You could see the fight poster in your mind, profiles of Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia facing each other, nose to nose, blank eyes betraying nothing.
10 - 3 - 2011
THIS TIME IT COUNTS
Not that it didn't count the first time, Friday night in the Bronx when they battled to a 1-1 tie on a night only the rain could be awarded the victory when the MLB finally threw in the towel one and a half innings in. The night washed out with an atmosphere from a noir comic.
The aces relegated to rooting on the weekend, New York and Detroit traded blows while the hype grew. Sabathia and Verlander, one more time. One last appearance of the aces on the mound at the same time. The series possibly on the line as experts dealt out the odds: 19 out of 23 five-game series tied after the first two games went to the team who won the third game.
THE SHOWDOWN IN MOTOWN.
Only it wasn't. Not the first inning, anyway.
By the end of the first inning, Verlander gave up a single, triple, and two runs with just two outs recorded.
Sabathia flailed, missing the strike zone far and near, high and low, laboring almost from the moment he took the mound. First a walk. Then a double play. Then two more walks before he escaped the first inning.
One in the second, and one in the third. Sabathia issued as many walks in three innings as he did the entire month of August. He control problems fared no better as the innings went on. And yet, when he left the game in the sixth inning somehow the Tigers could only put four runs on the board.
Sabathia finished his night with two more walks than he ever allowed this season. He had his shortest start of the year.
All the hype, yet all of the show of Floyd Mayweather's fourth-round knockout of Victor Ortiz on a woeful PPV show.
Or was it?
Verlander took the mound in the second, bruised but not beaten. 1-2-3. Jab-jab-jab. Counter, hook. Roll with it. Let them see what they expect, but take it away when they don't expect you to. Keep moving.
The bell tolled for the fifth. Verlander approached perfection, dominating the vaunted Yankees order like they weren't even there. Ten pitches, nine strikes, three outs. Jorge Posada had no clue what was coming, as watched Verlander's first offering burn through at 96 only to see Verlander drop the hammer with an 86 mph curveball for strike three. Russell Martin watched strike 1, but he couldn't touch the next two pitches. Two outs. Brett Gardner couldn't catch up to strike two. He never expected strike three. Ten pitches, one dominant pitcher.
But he got too confident. When no one can touch you, only one man can bring you down. So he got fancy with two outs in the seventh. Posada, Martin and Gardner made him pay this time. A six-pitch walk. A sacrifice of the body for the second baserunner.
And a pitcher addicted to speed. Power pitch after power pitch. 100 mph. 100 mph. 99 mph. 96 mph 96 mph. 100 mph. Gardner drove the ball into the outfield with as much violent force as the ball could carry.
"He just got overamped," Jim Leyland would said. "He was trying to go for a strikeout and got overamped. But he was terrific."
"Right where I wanted to be," Verlander said. "But all of a sudden, I lost it for three batters."
Winded but not beaten, Verlander made it through one final inning, his 120th pitch of the night issued at 99 mph caused Mark Teixeira to fly out to left to end the eighth inning. For that, Verlander earned, in every sense of the word, the win, with Delmon Young providing the 5-4 lead and Jose Valverde got the game's final three outs.
Did the matchup live up to the hype? That's for you to decide.
Did Verlander? Almost certainly. On his biggest stage of the year, on short rest, against the best offense in the game, he showed he's a player who deserves every one of his laurels.
This one counted, and after the way Justin Verlander answered the bell there can be no doubts.