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(CBS) The White Sox give their fans lots of reasons to get aggravated. A $127 million payroll for a team that is two games under .500 being the main one. Then there are the lack of fundamentals, the wasted run scoring opportunities or doing any number of dumb things that cost them games. So it would be easy to get upset about last night’s 5-4 loss to Detroit, but every once in a while you have to salute the other team, or in this case one player for doing something special.
This morning, kudos belong in the corner of Justin Verlander.
No, Verlander did not have his greatest game last night. He gave up four runs on two long home runs, one to Adam Dunn the other to Paul Konerko. That is a far cry from the best for a pitcher who is 97-57 over the course of his career and has tossed two no-hitters. But what Verlander did in the eighth last night was the classic definition of a horse, an ace, whatever phrase seems appropriate to define the top starting pitcher on his team, or most likely in Verlander’s case, the best pitcher in the American League right now.
Verlander had already tossed well over 100 pitches heading into the 8th and with one out and Alexei Ramirez on first, Verlander struck out Konerko when the hit 100 mph on the radar gun. Then, against Dunn, he threw an unhittable curveball to close out the inning. He showed some emotion after that 125th pitch — his last of the night — and he deserved to. Verlander is a winner.
Jim Leyland is now in his sixth season of managing Verlander and he knows what he has even if he admitted some trepidation about sending him back out to the mound for the 8th.
“I was a little concerned, but when your ace says he’s fine, you put him back out there,” Leyland said to reporters after the game in remarks that were broadcast.
As good as Mark Buehrle has been with the White Sox since 2000, he is really more of the classic #2 starter in a rotation. He just doesn’t have the overpowering stuff to be THE guy. Verlander is that kind of pitcher and he showed it last night. Great pitches do not have to throw shutouts all the time to be great, they just have to get the outs when they need to get them. That is what Jack McDowell did for the Sox in the early 90s and that is what Verlander does today in Detroit.
If Sox fans want to be sad this morning, look at the contrast in starting pitchers in last night’s game. Jake Peavy pitched a decent game until the 6th, but then admitted to running out of gas as the Tigers scored three runs to take a 4-2 lead. In San Diego, a few years ago, Peavy was for the Padres what Verlander is for the Tigers today, but no more. Injuries have taken their toll and it is unlikely he will ever be that type of pitcher again.
The Sox did blow a 2-0 lead on a night that Cleveland lost as well. Another missed opportunity as they remain 4.5 games behind Detroit in third place overall in the AL Central. As has been the case for most of the year, they are intriguing enough to keep paying attention, but they still have yet to show they can play consistent baseball to get on the roll they need. If today’s roster shakeup makes a difference, great, but that obviously belongs on the wait-and-see approach.
But instead of aggravation, the emotion today should be admiration. On a beautiful summer night during an entertaining baseball game, Justin Verlander showed why the Tigers have a rock to build around for their future and why 29 other clubs around the majors would love to have him.
Daniel I. Dorfman is a local freelance writer who has written and reported for the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe among many other nationally prominent broadcast, online and print media organizations. He is also a researcher for 670 The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DanDorfman To read more of Daniel’s blogs click here.