As impressive as Mark Buehrle was last night, it felt like the Tigers did a lot to beat themselves. A truly dominant pitching performance is one in which you feel like opposing batters don't have a chance. And that's what we saw from Justin Verlander tonight against the Indians. Two hits. 11 strikeouts. Just two walks. A complete game.
Can we officially retire all the questions of what's wrong with Verlander? Of whether or not he's really the Tigers' ace starting pitcher? Has the man had a better three-game stretch in his career? (Maybe he has. We'll look it up later, after our afterglow has dissipated.) His fastball was blazing tonight, consistently in the upper-90s (touching 99 m.p.h. several times), with a change-up and curveball (and an occasional slider?) mixed in that rendered Cleveland hitters helpless.
A pitcher looks even better when his defense plays well behind him, and Verlander got four gems tonight. But diving or leaping catches by Placido Polanco, Ryan Raburn, and Adam Everett are unfortunately going to be massively overshadowed by what we saw in the ninth inning.
It doesn't seem fair to distill tonight's game down to one moment, not when Verlander pitched as well as he did. But this might just represent the difference between this year's Tigers team and last year's disappointment. Verlander had thrown an absolute gem, and he was on the mound in the ninth inning to finish the game off. With one on and one out, the Tribe's best hitter was at the plate. And Grady Sizemore finally caught up to one of the four-seam fastballs scorched to the plate, a pitch Verlander may have gotten a bit careless with down the middle.
Sizemore blasted the pitch deep to dead centerfield. And that feeling of despair that occurred far too often in your stomach last season was getting ready to plunge in your stomach. This wasn't really going to happen, was it? A walk-off homer? Another stellar pitching performance ruined at the end? Again?
But Curtis Granderson kept backing up, getting closer to the wall. But while we were getting ready to crash to the floor in anguish, Grandy was zeroing in on the ball. If we could see through his eyes, it surely looked like Iron Man's point of view, with crosshairs locking in on the baseball, and the outcome flashing on the sidebar. "CATCHABLE. CATCHABLE."
Granderson leaped into the air, planted his left foot into the fence's padding to brace himself, reached his glove out over the wall, and made the catch. The kind of catch that so rarely gets made. Oh, we've seen that kind of effort before. But how many times is that glove pulled back into the field of play with the baseball actually trapped in it? Yet there it was, that little flash of white in the mitt of black leather. And Grandy wasn't standing on the warning track with hands on hips, lamenting the play almost made. He was firing the ball back to the infield, trying to double off Josh Barfield.
Verlander raised both arms, jumping up and down. So were Tigers fans everywhere. Game saved! Masterpiece preserved! Three pitches later, surely fueled by adrenaline, Verlander mowed down Asdrubal Cabrera to give the Tigers one of the sweetest wins of the young season.
Comment of the Night:
UPDATE: Seriously, if you didn't see that catch, click here and treat yourself to a reason to love baseball. (And chuckle at the reaction from the Indians' broadcasters.) I want this clip shown to me on my deathbed, so I can remember at least one fine moment from this life before I pass on into the next one.