Tigers ace — and likely AL Cy Young winner — Justin Verlander takes the hill in Game 1 tonight.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- No more watching for Justin Verlander. The Detroit Tigers ace is back on his normal routine to start the AL championship series opener.
Verlander will pitch against defending American League champion Texas on regular rest Saturday night. It'll be the fifth day after his Game 3 start in the AL division series that was a restart of sorts since rain halted the series opener of aces after only 1-1/2 innings.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland was steadfast in sticking with the decision not to use his 24-game winner in the clinching game of the ALDS against the New York Yankees on Thursday night, even though Verlander volunteered to pitch in relief and the manager joked with the big right-hander about doing so during the 3-2 victory.
"It was definitely a little odd situation we ran into. But that's behind us," Verlander said Friday. "It was definitely tough (watching). Any time that you know you're not going to have anything to do with the outcome of the game, it's difficult. It's just like being a fan, except there's a little bit more in it for me personally being on the team."
The Tigers now look to Verlander for an early boost in the ALCS, where Texas has home-field advantage for finishing one game better during the regular season after both teams played well down the stretch.
"Obviously that was important for him starting Game 1 for us," catcher Alex Avila said. "You can't ask for anything more."
The Rangers, in their second consecutive ALCS after having never won a postseason series before last year, counter with C.J. Wilson.
The left-hander won 16 games in the regular season, but he allowed eight runs (six earned) in five innings in losing the playoff opener against Tampa Bay on Sept. 30, the same day the initial matchup between Verlander and CC Sabathia got wet.
"That particular game was my first bad game I had in a while. I had of lot of really good games leading up to the playoffs," Wilson said. "It was unfortunate. I had extra rest. ... I feel like it gives me a chance to get back in my routine and execute."
Texas won three consecutive games against the Rays to wrap up that series Tuesday. The Rangers then had a day off before working out at home Thursday while waiting to see who and where they would play the ALCS opener.
The Tigers had to play late into Thursday night at Yankee Stadium to win, then celebrated before heading to Texas. Their manager would have preferred to give his team a day off Friday.
"We're still winding down. We probably wouldn't even be here today if it wasn't mandatory," said Leyland, who had only been in bed for about a half-hour before his phone started ringing at 8 a.m. "There's emotional hangovers. Not the hangovers maybe you guys think there may be. More emotional and draining hangovers than anything else."
Plus, Detroit celebrated in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium by spraying alcohol-free sparkling wine -- Miguel Cabrera was arrested in February on a DUI charge.
Tigers slugger Delmon Young offered few details about his oblique injury Friday, saying only that he was going to try to play in Game 1 of the ALCS. The injury was described as a mild strain when he left Thursday night's game, but the way Young brusquely dismissed even the most basic questions could add a bit of mystery to his availability for the opener, or the series.
Sabathia, who didn't make it through the sixth inning Monday, made the first relief appearance in his professional career in Game 5 of the ALDS, while Verlander remained a spectator and cheering teammate.
Verlander struck out 11 in eight innings in the Game 3 victory, when some of the last of his 120 pitches were still hitting 100 mph on the stadium radar gun.
"I was definitely a little bit more sore than normal. More so my body and everything than my arm. My arm was pretty normal," Verlander said, adding he "felt great" following a bullpen session before Thursday's game.
Leyland said he never wavered about not using Verlander, even though they were seen smiling in the dugout near the lineup card during the game.
"I thought that was basically a common sense decision," Leyland said. "There were also some combinations that played in that. (Max) Scherzer won two games at Yankee Stadium this year. Scherzer was more rested. ... Verlander was real assertive in the game he pitched. He was throwing 100 mph in the eighth inning. That's real dangerous. The combination that was a no-brainer."
In the middle of their clubhouse celebration after the game, Leyland approached Verlander.
"He came up to me and said something along the lines, 'You never trust your skipper, do you? It worked out all right, didn't it?'" Verlander said, smiling.
Verlander is 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA in three career starts at Rangers Ballpark. But he lost his only start against Texas this season, 2-0 with a complete game at home in April.
"He can command the baseball, and the deeper he gets in the game, his velocity gets better and throws strikes," Texas manager Ron Washington said, dismissing what happened six months ago. "Too long ago. They beat us in April, too."
That also was the series when AL MVP Josh Hamilton broke a bone in his right arm on a headfirst dive trying to score on a daring dash to an uncovered plate on a foul popout. Hamilton missed six weeks, but still hit .298 with 25 homers -- fifth on the team -- and 94 RBIs.
When the Rangers went back to Detroit in August, they were without All-Star third baseman Adrian Beltre and lost two of three again. The Tigers won the season series 6-3.
"You can forget the season series, the fact that we won that," Leyland said. "We may have missed a couple of star players. Certainly that had something to do with it. You can throw that out of the window. This is a tremendous team, a very versatile team."
Reliever-turned-starter Alexi Ogando threw seven shutout innings in his second career start in that game against Verlander.
Even though Ogando was the starter and winner for all three victories against Detroit, Washington said the right-hander will remain in the bullpen for the ALCS, as he was against the Rays for three scoreless appearances.
Derek Holland will start Game 2 on Sunday for Texas, while Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison are set for the first two games in Detroit.
After Verlander, the Tigers are going with Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello.
Texas has home-field advantage after winning a franchise-record 96 games, including six in a row and 12 of 14 to end the regular season. That was just enough to finish one game ahead of the Tigers, who won 20 of 25 down the stretch.
"It's going to be a really good matchup," Beltre said. "It helped us to get in the playoffs to keep the same momentum into the playoffs because were playing for something."
Now they're playing for a World Series berth.