DETROIT — Justin Verlander lost a World Series in 2006.
That didn’t help Sunday night.
“Losing one certainly doesn’t make it easier to lose a second one,” Verlander said after the 4-3 loss that finished an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Giants. “It makes it harder. I hated how this felt against St. Louis, but this is even worse. I don’t want to feel like this a third time.”
Verlander spent Sunday night watching from the dugout, hoping his team would overcome the odds and give him a chance to redeem himself in Game 5. Instead, he goes into the winter with a career 0-3 World Series, including a 7.20 ERA.
“I wanted another crack at it, but this isn’t about me,” he said. “We’ve fought as a family for, what, eight months, and now you have to take this feeling into the offseason. That’s hard. We can tell ourselves that we were the best team in the American League, but we wanted to be the best team in the world.”
A few lockers away, Phil Coke was reflecting on a postseason that saw him lose the final game after being transformed into a lights-out closer. As always with Coke, he was defiant and proud, even while understanding the pain the sweep caused to the people in the stands.
“I apologize to our fans, but I did everything I could, and we did everything we could,” said Coke. “I hate the way this ended — I never wanted to see ‘Losing pitcher’ next to my name in a World Series game, but this team never stopped fighting.”
While he took the blame for allowing the 10th-inning run, Coke hopes that Tigers fans won’t remember the season by that inning, Sunday’s game or the World Series as a whole.
“I’m incredibly proud of this team, and how much we did just to get here,” he said. “If anyone has negative things to say about this team, after what we accomplished this season, shame on you.”
While Coke and Verlander were frustrated with the World Series defeat, most of the blame had to fall on Detroit’s missing offense. The Tigers only managed six runs on 15 hits in the four games — fewer than they managed in both categories of Game 4 of the ALCS sweep of the Yankees alone.
Sunday night, the Tigers scored three runs on homers by Miguel Cabrera and Delmon Young, but were held hitless in the last four innings. Eight of Detroit’s last 12 batters struck out, including all three batters in the bottom of the 10th.
“We obviously didn’t hit enough — we had five hits again tonight,” Jim Leyland said. “The Giants did a fantastic job, and we just sputtered offensively.”
The most obvious culprit was Prince Fielder. After hitting .313 with 30 homers and 109 RBI during the regular season, he only hit .176 in the playoffs, including a horrific .071 in the World Series. Still, he ended the series with the same laid-back attitude that he has shown throughout his year in Detroit — good days or bad.
“We played as hard as we could,” Fielder said, moments after the final out. “We played good baseball, but they just beat us. It’s not too bad to lose to the World Series champions.”
Like Coke, Fielder doesn’t think the season should be judged by the last four games.
“We had a great season to get to the playoffs, and we played really well to get to the World Series,” he said. “It’s unfortunate how it ended, but they don’t let you write your own script. You have to play the games on the field, and they did a better job than we did.”
The most emotional player in the clubhouse was probably Alex Avila, whose season ended a few hours earlier than his teammates. Avila took a foul tip off his forearm in Game 1, and although he continued to play through Game 3, it eventually got too bad to continue.
“I tried to get any kind of treatment that I could in the last 24 hours, but nothing was working,” he said. “The swelling and inflammation finally got to the point that I couldn’t swing and I couldn’t throw.”
That meant that Avila, like Verlander, was reduced to the role of helpless spectator as the Series came to its finale.
“Watching that game was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career,” said Avila, the emotions obvious in his eyes. “We wanted this so badly, but when we got here, the Giants played a great series and we didn’t. It is as simple as that, but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch them celebrate on our field. That’s a crappy feeling that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”
All around the clubhouse, players talked quietly to groups of reporters or sat in front of their lockers, staring into space. Doug Fister was slumped in his chair, a far cry from the wild man pouring champagne and buckets of water over his teammates a week ago. Omar Infante was nursing his broken hand and talking about his third postseason defeat, including two straight to the Giants.
But despite the pain and disappointment, almost every player found a moment to look toward an empty locker near Fielder and Cabrera and gave a thought toward 2013.
“When you end a season like this, you spend the winter focused on getting back here and getting it right,” Verlander said. “This team has that experience, and we’re going to be bringing these guys back, and they are going to be hungry.”
“And we’re going to have Victor (Martinez) again.”