Maybe he will be. But not in the way that was expected. Verlander has a nemesis. Who knew something as cuddly as a Kung Fu Panda could be so dangerous?
In the All-Star Game, Verlander faced Pablo Sandoval, the Giants’ No. 3 hitter, for the first time in their careers. Sandoval slashed a three-run triple as Verlander was hammered for five runs in his one inning and took the loss that gave the National League home-field advantage in this series. Sandoval faced Verlander twice more in this game and increased his output each time.
In the first inning, he hit a chin-high 0-2 fastball for a solo home run to center field. In their next meeting, Sandoval slashed a low-away fastball for a two-run homer that was sliced to left field for a 4-0 Giants lead. Before the night was over, the popular Panda had three home runs in a World Series game, joining just three other men in that category: Babe Ruth (twice), Reggie Jackson and, last year, Albert Pujols. If Sandoval and Verlander meet later in this series, nothing less than a five-run homer will suffice.
Sandoval also reopened a worrisome chapter in Verlander’s past. In the first eight postseason starts of his career, Verlander was a consistent disappointment, trying too hard and amassing an ugly 5.57 ERA. In Game 1 of the ’06 World Series, after being rookie of the year, he lost lopsidedly to five-game-winner Anthony Reyes, obscure then and long retired now.
Only this October has Verlander blossomed into a postseason monster with three dominant starts. If his bad old big-game ways have returned, with his All-Star Game loss as another exhibit for the prosecution, then the whole tone of this series changes. Verlander’s next effort may be a shutout when the series goes to Detroit. But now the whole range of outcomes is on the table. And the all-fields-hitting Giants know they can get under his skin.
Verlander tried not to make excuses. “I just didn’t execute tonight, especially to Pablo,” he said. But the Giants handled him so well that he needed psychological cover. Pitching coach Jeff Jones visited the mound just before his second gopher ball to Sandoval.
“‘What are you doing out here? All you did was give the crowd time to get riled up,’ ” Verlander said he told Jones, insisting that both were joking around. But there’s truth in jest. Verlander conceded: “I was ready to make the next pitch. I’m the type that never wants the pitching coach to come out.