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Verlander's struggles renew debate about layoff

SAN FRANCISCO -- As soon as the Tigers clinched the American League pennant, the speculation began.

Not about the dominant Tigers pitching. Not about how easy they made a four-game sweep over the New York Yankees appear. Not about how, on paper, they seemed to be the stronger team headed into the World Series.

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No, the talk generally focused on days off. Days off, as in how many the Tigers had between sweeping the Yankees out of the AL Championship Series and beginning the Fall Classic.

This has been a popular topic, mainly because the Tigers were in a similar situation in 2006, and their performance back then was, well, unforgettable in a way no baseball team wants to be remembered.

Those Tigers also swept the ALCS, and after a full week off, they began the World Series by doing little else than kicking the ball around. It was as if they were in shake-off-the-rust Spring Training mode instead of in the middle of the most important week of their professional lives.

It would be a stretch to say Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night at AT&T Park was an exact repeat performance of the Tigers' showing six years ago. The '06 team's issue was defense. The problem this time around really focused on one person: the normally unbreakable Justin Verlander.


Game 1 woes
The Tigers are 2-8-1 in World Series openers. On the last six occasions Detroit has lost Game 1, it has won Game 2.
Year Opponent Score Winner
2012 Giants L, 8-3 TBD
2006 Cardinals L, 7-2 Cardinals in 5
1984 Padres W, 3-2 Tigers in 5
1968 Cardinals L, 4-0 Tigers in 7
1945 Cubs L, 9-0 Tigers in 7
1940 Reds W, 7-2 Reds in 7
1935 Cubs L, 3-0 Tigers in 6
1934 Cardinals L, 8-3 Cardinals in 7
1909 Pirates L, 4-1 Pirates in 7
1908 Cubs L, 10-6 Cubs in 5
1907 Cubs Tie, 3-3 Cubs in 5

Sure, the Tigers weren't terribly impressive with their baserunning, either. But most of this was on Verlander, who had seven full days off since his masterful 8 1/3-innings performance against the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS and inexplicably couldn't get a feel for his fastball.

The best pitcher in baseball lit up in the World Series? Let the "layoff" speculation begin.

Patiently standing at his locker in front of a media crush so large in size that it necessitated Verlander answering the same questions for at least three waves of reporters, the pitcher predictably was hesitant to blame his performance, which resulted in an 8-3 loss, on too much down time. He did, however, acknowledge he was "out of sync," which may very well be a fancier way of saying that, yes, the extra time off may have had something to do with it.

"No telling. I don't know," Verlander said. "I couldn't answer that. I know I was out of sync, but in the course of the season, sometimes you're out of sync. Whether it's on five days or nine days, it happens. Who knows if the layoff had any effect?"

Verlander did everything he could to stay fresh while the Tigers waited for the Giants-Cardinals series to be decided. He threw to live hitters with as much intensity as can be expected in a non-playoff atmosphere. He tried to stay on routine. But still, nothing can mimic the feel of a real baseball game, especially in October, when adrenaline is at an all-time high and extra rest can actually be a detriment.

"Obviously, I'm a creature of habit and you get a little out of your routine," Verlander said. "But who cares? It's the World Series. You're going to do whatever you've got to do when you're out there. I'm disappointed I wasn't able to do it tonight."

Manager Jim Leyland, old school and excuse-free, repeatedly credited the Giants' lineup as the reason the Tigers lost. Only then, after two or three hat tips to the opposition, would the skipper acknowledge that Verlander may have been just a little off after so much time between starts.

"I think probably a little bit of a layoff -- it's been quite a while since he's pitched," Leyland said. "His command was not good; I think he just got out of pitching, started throwing a little bit too much."

But Leyland gave little credence to the idea that the Giants are at an advantage simply because they'd been playing every day while the Tigers were idle.

"I'm a guy that doesn't believe in momentum in baseball," Leyland said. "I think momentum is your next day's pitcher. We did not pitch good tonight, obviously. I think you can pretty much sum it up, when you use five pitchers in a game that Justin Verlander starts, that's not good tonic. That usually doesn't work too good."

Not surprisingly, the sentiment in select corners of the Giants' clubhouse doesn't mirror the Tigers' philosophy. Pablo Sandoval, who tied a single-game World Series record by belting three home runs, found the Giants' extended presence in the National League Championship Series suddenly empowering.

"It gave us an advantage because we played two days in a row, the last game," he said. "We had a day off [Tuesday]. So we're still hot. We came here and played our game."

Prince Fielder intends for the Tigers to do the same.

"You can take a month off and then get in the World Series, and your mind will get back into it," he said. "I don't think the time off hurt us. We just got beat. It is one of those nights. Fortunately enough, we have a game tomorrow."

Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander