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ROIT -- Justin Verlander is considered baseball's new ironman pitcher, leading the league in innings and pitches the past two seasons. But even for Verlander, it's nothing compared to what former Tiger Mickey Lolich threw in his career.
Lolich was at Comerica Park for Saturday's Game 1 of the American League Division Series to deliver the ceremonial first pitch. Despite his age (72) and logging 3,638 1/3 innings in his career -- including four straight seasons of 300-plus innings from 1971-73 -- he still had it.
"It was a strike in my day," he joked. "Not the way they call the zone today. A little high."
In 1971, at age 30, Lolich threw 376 innings, 29 complete games, went 25-14 with a 2.92 ERA and tallied 308 strikeouts. To fans of the game today, those number are mind-blowing.
"I used to average about 140 pitches a game," Lolich said. "Back in our day, you had a one-year contract, so you went out and pitched. And if your arm fell off, you were done. ... Nowadays, when they have multi-year contracts and they're guaranteed, they've got to make sure these guys don't get hurt."
For the Tigers' all-time leader in strikeouts, shutouts and games started, it was a familiar feeling stepping onto the mound for a playoff game against the A's. The last time he appeared in the postseason, the AL Championship Series back in '72, it was against Oakland. He threw 10 innings in a 3-2 loss in Game 1, and returned -- on four days' rest, nonetheless -- to pitch nine innings in a Game 4 victory.
Lolich sarcastically smiled when asked if he likes the impact pitch counts now have on the game. Instead, the true Tigers ironman believes the more pitches and innings thrown, the better for a pitcher.
But even though he might not agree with today's limitations, he's still a fan of the game. And especially a fan of Verlander.
"He's supposed to be playing in another league somewhere," said Lolich of Saturday's Game 1 starter. "He reminds me of Sandy Koufax. Just phenomenal when things are going good for him. And I mean, he's a workhorse. He wants to pitch. I bet you he gets into a few arguments out there when he's gotta come out of a game. That's the way a pitcher's supposed to be. And I enjoy watching him."