As scouts from the Chicago Cubs sat in the stadium seats with radar guns in hand and recruitment on their mind, Justin Verlander was on the mound throwing seven dominant innings of baseball.
This was the Verlander of old, fierce and in control, striking out nine, and allowing three runs on five hits. It wasn’t his flashiest or best outing, but it was an important one because it may have been his last game in a Detroit Tigers uniform.
No trade deals have been inked, and for the time being Verlander is still a Tiger, but as rumors about his potential departure heat up, fans are beginning to realize their days with the ace may be numbered.
Verlander, for his part, said he didn’t go out tonight trying to prove anything. He did not play with any “extra emotion,” he just tried to pitch well. He accomplished that, although he told reporters after the game he felt like it was in college ball again, thanks to the presence of the scouts.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told reporters after the game, “I don't think the rumors even crossed his mind when he was on the field.” It seems impossible to believe, but maybe, out there on the field, he was simply a man with a job to do.
Going up to the mound and coming out of the game, however, he was very much aware of what this game might mean. Did he think about how this might be it for him, and that on this day 12 years and 20 days after his major league debut, he might have thrown his last game as a Tiger? Verlander admitted, “I guess there might be a fleeting moment where you say this might be the last time. But it's very fleeting.”
The thought crossed the mind of catcher Alex Avila as well. Avila, another hot target ahead of the trade deadline, is no stranger to playing with Verlander, and one has to wonder if there was a reason Avila was chosen to catch tonight’s game instead of James McCann who is on a five-game hitting streak. Perhaps a chance for old partners to take the field together one last time?
When asked if the thought this might be the end, Avila said, “I'm not going to lie, I thought about that over the course of this game that it might be the last time.”
When Verlander left the field after seven innings, the Comerica crowd was on their feet in an emotional, and heartfelt standing ovation. They, too, understood that tonight may have marked the end of an era.
After the game Verlander told reporters, “You don't know what's gonna happen. Maybe I wish I could go back and say thank you, but maybe there's more of those to come." And of that standing ovation from the fans who have cheered him on for thirteen seasons? "I heard it, I felt it, I appreciated it, and I love these fans. And I'm glad that they acknowledged that."
Verlander is scheduled to start the game on Sunday, July 30.
The MLB trade deadline is Monday, July 31.