He wanted to show the fans in Kansas City his 100-mph fastball. He wanted to put on a show on one of baseball’s biggest stages. But, ironically, that decision by Justin Verlander has had consequences for this World Series.
The Tiger ace gave up five runs in the first inning of the All-Star Game in Kansas City on July 10, taking the loss. As a result, the National League earned home field advantage in the World Series. Few could have realized then that Verlander’s unusually poor performance would come back to bite the Bengals on the behind.
After his performance in the Midsummer Classic, Verlander explained that he approached the game as a chance to “give the fans a show.” He wanted to rear back and throw the ball past the best hitters in the National League. It didn’t work out that way and the American League was in a five-run hole, and thanks to Bud Selig’s strange insistence that the results of an exhibition game will determine home field advantage for the World Series (“This time it counts”), the Giants could sleep in their own beds last night after winning Game Seven of a thrilling NLCS over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Meanwhile, the Tigers swept aside the suddenly aging and pathetic-looking New York Yankees, giving them five days off to prepare for the Fall Classic. As a result, Verlander will start Game One, but he won’t be climbing the mound that the Tigers wish he was.
But a victory by baseball’s best pitcher over the Giants in the opener will wrestle home field advantage away from San Francisco and right the wrong that was Verlander’s terrible performance in the All-Star Game. Given his perfect mark in the post-season so far, it seems he has a good to do that.
There’s more irony in this story. Four of the runs allowed by Verlander in the ASG were driven in by Giants hitters: three on a bases-clearing triple by Pablo “King Fu Panda” Sandoval, and another on an RBI-hit by Melky Cabrera. It’s worth noting that Cabrera was suspended in August for 50 games when it was revealed that he had tested positive for using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). He failed that test prior to the All-Star Game, so it’s a fact that a player using PEDs contributed to the NL victory in the All-Star Game and home field advantage in the World Series. Ironically, Cabrera is persona non grata with these Giants after it was revealed he was cheating. He left the team abruptly, without addressing his teammates. At the time he was leading the NL in batting, and one could argue that the Giants may not have made the playoffs if it weren’t for Cabrera (though his contribution was probably not more than 4-5 games and the G-Men won the NL West by eight lengths). When his suspension was over, the Giants did not reinstate Cabrera, which shows how they feel about their former outfielder. Lance Armstrong would be welcomed onto this Giants team before Cabrera would be invited back.
Still, it’s classic irony that Verlander, Sandoval, and Cabrera all played a big role in determining where these two teams will play Game One of baseball’s greatest spectacle. Maybe baseball should revisit the notion that the All-Star Game determines home field advantage, given the Melky Cabrera situation?
On Wednesday night, Verlander can restore the advantage to the AL if he wins Game One, and with the way he’s been tossing the baseball this post-season, the money should be on him to do so, though it’s not a sure thing.
One thing is for sure: Verlander will not be treating the first game of the World Series like an exhibition game.