That smiling guy in the picture is Justin Verlander, in my opinion, the best pitcher in the American League. Might be the best pitcher in baseball. He throws hard, he throws strikes, and he can attack with offspeed pitches. He pitched six complete games in the regular season and did it again in the all-or-nothing Game 5 of the Tigers’ division series.
He’s the next obstacle facing this Yankees offense, he’s the most significant thing standing between them and the World Series.
“It’s definitely not an ideal situation,” Alex Rodriguez said. “We’d rather be up 2-0 and facing a Triple-A pitcher. That would be nice.”
But this ALCS hasn’t been nice for the Yankees. Their hitting woes have continued, and now they face the best pitcher they’ve seen since David Price in mid-September. And even if the Yankees beat him this time, they’ll almost certainly have to face him again in either Game 6 or Game 7.
The road to the World Series goes through Verlander.
“It’s a fun challenge,” Mark Teixeira said. “People think we’re crazy to say that, but it is a fun challenge, because if you’re going to win a World Series, you got to beat the best, and he is the best right now. So we’re going to Detroit, their crowd’s going to be rocking, they’re going to be cheering for their own team, so we have an opportunity to do something special and win a few games out there.”
All things considered, the Yankees actually have pretty good numbers against Verlander. They had 25 hits in 20.1 innings against him this year, they’ve won five of their past six games against him in the regular season, and they scored four runs — granted, in eight innings — against him in last year’s division series.
“It’s not like he’s guaranteed to go out there and give you a win,” Dave Robertson said. “We could easily put some runs up on the board and be able to shut their lineup down and we could win a ballgame.”
Win this ballgame, and the Yankees will give their own ace the ball on Wednesday. Win that game, and the series is tied with three games to play, two of them in New York. These short postseason series can turn quickly, but for the Yankees to turn things around tonight, they’ll have to beat the best pitcher out there.
“It doesn’t get much tougher than Verlander,” Russell Martin said. “But it doesn’t really matter at this point. We’ve just got to try to find ways to win, whatever it is. Somebody has to step up.”
“Go win a game Tuesday,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s all you say. Just go win a game on Tuesday.”
Associated Press photo