Verlander excited to get Game 1 start
Rookie right-hander, Tigers well-rested for World Series
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander already knew the scenario before the Mets and Cardinals began Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday.
Mets win, and Verlander would pitch no earlier than Game 3 of the World Series. Cardinals win, and he's first up.
It's no wonder Verlander didn't fall asleep until well after 2 a.m. ET on Thursday, two hours after the Cardinals wrapped up their 3-1 win over the Mets to clinch the NL pennant.
"It's kind of a regular schedule for me to go to bed that time and wake up at noon," Verlander said. "But I really wanted to go to bed a little bit earlier, because I'm under the impression the night before, the night before is the most important night's sleep. When I found out they won, I went to bed and tried to go to sleep. That wouldn't happen."
Sleep deprivation is probably not going to be an issue this weekend, when the rookie right-hander takes the mound for what is sure to be the biggest start of his life on Saturday at Comerica Park. Game 1 will also mark the first time two rookies have met in a World Series opener, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The privilege of throwing the first official pitch of the Tigers' first World Series appearance in 22 years should be plenty to get the blood boiling.
And Verlander was plenty excited watching the Cardinals beat the Mets.
"It was a situation where I wasn't going to be Game 1 [starter] if it was the Mets, and I was against the Cardinals," Verlander said. "I don't know why that is, but when they won last night, I was pretty excited. I couldn't go to bed for a little while. I stayed up thinking about it."
Verlander, with two solid postseason appearances now on his resume, last pitched on Oct. 11, winning Game 2 of the American League Championship Series over the Athletics in Oakland. He allowed four earned runs on seven hits over 5 1/3 innings, walking one and striking out six.
He received the World Series Game 1 nod from manager Jim Leyland for a few reasons, one of which related directly to veteran Kenny Rogers, who will follow Verlander in the rotation.
"We wanted Kenny to pitch two games at home, 2 and 6, if it goes, obviously, that far," Leyland said. "So that's why that decision was made. And we were waiting on, obviously, who was going to be our opponent. It would have been different [if the Mets had won]."
Regardless, Leyland is confident in his rookie right-hander, who has allowed seven earned runs on 14 hits over two playoff starts.
"We think he's an excellent choice because he obviously has real good stuff," Leyland said. "You never know what any pitcher, theirs or ours, is going to take out there on a given night. We think he's well-rested. We think he, obviously, has good physical equipment. And we think he's a good choice and we also felt that, like I said, one of the big things here was we wanted Kenny to pitch Game 2 and 6."
Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman will round out the rotation for Games 3 and 4.
Tigers pitchers spent the last week of inactivity without the luxury of knowing who their opponent would be in the World Series, and while they undoubtedly poured over scouting reports during Friday's off-day before Game 1, some of their approach toward the Cardinals will be formed as they go along.
That said, it's likely every Tigers pitcher has done his homework on Cards slugger Albert Pujols, one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball.
Asked if the best plan would be to pitch around Pujols, Verlander responded, "You know, right now, maybe. But we haven't really discussed that or our game plan against that. Obviously, they're good hitters. They can turn it around at any time.
"The thing is, if you end up putting Pujols on, because you're not throwing him strikes, and then the guy behind him starts getting hot, you're kind of in trouble. So, it's a double-edged sword."
Pujols faced Verlander during Interleague Play, but the Cardinals first baseman, who had just come off the disabled list, doesn't remember the at-bats. He does remember, however, that Verlander "throws gas."
"I'm going to study my videotape," Pujols said. "I'm going to take it to the hotel and refresh my mind. But I don't remember too much about [Verlander]."
Much of the conversation around Comerica Park this week focused on the Tigers' week of downtime. Some wonder if the extra rest will benefit the team, others wonder if the week off will leave them sluggish and rusty when it's time to crank it back up on Saturday.
Tigers players are far from worried that they'll come out flat this weekend. Verlander echoed the sentiments of his teammates when he expressed gratitude for the extra couple of days off.
"Pitching late into October my first year, the innings are a lot and there's some fatigue going on," Verlander said. "Being able to rest my arm a little bit and kind of recuperate before this next series, definitely helps.
"Mentally, it would be nice to step away from the game and not even think about it, but at the same time, you've got the World Series looming right in front of you, so you really can't forget about it. So I guess that's good. You're away from the field but you still have it in the back of your mind, it never really leaves you."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.