The only baseball game tonight could have included the most delicious subplot of any game in recent memory: Two teams vying for survival for six or seven innings and then yielding the stage to the two best pitchers in the American League, CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander.
Tigers Manager Jim Leyland put a halt to that possibility. While the Yankees will make Sabathia available out of the bullpen tonight in Game 5 of the ALDS, the Tigers will under no circumstances pitch Verlander, the presumptive American League Cy Young winner.
“It might make for a better story,” Leyland said, “but I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
Sabathia and Verlander both pitched Tuesday night in Game 3, which the Tigers won, 5-4. Verlander pitched deeper into the game than Sabathia and also threw more strenuous pitches, firing 100-mph fastballs in the eighth inning. If the Tigers need extra help out of the bullpen, Leyland will instead turn to Max Scherzer, who starred in the Tigers’ Game 2 victory.
“Scherzer,” Leyland said, “is my Sabathia.”
Leyland left another possible factor in shelving Verlander unsaid. You have to win seven games, not just three, to make the World Series. If the Tigers win tonight, bypassing Verlander tonight gives the Tigers the opportunity to maybe start the best pitcher in the American League three times in the ALCS, with full rest in Game 1.
Keeping Verlander out of the game also allowed Leyland some fun. This afternoon, Verlander threw his typical bullpen session two days after a start. Afterward, he approached Leyland and said, “I can’t believe you don’t want me to pitch in this game.” Leyland told Verlander that was not the case, and Verlander, alarmed, told Leyland he had already thrown his side session.
Leyland told Verlander he had told the pitching coach to make sure Verlander did NOT throw the session. Verlander’s jaw dropped for a moment.
“I finally got one over on Justin Verlander,” Leyland said.