One of the sports things that drives me crazy is when a television broadcaster will stick with a point despite the obvious evidence. This happens in football a lot. An announcer will say something like, "The quarterback didn't have anywhere to go with the ball there," or "That was a an incredible block by the fullback." Then the replay will come on, and it will clearly show a receiver running open or that the fullback totally whiffed on his block. But the announcer will not acknowledge it. He will ignore what everyone is actually watching on television and keep saying what he had been saying. It's like that Marx Brothers line*: Who are you going to believe, me or you lying eyes?
*Actually uttered by Chico Marx, not Groucho as it almost always reported.
Monday night, the pre-game baseball narrative was that Detroit's Justin Verlander and New York's C.C. Sabathia would lock up in a pitching duel for the ages. There was every reason to hope for this. Verlander is coming off a fabulous season, a season where he will definitely win the Cy Young Award and might win the MVP. Sabathia has already won a Cy Young Award, back in 2007, and by various numbers he was as good or better this year for the Yankees. They are both the sorts of pitchers we media types lovingly call "aces" and "horses" and so Monday night was must-watch-TV.
Unfortunately, the hope for dueling perfect games ended early. Verlander gave up two runs in the first inning, and Sabathia was even shakier, walking three in the first, another in the second, another in the third, he needed double plays in each of the first three innings just to minimize the damage. Sabathia was so shaky, in fact, that he got yanked in the sixth inning -- and really it did not seem to make much sense to even send him out there for the sixth -- and nobody could view his performance as anything but a disappointment.
Verlander, though, rebounded from his first inning troubles with a a dazzling display of pitching. Nobody in the world can do what Verlander does -- throw 100 mph, mix in a dazzling curveball, throw 99, toss a devastating slider, throw 101, all for strikes. People always want to argue about the most exciting player in baseball -- Jose Reyes gets that tag most of the time these days, Matt Kemp certainly has his supporters, Jacoby Ellsbury, Robbie Cano and so on -- but it seems to me that Verlander is the most exciting player in the game by a landslide. Satchel Paige famously said that while he never threw an illegal pitch, he did throw pitches that haven't been seen in his generation. That's Verlander. You never know what he will do next.
And, with Sabathia's early exit from the narrative, well, everyone was counting on Verlander to save the story line. And it sure felt like nobody wanted to let go. When he froze Nick Swisher with a curveball in the fourth, you would have thought that he had won the game right then and there. When he struck out the side in the fifth -- Jorge Posada, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner -- you would have thought that he had recreated Carl Hubbell's All-Star moment. When he threw 99 to whiff Curtis Granderson in the sixth, you would have thought he had reversed the rotation of the earth.
I actually got a message from a Brilliant Reader at some point in the seventh inning asking if I had reconsidered Verlander for MVP. This was odd for three reasons. One, I've never said who I voted for MVP -- and I'm pretty sure I made it painstakingly clear that I thought Verlander had a great year and I considered him a serious MVP candidate. Two, even more obvious, you can't reconsider your MVP vote based on postseason performance.
But three was the big one: Up to that point, Verlander had pitched six innings and allowed two runs. Even if you ignore No. 1 and No. 2 -- THAT was supposed to make me reconsider Verlander as an MVP? Six innings, two runs? Of course, by the time I actually saw the message, Verlander had given up two more runs -- a walk, a hit-by-pitch and a double by Brett Gardner scored those two runs. That made seven innings, four runs. Sure: Can you send me back my MVP ballot?
This was a disappointing start by Verlander -- I don't really see how you could see it any other way. Sure, he had dazzling moments. Sure, he struck out 11. Sure, he was fun to watch. He's always fun to watch. And anytime a pitcher in 2011 goes eight innings, you tip your cap. But when a pitcher gives up four runs in eight innings (which is what Verlander did), he usually loses. Since 2001, pitchers who go eight innings and give up four runs in the regular season are 44-86. You want the stat of the day? In the history of the postseason, before Verlander, pitchers who allowed four runs in eight innings were -- get ready for it -- 1-14.
And yet, it sure seemed like everybody kept on clinging to the "what a stunning and amazing performance by Verlander" story line. It seemed like, based on what people on TV were saying and what some people on the Internet were writing, that Verlander had just thrown an 18-strikeout, one-hit shutout against the '27 Yankees.Tom Verducci interviewed Verlander like he was the clear-cut hero. More people messaged me to make their after-the-bell Verlander for MVP case. The announcers and analysts went on and on about the guts, the courage, the fortitude of Justin Brooks Verlander. It was plain weird.
The Tigers are in good position to take out the Yankees now with the not-exactly-beloved A.J. Burnett pitching for New York. Of course, Burnett is the narrative for tonight. If he gives up a bunch of runs early, yes, that will be all anybody will talk about. Then again, I suspect if he goes even six innings and allows four runs (a 6.00 ERA if you're scoring at home) and the Yankees win, we'll be hearing and reading all about how we were all wrong about him, how HE HAD PROVEN us wrong, the redemption of A.J. Burnett.