DETROIT — From afar, Justin Verlander was watching the game and the clock, thankful that he thought fast enough to hop a flight back to Detroit for Game 3 of the ALCS before Game 2 was over.
The previous four days had been draining.
On Thursday, he was on the mound for eight innings, weaving together a force-of-will 3-0 win over the Athletics in Game 5 of the ALDS.
The flight out of Oakland got the Tigers to Boston at 9 a.m. Friday.
For all 3 hours 56 minutes of Game 1 on Saturday, Verlander’s nerves were a tangled mess, watching Anibal Sanchez pitch six no-hit innings and the Tigers hold on for a 1-0 win.
That marathon alone made him go to Tigers management and bounce around the idea of his getting back home to rest before his Tuesday afternoon start.
“I went and talked with [general manager Dave Dombrowski] and [manager Jim Leyland] and got their thoughts on whether they thought I should fly out early or not and make sure I got a good night’s rest,” Verlander said. “They thought it was a great idea.”
Game 2 was just as tense — 5⅔ no-hit innings from Max Scherzer, a game-tying grand slam, a 6-5 walkoff loss.
“As I saw that game unfold, I was thinking, this is going to go extras and turn into the LA game, and go 13 innings, and we’re going to get in at 8 a.m,” Verlander said.
“I definitely made the right decision. Those guys got in 4:30, 5 o’clock in the morning. I think it was beneficial to go early [Sunday].”
As devastating as the Game 2 loss was, Verlander said he expected nothing less from a Sox team that had made come-from-behind wins (36 in the regular season) and walkoffs (11) part of their DNA.
“Obviously that was a tough one,” Verlander said. “At the same time, you know this series is going to be a dogfight. Nobody is going to walk over anybody.
“In my opinion these are the two best teams in the American League. We’ve made it to this point. When we played each other during the regular season, it was a dogfight. At this point in the season, nobody is going to give in. Nobody is going to give an inch, even down 5-1. Those guys battled. It was a heck of a ballgame.’’
The Tigers fully expect to see the same Verlander who dominated the A’s less than a week ago, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning, racking up 10 or more strikeouts for the fourth straight start, and pushing the Tigers to their third straight ALCS. In two playoff starts this year, Verlander has pitched 15 scoreless innings with 21 strikeouts, and just two walks and six hits allowed .
But in terms of lights-out pitching, Verlander doesn’t see himself being any different from anyone else in the Tigers rotation.
“It feels great to hear that, but I think that the great thing about this team is no matter what happens we can say that about the starting pitcher the next day,” Verlander said. “Whatever happens tomorrow, we can say, it’s all right, we’ve got Doug Fister going the next day, and then we have Anibal and then we have Max.
“We’ve got a starting rotation that’s relentless, and I said that before the series started. Every guy has their unique ability to shut down a team in their own way. Me, Anibal, and Max are all power guys and then Doug who very sneakily can shut you down. I’ve seen him strike out nine guys in a row. It’s nice to hear guys say that about me, but I’m just one of the four guys right now.”
Verlander has heard more than enough times after going 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA in the regular season that he isn’t the same pitcher who took the Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011 with a dominant 24-5 year.
But no one in the Tigers clubhouse buys it.
“He’s been pretty dominant in the season, as well,” Leyland said. “He gave up two runs or less in the last several games. The record is not 19-7, so people think maybe he hasn’t been as good. He’s pitched well for a long time now and in the postseason he seemed to step it up.”
One of the reasons veteran outfielder Torii Hunter signed with the Tigers in the offseason was because of Verlander and the pitching staff. Hunter said he can see Verlander slip into a different mind-set in the postseason.
“He has his headphones on the whole time, doesn’t really talk to anybody,” Hunter said. “If you look at him too long, you don’t want to stare at him because he has this killer look. It’s pretty scary.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.