It’s time to move on. And, in a way, many of you have.
Judging by the number of folks in the stands Wednesday night at Comerica Park. Judging by the warm, yet subdued, reaction to the return of the best pitcher this town has seen in the past 20 years.
Last fall, when Justin Verlander pitched for the first time in Detroit as a Houston Astro, the former Cy Young winner was greeted as a kind of conquering hero.
And while Verlander heard some cheersWednesday night, the whole affair felt — and sounded — like a regular May game between a visiting team eyeing a World Series and a home team eyeing the future.
The distant future.
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Yeah, it was nice to see Verlander back on the mound at Comerica Park, even in a mostly empty stadium.
To watch him scuff the dirt off the mound with his cleat, to wind up and throw that effortless heat, to mix in the off-speed pitches, especially that 80-mph slider that tails down through the corner of the strike zone, to see a Hall of Famer at work.
That’s why fans showed up, I’m guessing. Or most of them anyway. Not that they had much to cheer about in the Tigers 5-1 loss.
If anything, Verlander’s presence reminded them of what they no longer have, and of what kind of baseball town this used to be.
“It’s kind of sad,” said Verlander. “Most of my memories here … this ballpark was packed. Fans were rowdy. Obviously, a bit different now. But that comes with winning. Put a winning product on the field and fans show up. That’s proven time and time again.”
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Verlander wasn’t taking aim at the organization that helped make him a star. He was acknowledging it’s hard to stay good forever. That time slows for no one.
“Nothing against these guys,” he said. “I know they are grinding and playing the best baseball they can.”
He’s not wrong. These Tigers do grind. They just don’t have the talent. And the only star they have left is fading.
Unlike Verlander, Miguel Cabrera hasn’t found his mid-30s renaissance. He can’t seem to stay healthy, for one — he was a scratch Tuesday because of sore knee. He’s fighting history and biology, for another.
Outsized sluggers rarely age well. And for all of Cabrera’s all-time gifts — the hands, the feet, the balance, the eyes — his greatness relied on providing those sublime talents a nimble and towering frame.
Well, that frame hasn’t held up. Remarkably, Verlander’s has.
But then this shouldn’t be so surprising. Few pitchers threw triple-digits so effortlessly.
Sure, he was born with a golden arm. But his power always came from his legs. Even so, what made him great was that he could mix in all those pitches.
That was evident against the Tigers. He changed speeds. Uncorked the curve. Tossed in the slider. And opened the throttle when he needed to.
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It was all so easy. Like he used to make it look when he wore the Old English D.
And other than a high, inside fastball that JaCoby Jones reached up and smacked into the left field seats, Verlander made few mistakes — if you can call that pitch a mistake.
“Kind of tip your cap,” he said of Jones’ 436-foot shot.
At 36 years old, Verlander is near the top of the American League in most of the important statistical categories. He’s pitching as well as he ever has.
He threw 101 pitches — 71 for strikes — and gave up one run on two hits over seven innings. After he was finished, and he walked to the dugout for the last time, he heard a few cheers.
Still, it warmed his soul.
“Special,” he said.
From the folks who cheered for him while he warmed up in the bullpen to the folks who acknowledged him in the first inning, he noticed. He couldn’t help it. Because for all his ability to lock in and shut out the world, this will always be his first baseball home.
“Definitely still a bit nerve-wracking,” he said about pitching here. “And exciting all at the same time. The fans were fantastic except this one guy in the first inning who was yelling ‘you suck.’ I swear to God I heard this guy. I should probably be focused a little bit more.”
As always, he was too hard on himself. And as he spoke to the media before his locker in the visitor’s clubhouse, you could hear the anxiousness in his voice.
He was cordial and thoughtful, too, kind of like the crowd was toward him, tipping their collective cap, as it were.
Yeah, the night carried a touch of melancholy. Verlander was right about that.
And while his return — for the second time — didn’t elicit the buzzy love it did last fall, that shouldn’t be surprising, either.
For it’s time to move on. Memory of the era is getting fuzzy.
This was easy to seeWednesday, when two of the franchise’s greatest players arrived at Comerica Park. One wearing a wrap on his knee. The other wearing the uniform of a team whose home is a long way away.
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Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.
Published at Thu, 16 May 2019 04:47:37 +0000