, let’s give him credit for helping to bring Delmon Young to the team late in the season. It wasn’t his decision alone, but, hey, as long as credit was being distributed …

Not that Leyland would want a lot of fuss over this. “This is kind of a happening for other people,” he said before the game. “This is work and a game for us.”

Well, consider it work well done.

And a tense, winding, but ultimately satisfying game. This was a night when the Tigers’ biggest bats – Cabrera, Martinez – were mostly silent. Where names like Santiago and Peralta drove in runs. Where double plays were as much a part of the story as big hits. And where the ninth inning became far too dramatic, when Jose Valverde put two men on with two men out.

Remember, Valverde had said, “It’s already over” after the Game 2 victory. And however much his tongue was in his cheek, if he blew this one, it would be more like his foot in his mouth.

But facing none other than Derek Jeter, Valverde took an 0-2 count, went to 2-2, then blew it past Jeter for strike three, and his 50th save in 50 chances this season.

Hey. You can’t say the guy doesn’t put his pitches where his mouth is.

Two down, one to go

But the front page, the big story, the marquee of Monday night were the two pitchers and the interruption last Friday night. How would it affect them? How would they throw? No one could remember a case where such major stars got partway through the opening dance number, then saw the theater go dark and the show rescheduled. You didn’t even know what to call it. Were they pitching on two days’ rest, three days’ rest, a week’s rest interrupted by a few soaking innings?

“This is the great part of being a manager,” the Yankees’ Joe Girardi said before the game, “because if one of the starters struggles, the first thing they’re going to ask us is, ‘Do you think it had anything to do with Friday?'”

Well? This morning we ask. What do you think? Clearly neither pitcher was his normal, overpowering self. The rhythm had to feel different. The old reliables were all off the map.

But Verlander won the night. And the game – 5-4. That’s all that maters around here. He’s the biggest star on the team, and while Monday was all you’ll see of him this series, it was a darn good look. He survived an early knock and a late knock. He battled the rhythm, the hype, the pitch count. He threw 120 pitches, 74 strikes.

And finally, on a night when Kenny Rogers threw out the ceremonial first pitch, recalling the last postseason Game 3 against the Yankees that led to a World Series in 2006, Verlander stirred the spirits of Tigers fans everywhere, who now see their team one victory away from playing for the pennant.

Ring it up.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

So now we know. The rain in New York contains kryptonite.

How else do you explain the early mortality of the best pitcher in baseball this year, Justin Verlander, and arguably the next best in the league, CC Sabathia, who were both all-everything during the regular season, then got doused by Bronx showers in Game 1 last Friday, and starting throwing like human beings in Game 3 Monday night?

No capes. No x-ray vision. No glowering, overpowering giants.

Instead, we saw early run, long pitch counts, jams that were unjammed, pitching from the stretch, walks, more walks, and a crazy stream of double plays.

For a while it looked as if neither pitcher would recognize himself in a baseball mirror. But eventually, that sheen of New York rainwater was replaced by good old-fashioned Detroit sweat, and one of the aces – the sure Cy Young Award winner of the year, arguably the MVP of the league, and the biggest reason to come to Comerica Park in years – started pitching like it.

Ring it up.

Justin Verlander saw the waving towels of crazed Detroit fans, heard the cheers of “M-V-P!” over and over, and put behind his early trouble (two runs in the first inning) to find a groove even Stella would envy:

He struck out Nick Swisher to end the fourth.

He struck the side in the fifth.

He struck out Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez in the sixth, using a 100 m.p.h. fastball on the latter.

Meanwhile, Sabathia was being pestered by a patient group of Tigers batters, who approached him the way lumberjacks approach a redwood tree. Whack. Whack. More whack. They took him deep in the counts, drew six walks, seven hits, four runs, got him to 106 pitches early in the sixth inning, and finally, thankfully, watched him leave.

Timber.

You thought it was over then. You thought Verlander had won the duel, bested the best, he would ride home down Woodward Avenue on a mighty horse, his sword tucked, his head bowed, his work done.

Not so fast.

That bottom of the order

Verlander, in the seventh, got nicked the way Sabathia was nicked – by the least likely guys in the lineup, and by his own hand. With two outs, he walked Jorge Posada, the seventh hitter. Then he hit the catcher, Russell Martin, with a pitch. Then, on a full-count, the crowd of 43,581 at Comerica Park on its feet, he surrendered a hard line drive to Brett Gardener, the ninth hitter, and the score was tied 4-4.

Brett Gardner?

“I was a little out of rhythm in the first, found it, then lost it for three batters,” Verlander would tell the TBS cameras.

And Verlander and Sabathia were, at that point, for all intents and purposes, right back where they were when the rain closed things down in the Bronx last Friday. Tied.

But with one difference.

Verlander was still in the game.

So when Delmon Young, with one out in the bottom of the seventh, belted a first-pitch solo home run, you could almost feel the power surge back into Verlander, who was cheering in the dugout.

“Amazing,” he would tell TBS. “What an acquisition he has been. … What a stud. … What an at-bat.”

You understand his enthusiasm. He knew he had a chance to win this thing, he knew he’d be going back to the mound.

And he did not disappoint.

Instead, the 28-year-old seemed to get stronger, throwing harder. He struck out the mighty Robinson Cano looking. He exceeded 100 m.p.h. – and this was the eighth inning! He was like one of those runaway trains were the accelerator is pressed down. You had the feeling if the game went into extra innings he’d be throwing faster than a NASCAR entry.

Ring it up.

Preserving the day

Wait. A word here about Jim Leyland’s lineup work. As those guys in the Guinness beer ads yell, “Brilliant!”

He started Ramon Santiago in place of Ryan Raburn and batted him second. Santiago drove in the Tigers’ first run with a punch single over third base, and drove in the go-ahead run with a hard double to the left. Brilliant.

He stuck with Brandon Inge – a guy whose bat was so weak this year he got sent to the minors – and Inge was huge (odd to say that phrase, given his size), getting the Tigers’ first hit, a double, adding a single and scoring twice. He inserted Don Kelly for defense, and Kelly delivered with a big hit as well. Brilliant and brilliant, right?

And while we’re at it, let’s give him credit for helping to bring Delmon Young to the team late in the season. It wasn’t his decision alone, but, hey, as long as credit was being distributed …

Not that Leyland would want a lot of fuss over this. “This is kind of a happening for other people,” he said before the game. “This is work and a game for us.”

Well, consider it work well done.

And a tense, winding, but ultimately satisfying game. This was a night when the Tigers’ biggest bats – Cabrera, Martinez – were mostly silent. Where names like Santiago and Peralta drove in

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