What's Buzzing:

So goes the fastball, so goes dominance of Tigers ace Justin Verlander in World Series flop to Giants

Yahoo Sports

SAN FRANCISCO – On Wednesday, the culprit was his fastball. Here it was, the first game of the World Series and the wretched thing just wouldn't go where Justin Verlander wanted. He tried to throw it high and it wouldn't rise. He tried to throw it across the corner of the plate and instead it drifted to the middle.

Command is what the pitchers call it when they can make a pitch go exactly where they like. Verlander is usually brilliant with his command. It's what makes his blazing fastball usually so impossible to hit. Command is what has made him the most intimidating pitcher in baseball.

After command of his fastball failed him at the worst of times – the first game of the World Series, an 8-3 Detroit loss to the San Francisco Giants – Verlander had one more indignity to suffer. His locker in the Tigers' clubhouse was impossible to reach. He stood in the center of the room and pondered a row of reporters and television cameras about 10 deep waiting for him and sighed.

View gallery


Justin Verlander didn't care for a mound visit from his pitching coach. The pep talk didn't help. (AP)

What to do when you get pounded for five runs in four innings of a game everyone expected you to win and you can't even undress and take a shower? Verlander did something strange for a man who burns with much intensity and hates to lose. He climbed onto a table, gazed down at the mob around his locker, smiled and shouted, "What are you guys all waiting for?"

As if he didn't know.

[Related: World Series parking goes for $130 in one area]

Then the most intimidating pitcher in baseball squeezed through the throng. He walked to his locker and talked about the fastball that betrayed him. He said he struggled to find it the whole game. He said he was frustrated at his command. He said the Giants kept smacking enough of his pitches to keep their at-bats alive, forcing him to work harder.

He said he felt "out of synch."

And when he was asked how he could correct this he laughed.

"If I could tell you what it is, I would have fixed it immediately," he said.

This was not Justin Verlander out there on Wednesday. Not the Justin Verlander who vexes the American League with roaring fastballs and biting curves. Not the Justin Verlander who blew through the Oakland Athletics twice and the New York Yankees once this postseason. On Wednesday he was ordinary.

He knew it too. Knew it from the moment he started warming up and his command of the fastball was missing. You have to keep fighting, he said, relying on other pitches to carry you through the night. But this is a hard thing to do when you have what might be the best fastball in the American League, and it won't go the places you ask. When the command of the fastball is gone, the slider, curve and changeup suddenly don't look so daunting.

View gallery

And the Giants hit him. They hit him early when third baseman Pablo Sandoval crushed that high fastball that wasn't high enough for a home run in the first inning. Later, Verlander's catcher, Alex Avila, said the difference between strikeout, popup and home run was just "centimeters." But when things aren't right, when the fastball isn't acting the way you want, a few centimeters can be huge.

Maybe nothing summed up the frustration of Verlander's night better than the third inning. This is when Giants center fielder Angel Pagan fouled off four of five pitches and then hit a little ground ball to third base that looked as if it would be an out until it grazed the base, bounced in the air and rolled into left field for a double.

Verlander said he was telling himself to "reset," when Marco Scutaro followed with an RBI single. Suddenly pitching coach Jeff Jones visited the mound with some mechanical advice. Verlander glared at Jones.

"What are you doing here?" he later said he asked.

Then he said he told Jones, "All you are doing is letting the crowd back into it."

[SeatGeek: Buy World Series tickets]

Right after that, Sandoval hit his second home run off Verlander, making it a 4-0 ballgame. The pitch was good, Verlander was sure of it. Just on the outside of the plate. When Sandoval swung, his victim didn't think the ball was going out. AT&T's dimensions make home runs tough as do its swirling winds and cool air. Long fly balls to left field usually die on nights like Wednesdays.

Only this time it didn't. The long fly ball that should have died in left dropped in the stands. The most intimidating pitcher in baseball watched the home run, then said very clearly, "Wow."

As in: Wow, was that really a home run?

It was that kind of a night for Verlander. Nothing was going right. Not the fastball. Not the ground balls to third. Not the fly balls to left that should have been caught. And this is when you don't have your best stuff. This is when the most intimidating pitcher in baseball becomes just another guy on the mound who can't find a place for his fastball.

Long after the game was over, Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens said the team's approach was to "grind" out at-bats, to make Verlander throw pitch after pitch, fouling off balls until the suddenly unreliable fastball went somewhere it could be hit.

"His stuff was unbelievable," Scutaro said.

But Verlander knew otherwise. As did his teammates.

"The whole time we were trying to find his command," Avila said. "We couldn't find it. We tried to mix other pitches in there."

Then he shook his head.

Was it the week-long layoff between the Tigers' sweep of the Yankees in the ALCS and the first game of the World Series? Verlander didn't know. He may never know. All he understood was that on the biggest night of the season the command of his fastball was gone. The Giants hit him hard, and he had to tell dozens of people in front of his locker why it had happened.

Soon the throng left, and another that had been on the periphery but couldn't hear had moved in. Verlander, vanquished in a game he was expected to win, shrugged again.

"OK those who didn't hear before move on in," he said to the reporters who had been left out. He waved his hands in a beckoning motion. Then patiently he tried to explain the inexplicable.

Why his fastball left him on the night he really needed it was the biggest question.

And it's one for which he would never have an answer.

Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
Warren Moon: Criticism of Cam Newton's demeanor is valid, but race is a factor
Forde-Yard Dash: Navigating the home stretch could prove difficult for BCS title contenders
Dana White: Women fighting in UFC 'absolutely going to happen' due to Ronda Rousey
omg!: Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, Eva Longoria split

Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Hockey
  • Swansea's Monk needs to wake up to reality, says Roberts

    Swansea's Monk needs to wake up to reality, says Roberts

    (Reuters) - Swansea City manager Garry Monk needs to wake up to the fact that the club are fighting for Premier League survival, according to former Wales international Iwan Roberts. After Sunday's 1-0 loss to Liverpool, which left Swansea 15th in … More »

    Reuters - 5 minutes ago
  • French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

    The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker ''has no place'' on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal. Benzema is one of France's key … More »

    AP - Sports - 26 minutes ago
  • Delph ready to kick-start Manchester City career

    Delph ready to kick-start Manchester City career

    Midfielder Fabian Delph said he was ready to kick-start his Manchester City career after three months of hamstring hell. The 26-year-old has played just 144 minutes in the Premier League since joining from Aston Villa in the close season, but did … More »

    Reuters - 31 minutes ago
  • Luke Bracey says 'Point Break' remake bigger and better thanks to new extreme sports

    Hollywood actor Luke Bracey says the remake of the action crime thriller "Point Break" is bigger and better because it's got heaps of extreme sports that weren't even invented when the original 1991 hit came out. Bracey is the new Johnny Utah, the … More »

    The Canadian Press - 31 minutes ago
  • Manchester City gets $400M Chinese investment deal

    Manchester City gets $400M Chinese investment deal

    Manchester City announced Tuesday that a Chinese consortium is investing $400 million to buy 13 percent of the Premier League club's umbrella organization in a deal that values the business at $3 billion. Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 20 minutes ago