Verlander proving his dominance on baseball’s post-season stage

Since allowing a home run on the third pitch of Game One against the A’s, Justin Verlander has thrown 16 innings of shutout baseball, striking out 22 batters and allowing six hits.

Maybe we should all thank Jose Valverde?

Sure, Wednesday night’s gut-wrenching loss caused a statewide attack of depression in Michigan, but had that not occurred, we would have been deprived of the mastery of Justin Verlander. The Tiger ace, baseball’s best pitcher for the last two years, was marvelous in the most dominating post-season performance in Detroit Tiger history.

It was that good, and it was that exciting to witness.

Through Tiger history there have been great players, many of them on the offensive side: Ty Cobb, Harry Heilmann, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson, Cecil Fielder, Magglio Ordonez, and now Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

But it’s different when it’s a pitcher. Fans make their plans to see a Tigers game based on whether Justin Verlander is pitching. When he’s on the mound, people stay home, restaurants get fewer diners, TV ratings are higher. It’s “Must-See JV.” No other Tiger hurler, with the exception of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, has ever had that impact on the fan base. And as wonderfully entertaining as The Bird was, he was never the pitcher that Verlander is. Few have ever been this good.

As I wrote last season after JV won the Cy Young and MVP, we are lucky as Tigers fans to get to peek in on the career of a legendary pitcher like Verlander. In 2011 he might have had the best season ever by a Detroit hurler, and in 2012 he’s showing the sports world just how incredible he is by dominating the opposition in the post-season. It’s baseball largest stage, and right now Verlander is the main player. He’s Joseph in the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, except his power rests in his right shoulder.

Verlander’s four-hit, 11-strikeout shutout against the Oakland A’s on Thursday places him at the top of Detroit post-season pitchers, at least for dominance in a single game. Sure, Mickey Lolich won three complete games in the ’68 Series, famously outdueling Bob Gibson (we can now say the Verlander of his era) on two days rest in Game Seven. But Mickey wasn’t this great. He was gutsy and underrated and he was clutch, but JV’s Game Five performance was the stuff of legend, and it’s also uncommon in the game today, where starting pitchers are asked to get 5 or 6 innings before turning it over to an endless string of relievers.

No, Verlander did this on his own. He was his own setup man and closer. He shackled and overpowered the A’s batters for seven innings, and then knocked them out with his trifecta of fastball, curve, and changeup. Boom! Whiff! Swish!

By the time the A’s went down 1-2-3 in the ninth, even the raucous crowd at the Oakland Coliseum seemed to have 0-for-4 hung around their necks. This is what men who have arms sent from God do – they make you question your own sense of what’s possible. Did that just happen?

It happened, and the Tigers are fortunate to have him on their side as they move on to face their next opponent. I wouldn’t bet against Verlander writing more history as the journey continues.