Since 2009, Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander were constants in the Detroit Tigers' rotation on a steadily changing team where players come for a few years and exit, prospects never get too comfortable, and Dave Dombrowski trades everything not nailed down. We grew accustomed to Rick and Verlander in the rotation, and this is one reason why many people were not excited when the Tigers traded Porcello during the offseason (in addition to the obvious concern that thinning the rotation puts more stress on the bullpen and lo, is the rotation thin).
Porcello and Verlander were separate characters traversing a similar arc — Verlander was the mentor and Rick the youngster who couldn’t quite put it all together. While Verlander was amassing Cy Young and MVP caliber seasons, Porcello was muddling along with an ERA in the mid-fours and a WHIP that required all the ground balls he could muster. Verlander was hitting 100 miles per hour in the eighth and ninth inning and Porcello was working on a breaking ball. Fortunately for Frederick, he was young, surprisingly so, leading everyone to believe he could one day grow up into a top of the line starter.
Both stalwarts in the rotation, they looked also like brothers as two dark-haired, 6’5" righties with varying degrees of handsome (JV’s goatee is the lowest degree of handsome). It was not hard to imagine them bonding over the course of six seasons as teammates, sharing drinks, struggles, triumphs and enjoying what was overall a great period of success for the Tigers. Verlander was the confident leader of the rotation, Porcello hit batters professionally to fulfill his duties as a teammate.
Flash forward to July 2015 and Porcello has traded Detroit’s navy blue to become a Red Sock, of all things, signing a four-year extension worth over $80 million. Verlander has had an injury-shortened season and the flashes of excellence have not obliterated the dark creeping in from his recent struggles. While we would like a reunion between two men anchoring their respective rotations, instead two pitchers with ERAs near 6.00 are prepared to square off.
Most are convinced that Verlander is past his prime and Porcello isn't so young anymore either; he may never be what we thought. What we hoped for and what is did not align. People are fond of saying that baseball is timeless, but the adage doesn’t apply to the players. Time has passed and the two former pillars of a young Tigers core are grown up. People are also worried that the Tigers’ run of success may be coming to a close and they will not have a championship to show for it. The fear around the Tigers getting older only increases with the potential that there is a deadline sale. Comerica sometimes sounds like a church full of people who don't know the rituals. People do not understand this new world or these strange happenings.
In many ways, this is a low point in the careers of both men and it would be easy to see tonight as another depressing matchup in a disappointing season. However, baseball trades in nostalgia and today is a great opportunity to revel in the past. Today the big brother and the little brother finally square off, something hitherto not possible. This game will be escapism in its finest. We can ignore the David Price rumors for a few hours, enjoy Yoenis in left field and remember the good times — Rick's first career shutout, his fight with Kevin Youkilis and his straight face when he said that his fastball just got away from him. We can also remember Verlander's reign of dominance and the fact that he lead a rotation so good Rick never did get to start for Detroit in the postseason.
It is strange that the two now meet on sub-.500 teams playing each other in Fenway Park on a Friday night in late July. For six years we watched the two pitchers combine for 2,451 1/3 innings. Over that time, we have developed attachments to the two players and grown to like them, even if we hated Porcello's slider. All of that baseball has lead us here; this is an uncanny sport.
While both pitchers have struggled, it would be unlike baseball to have them pitch terribly tonight. I predict that both will pitch well and seeing Rick in a Boston uniform will be like seeing an old friend who has gained a few pounds and adopted a strange haircut. Sure, the new look is jarring at first, but it's still nice to see them. Fox Sports Detroit will soak up every interaction between Verlander and Porcello, highlighting every smile and brief exchange. Both sets of announcers will relish the stroll down memory lane, Rod Allen talking about Rick's change piece and Jim Price complimenting him, calling him a fine young righthander with the art of pitching.
Whether Porcello truly possessed the art of pitching or earned a yellow hammer is irrelevant; it will be fun to pretend he did. One can only assume that the Tigers will hit into at least six double plays and Verlander will be left out an inning too long. Still, the Tigers will win and Rick will remain the kid brother. After the game, he and Verlander will go out for drinks where Porcello will make a face while pretending he likes bourbon. Baseball is comforting because it leads us to believe that amidst a world of change, some things remain the same.