One by one, fans held up the pink K’s, until they needed a baker’s dozen just to keep them aloft. Yankee strikes out. Yankee strikes out again. How many is that? Seven? Nine? Ten? Twelve?
Finally, Ichiro Suzuki lurched after a pitch so badly it looked as if he’d just stepped in a pothole.
Hold up 14!
So much for Justin Verlander’s losing streak. One defeat is unusual, but two straight is downright against the laws of nature, like a snowstorm in August, or a Twitter update that actually matters.
So Verlander returned to form Monday night the way Michael Phelps did last week, the way Usain Bolt did Sunday, exuding golden light and sending batters to the shadows of the dugout, heads down, lips muttering.
“I think every start, if I don’t win I’m a little upset at myself,” Verlander said when this small redemption was over, “but two in a row with big innings… that’s not like me. So I knew there needed to be something changed.”
Whatever adjustments he made, remind me to take my car to his shop. Verlander went from a rainy 4-1 loss at Boston last week, to a breezy 7-2 victory Monday, no earned runs allowed, and tying his career high of 14 strikeouts. Fourteen? In eight innings?
“Did you know how many you had?” he was asked.
“No. I mean, I knew I had a decent amount…. You can usually tell. A lot of guys going down swinging – as opposed to a lot of contact.”
Yeah. That’s a pretty good indication.
A pitcher’s little white lie
How good was Verlander? He struck out Curtis Granderson in the first inning and did it again in the third. He struck out Mark Teixeira in the second, fifth and seventh.
Verlander ended the Yankees’ fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings with strikeouts, and rubbed out the few embers of their offense along the way.
And then, after taking a Derek Jeter grounder off his calf in the seventh, Verlander employed a little theatrics in the eighth. After walking the leadoff hitter, he got a visit from his manager, Jim Leyland. It lasted about as long as it takes to toss a coin in a tollbooth bucket.
Later, Verlander recalled the chat:
“How’s your calf feel?”
“It’s all right.”
“You lying to me?”
“I’m gonna give you this one batter and see what happens.”
Did your calf actually hurt, we asked?
“Yeah. It hurt.”
So you lied.
“A little bit.”
No worries. After Leyland departed, Verlander struck out Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez and Ichiro to end his night.
His next-to-last pitch was 100 m.p.h.
Let him lie.
Not your average baseball club
And let him get angry at himself when he loses. Because this is the mark of a great athlete. When he dips, he never dips too far. Verlander admitted even one loss gets him edgy.
But two in a row? That’s his limit. He looked at old tape. He found things to adjust. Many stars would never do this; how could anything be wrong with them?
Verlander remains a perfectionist, a concert performer who can hear the slightest tune of his strings. He is as good a pitcher as baseball has today, as steady as Phelps, as eye-blinking as Bolt. If there were such a thing as Olympic pitching, Verlander would already have a gold.
Instead, thanks also to the white-hot Tigers offense, he has his 12th victory this season, and a strikeout night the likes of which haven’t been achieved by another Tiger against New York since Jim Bunning in 1958.
Remember, these were the Yankees. The first-place in the AL East Yankees. They are not easily retired. Ichiro, for example, had not struck out once since donning the pinstripes. He did it three times Monday.
So much for the losing streak. This is recovery. This is Justin Verlander’s bounce back. All we can say is, should he lose two in a row again this season…
…buy your tickets fast.