KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There was a moment in the first inning Tuesday night when Justin Verlander had attained one of his All-Star game goals.
That it came with runners on base, and runs piling up, and the American League's chances going up in flames, and home-field advantage in the World Series evaporating, well, Verlander apparently was willing to live with that.
He'd thrown a 100-mph fastball. It felt good. The crowd at Kauffman Stadium approved. After a pretty full Monday of hitter-friendly All-Star activities, Verlander had stolen a pitcher's moment.
Then, as he took the ball back from catcher Mike Napoli, Verlander caught the eye of first baseman Prince Fielder. The fellow Detroit Tiger was unimpressed.
"Ver," Fielder said. "One-oh-one."
So Verlander humped up on another four-seamer, another pitch that missed the strike zone, and turned to the scoreboard.
This time it counts, indeed. All the way to triple digits.
"Why not?" Verlander said afterward, when the hits (4), walks (2), runs (5) and losses (1) had been counted up. "That's what everybody wants to see."
He'd certainly not intended to get knocked around at the expense of the ballgame. Nor had he wished to make all but the first 10 minutes of the 83rd All-Star game a rather dreary slog to hometown favorite Billy Butler's at-bats. But, neither was Verlander mourning his pitching line, or its impact on the commissioner's decree of "win at somewhat reasonable costs."
"I know the fans don't want to see me throw 90 and hit the corners," he said. "They want to see the 100 mile-an-hour fastball."
The show came first. The results, regrettable as they might have been, followed. Verlander walked off after three outs and nine batters. The American League never challenged the 5-0 deficit, which a few innings later became 8-0, which is how it ended.
"Well, it's very disappointing because we're competitors and we want to win," American League and Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
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That's sort of where this thing gets all fouled up. The managers talk about winning, the players talk about winning, the commissioner talks about winning. And then there's a show of hands on the bench for anyone who hasn't played, and 20 pitchers come and go, and nobody can win a game like that without getting lucky with a couple matchups or against one of the great pitchers of his generation who's throwing to the radar gun.
That's the very fundamental reason a game treated as an exhibition for everything but the final score is an exceedingly poor place to determine an advantage for anything, but especially for the World Series.
"Well, the commissioner probably is not going to like this answer a whole lot," NL manager Tony La Russa admitted before recounting the journey of his St. Louis Cardinals last October. "If you are an October team, you can overcome that. So it's a nice edge. I'm sure the National League would rather play their home games there. But if you don't have it, you can still win. I mean, it's not a magic bullet. It's just a nice edge."
Three months from now, some National League team will have Melky Cabrera and Pablo Sandoval to thank, along with the 11 pitchers who combined to get 27 outs. And some American League team hopefully will have enjoyed the show. It was pretty cool, too.
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