SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Those postseason struggles that plagued Justin Verlander his first two trips to the postseason looked to be a thing of the past this year.
That all changed when he ran into Pablo Sandoval and the San Francisco Giants.
Verlander allowed two of Sandoval’s record-tying three home runs, an RBI single to fellow pitcher Barry Zito and failed to make it past the fourth inning in the Detroit Tigers' 8-3 loss to the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night.
“This was a big-hyped game with Justin, probably a lot of pressure on him,” manager Jim Leyland said. “But I don’t think it had anything to do with the pressure. His fastball command was not good, he got out of synch, he got on fast forward. He just did not pitch well tonight, it’s that simple.”
He said he struggled to keep his fastball from tailing back over the plate, which proved to be his biggest problem.
“I know I was a little bit out of synch,” Verlander said. “Whether that was the layoff or just being out of synch, you can’t expect to be perfect every time out.”
With two no-hitters, a Cy Young Award and an MVP to his credit, Verlander has been nearly perfect the past two seasons.
But all that success built on a fastball that hits triple digits on the radar gun and a devastating curveball and changeup hasn’t translated on the big stage of the World Series.
“You could tell that his command wasn’t there as far as his fastball,” catcher Alex Avila said. “From then on you try to make the adjustments for him to find it and still try to manage it and work with what he had. He relies so much on his fastball that when he can’t command it it’s tough for him.”
Verlander retired the first two batters and got ahead 0-2 to Sandoval before Kung Fu Panda drove a 95 mph fastball over the wall in right-center to give the Giants the lead. That was just the sixth homer Verlander had ever allowed on an 0-2 pitch, including in last year’s ALCS to Nelson Cruz.
“I tried to elevate there and didn’t get it high enough,” Verlander said. “Obviously I didn’t quite know he was that locked in at that point, but he was seeing the ball pretty well today.”
After a 1-2-3 second, Verlander fell off the rails with two outs and nobody on in the third as he struggled to stop his usually dominating fastball from drifting back to the middle of the plate.
The rally started innocently enough when Angel Pagan fouled off three two-strike pitches before hitting a bouncer that hit directly on third base and changed directions, veering past Miguel Cabrera for a quirky double.