As I sit here, pondering the magnitude of what I witnessed last night, trying to calculate how much sleep I really lost, trying to pick up the pieces and come back with something coherent to put into an article, I have come to a conclusion. Tonight, October 11, 2012, Justin Verlander has a chance to cement himself as one of the best pitchers of the last ten years. Verlander has a chance to send his team to a second consecutive ALCS and escape what may be one of the worst chokes in the history of the Wild Card era. I know Verlander has the hardware, but those aren’t always remembered for years. What people remember are the tough, gritty, gut-wrenching, ace-caliber games that changed a team’s fortune forever. I believe Verlander has a chance to accomplish that very same thing tonight.
For example, can anyone tell me who the 1991 AL MVP was without clicking the link? Exactly. What do people remember about 1991? I wasn’t even alive, but I know that it had one of the gutsiest playoff performances from known ace (and former Tiger) Jack Morris in Game 7 of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves. He pitched 10 innings of dominant baseball and earned MVP honors.
We have yet another example in last year’s folklore performance from the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter in Game 5 of the NLDS against the 102 win Philadelphia Phillies. Carpenter pitched a three-hit shutout, blanking the dominant Phillies and clinching a NLDS berth.
However, I’m sure you Tiger historians (or the older members of my audience might remember) know of the heroic feats of Mickey Lolich in the 1968 World Series. Lolich won three games in that Series and dueled the Hall of Fame Cardinal pitcher, Bob Gibson to the end. The Tigers would clinch in a decisive Game 7 in St. Louis and Lolich would shore up his career as one of the best in the 1960s and early 1970s.
What does this all have to do with Verlander? Well, for the Tigers’ sake, for the fans’ sake, for Dave Dombrowski’s sake, tonight is also a must win for Verlander. With a win, he will put his big-game resume on par with Morris, Carpenter, and Lolich. However, with a loss, Verlander’s big-game performances will be in question (especially against a team like Oakland) as will his dominance over the years. The offseason would be off to the worst starts in recent memory (besides ’09).
As a diehard, last night was THE worst game I watched in my short lifetime. However, the odds of it happening the next night is very unlikely. I would hope that I am going to watch the evolution of one of the game’s greatest pitchers and the clinching of the ALCS. But as we know, these 2012 Tigers also like to give us entertainment value. The question remains: is this entertainment value worth losing sleep or increasing heart pressure for? Maybe it will because if they clinch, we’ll all pretty much taste that bubbly through the screen.