Verlander's 100 mph gamble cost the Tigers home field, but it won't cost them World Series
When Justin Verlander prioritized throwing 100 mph over retiring at the All-Star Game, he helped cost the American League a chance to win. As it turned out, he helped cost his own Tigers home-field advantage in the World Series. I said then that he was right to treat the All-Star Game the way he did. I'm saying it again now.
|Justin Verlander struggled in the All-Star Game and the AL lost home-field advantage. (US Presswire)|
And, if necessary, I'll say it again next week. I'll say it, even if the Tigers happen to lose this World Series in Game 7 in San Francisco, even if everyone else is blaming the Giants' home-field advantage for that loss.
The popular storyline then -- heck, it's a popular storyline now -- will be that Verlander undermined the Tigers' chances of winning the World Series because he chose to treat the All-Star Game as the fun exhibition game that it should be rather than the "This-Time-It-Counts" serious contest that Bud Selig and the Fox TV honchos dream that it is.
"I know the fans don't want to see me throw 90 [mph] and hit the corners," Verlander said that night in Kansas City. "They want to see the 100-mph fastball."
They saw 100. They saw 101. They also saw five, which was the number of runs the National League scored off Verlander in what became an 8-0 win.
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Forget that the American League never did score a run. Forget that the MVP of the game was a guy [Melky Cabrera] who was later found to be cheating.
If Verlander prioritizes winning over putting on a good show for the fans, the story goes, the AL wins the game and Game 1 of the World Series is at Comerica Park on Wednesday night. The Tigers have home-field advantage, the Tigers win the World Series, and all is well in Bud's world.
Nice story, but I'm not buying it.
First, we make a lot more of home-field advantage than we should.
So far in this postseason, we've had six series, and two wild-card play-in games. The team with home-field advantage has won just two of the six series, and neither of the two wild-card games.
Overall in the postseason through 33 games, home teams are 16-17.
And remember, the teams with home-field advantage to this point were the teams who earned it themselves with a better regular-season record. Theoretically, they were the better teams -- and more often than not, it didn't help them.
Tiger fans, more than anyone, should understand that home-field advantage is an over-discussed, overrated concept in October.
The Tigers didn't have home-field advantage in the 1968 World Series. They won (including winning Games 6 and 7 in St. Louis).
The Tigers didn't have home-field advantage in the 1984 World Series. They won.
The Tigers did have home-field advantage in the 2006 World Series. You might remember that they didn't win.
It's true the Tigers were a better home team than road team this year. But it's also true that, since the All-Star break, the Giants have been better on the road than at home.
Including the postseason, the second-half Giants are 30-13 away from home and 25-21 at home. There are plenty of theories why (do visiting pitchers get pumped up about pitching here?). But as great of an atmosphere as the Giants and their fans create (maybe the best in-stadium experience in baseball right now), it hasn't translated to home wins.
But the World Series is different, right?
The World Series is different, because the leagues play by different rules. Because the Giants have home field, four games in a seven-game World Series would be played without the designated hitter. That means if the Tigers want to keep Delmon Young in the lineup, they must play a sub-par outfielder in the field.
Which is kind of what the Giants do every day with Hunter Pence.
Yes, I know, the NL won the last two World Series after winning the All-Star Game and getting home-field advantage. But what about 2008, when the Phillies won despite opening the World Series at Tampa Bay?
That year, Brad Lidge was in Verlander's spot. He was the losing pitcher in the All-Star Game. His team made it to the World Series.
And in Game 5 in Philadelphia, he got the final out to clinch the Phillies' championship.
Hmm. Verlander is now lined up to pitch Game 5 in Detroit.
If the Tigers lose this World Series, someone will blame Verlander and the All-Star Game. As Jim Leyland likes to say, that's just the way it is.
It won't be me. I'm sticking with what I wrote in July.
Verlander was right to treat the All-Star Game the way he did. And it's not going to be why this World Series is won or lost.