Verlander lets loose, has fun despite results
AL starter lights up radar gun, doesn't let five-run first spoil ASG experience
KANSAS CITY -- Justin Verlander is as competitive as any pitcher in baseball. If he executes his pitch, he truly believes, he shouldn't give up a hit.
On the other hand, Verlander also believes in the big stage. And in his first All-Star Game start, he made this the rare exception where he let the latter overrule the former and allowed himself to have fun.
The results on the radar gun were memorable. The results on the scoreboard were, well ...
"Obviously, I don't want to give up runs," Verlander said after his five-run inning. "I know it means something. But we're here for the fans. I know the fans don't want to see me throw 90 [mph] and try to hit the corners. So, just let it heat. Have fun.
"They like to see the 100-mph fastball. I gave them that."
With Nick Castellanos earning All-Star Futures Game MVP honors and Prince Fielder putting on a power display in the Home Run Derby, the stage was set for Verlander to complete the Tigers' memorable All-Star week.
Indeed, Verlander wanted it to be memorable. So he took the mound, reared back and started firing.
His first three pitches came in at 97, 98 and 98 mph, before he sent down Carlos Gonzalez swinging at a curveball in the dirt. It was a classic Verlander strikeout.
From there, it became an adventure.
Melky Cabrera jumped on a 98-mph fastball and sent it to left. Four fastballs later, Ryan Braun sent an opposite-field double to right to put the National League ahead.
Three pitches later, Verlander hit 99. Three pitches after that, he hit 100 mph to Joey Votto, setting him up for a curveball and a called third strike. He hit 100 on his next pitch to Carlos Beltran, and it was on.
That, Verlander said, was what the fans wanted. Sometimes, it wasn't even the fans.
"I looked at [the radar gun readings on] every pitch," Verlander said. "I think the at-bat to Beltran, I threw a pitch 100, he fouled it off and Prince at first goes, 'Ver! 101!' I said, 'OK!'
"Next pitch of course is a ball, but it's 101, and I looked at him and said, 'See? I told ya.'"
That was ball four, extending the inning and bringing Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux to the mound. Normally, a coaching visit brings out the glare from Verlander. This time, it brought out a shrug.
"I knew what he was thinking: Slow down, try to hit the glove," Verlander said. "Before he even got to the mound, I said, 'Hey, I can't slow down now. It's already going.'"
Verlander hit 100 on his next two pitches and walked Buster Posey in four.
Ironically, the truly damaging pitch was a curveball, which Pablo Sandoval sent into the right-field corner for a bases-clearing triple.
"I just got a curveball right there, hanging," Sandoval said, "so I put a ball in the wall."
By the time it was done, Verlander had become just the third pitcher in All-Star Game history to allow five or more earned runs in an inning, joining Atlee Hammaker from 1983 and Sandy Consuegra in 1954. Just three other All-Star starters -- Tom Glavine, Jim Palmer and Roger Clemens -- had given up five runs in an outing.
How rough was it? Verlander's division rival, Indians closer Chris Perez, was warming up in case he couldn't finish the inning. He was the pitcher designated to relieve somebody if they hit their pitch limit mid-inning.
In Verlander's illustrious regular-season career, he had given up a five-run opening inning just twice, the more recent being April 11, 2010, against Cleveland.
"That's why I don't try to throw 100 in the first inning," Verlander said. "Doesn't usually work out too well for me."
There's a reason for that: He needs to establish his mechanics before he establishes that fastball. He's more accustomed to throwing 100 mph on his 100th pitch than his 15th.
"It's really hard for me to do, to be able to command that when I haven't established my delivery early in the game," he said.
When outings don't work out for Verlander, the frustration is usually evident. This is the man who takes regular-season intensity into his Spring Training outings so that he can prepare for Opening Day.
This was the rare occasion, maybe the only occasion, where his prevailing emotion over a loss is a smile.
"I was able to laugh about it right away," he said. "Obviously you don't want to go out like that, but hey, I had fun."
That, more than anything, was his goal. On a normal game day when he's starting, he's borderline anti-social, walking into the clubhouse with his headphones on and his music blaring, and not taking them off until he takes the field.
That wasn't happening Tuesday. Even if he wanted it to, he probably couldn't.
"Gotta enjoy the time while you're here," Verlander said. "Got here really early -- I think it was like 2 o'clock -- and usually I show up around 4:30 on start dates. So I'm just all over the place in the locker room, from the training room to my chair to the training room. ...
"That's one of the best things about me being here is being able to socialize with some new guys that I don't know and other All-Stars. I'm not going to waste that opportunity just because it's my start day. I'm not going to do the normal, stick my headphones on, don't talk to anybody."
Verlander was one of three Tigers in the game. Fielder went 0-for-2 and was robbed of a double on a lunging catch by Beltran in right field. Miguel Cabrera entered at third base and hit into a double play in his lone at-bat.