Oakland, Calif. Every time Justin Verlander looked as if he might be getting flustered, the Detroit Tigers rookie showed he has big-league poise to go along with that 100 mph fastball.
Pitching without his best stuff, Verlander still was able to add his first career playoff win to a fabulous first season by beating the Oakland Athletics, 8-5, Wednesday night to send the Tigers home with a 2-0 lead in the AL championship series.
"I don't think I got settled down the whole game," Verlander said. "I was a little sporadic. My curveball was there sometimes, my fastball was there sometimes. I was struggling a little bit. I battled through it and gave our team a chance to win."
Winning without your best stuff is much easier with a fastball that still hits triple digits and a curveball that seems to drop off a table.
Verlander wasn't dominating against the A's - but he was effective enough, especially when he wasn't facing Milton Bradley.
He allowed four runs and seven hits in 51â3 innings, striking out six and walking one. Three of the runs came on an RBI single by Bradley in the first and a two-run homer by Bradley in the third.
Manager Jim Leyland made a visit to the mound with one out in the fifth inning and a 3-0 count on Jason Kendall, but didn't consider lifting his star rookie.
"I didn't pull him because I thought he had good stuff, and it's hard to take somebody out who has that kind of stuff," Leyland said. "I felt that he was real good, and I thought he did a good job. He left a couple of pitches in bad zones, but, hey, that's just part of the game."
Verlander caught Leyland's eye early in spring training with that electric stuff and mental toughness not usually found in a 23-year old. Verlander backed it up by going 17-9 with a 3.63 earned-run average to become the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year.
"I compare him a little bit to Dwight Gooden when he first came into the league," Leyland said. "Man, this kid has got incredible poise."