If we grant just one assumption — that Sandoval will not hit three home runs in every game — then the most important news from this contest was the disaster that befell Verlander, who, along with Cabrera and Prince Fielder, personifies the Tigers’ three-superstar team.
Verlander’s reputation has grown so large in the past two seasons, with a 24-5 season that won him both Cy Young Award and MVP fame in ’11, that it’s easy to forget his early years were sometimes erratic. He inspired talk of greatness, but the word “disappointment” was used at times.
Few players have, from early in their careers, had as much sense of a personal baseball destiny as Verlander. Usually, it motivates and drives him. But sometimes, on the game’s biggest stages, it may have pushed him to set impossible goals or even add pressure in already tense settings. In mid-2009, he was coming off an 11-17 season. I asked him if he had any goals, thinking he’d say 20 wins or 200 strikeouts.
“To be in the Hall of Fame,” Verlander said.
He said it without vanity, just sincere ambition and enormous self-confidence. Then he talked about all the improvements he hoped to make in his pitching. I’d never heard any player, much a 26-year-old with merely very good success, aim so high and apologize for it not a whit.
Since then, Verlander has been so spectacular that, at 29, he really is more than halfway to Cooperstown. How can you be so great and yet still face high places that remain so treacherous and hostile? Are these highlight nights, starting an All-Star Game or the first game of a World Series, the places where Verlander wants to shine so brightly that he somehow dims his own star? Or is there just one large Panda who has his number and has changed the whole arc of Verlander’s season and perhaps the Tigers’, too.
A World Series arrives in installments. This first one was a complete shock. That usually means more amazements are on the way.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/