Jim Leyland has a rock-solid rule when it comes to rain delays.
The starting pitcher gets an hour. If the game has resumed by then, he can keep pitching. If it is still raining, their night is over.
Wednesday, though, Leyland got a little sentimental. After a 65-minute stoppage in the fifth inning, he let Justin Verlander go back into the game and get the two outs he needed to pick up the victory.
“Since I got here in 2006, that guy has been our horse, and tonight was a reward for that,” Leyland told FOX Sports Detroit’s Shannon Hogan after Detroit’s 11-7 win over the Indians. “I stretched it for five minutes because of what he’s done for us. I wouldn’t have gone 15 or 20 minutes, but I gave him five. Thank heavens it worked out.”
The decision wasn’t as easy as it sounds. While Verlander is considered one of the best starters in baseball, he’s been in a rare slump. He came into the game coming off two bad losses — allowing 11 runs in 7 2/3 innings — and was struggling again against Cleveland. He allowed single runs in each of the first two innings, then gave up a two-run homer to Carlos Santana just before the delay.
Leyland, though, thought he understood the problem.
“I think I’m right on this one,” he said. “He was a little jittery in the first couple innings after what’s happened to him, and then he got into a great rhythm in the third and fourth. In the fifth, he was trying to beat the Indians and trying to beat the rain and beat the umpires and get everything done before they pulled the tarp. He just started rushing everything and they got him.”
While Leyland held his breath in the dugout, Verlander returned from the delay and needed 10 pitches to get the two outs he needed.
“It was up and down tonight,” Verlander said, agreeing with his manager. “Even in the first couple innings, it was better than it was the last couple times I’ve been out there, and then I really got things going.
“When I went out for the fifth, (Brayan) Pena told me to hurry, because he knew the rain was coming, and I just made some bad pitches.”
Verlander used his best skills of persuasion to get the last two outs, and may have even resorted to simple bribery.
“I was lobbying him, but when it got to be close to an hour, I knew I was running out of time,” he said. “I might owe him a sleeve of golf balls. Or a dozen golf balls. Maybe a case of golf balls.”
As it turned out, Verlander was thrilled that he got the extra pitches.
“Those last two batters were the best I felt all night,” he said. “I told Skip that I was good for the sixth inning, because I was building on positives, but after the rain delay, there was no chance.”
Luckily for Leyland and Verlander, red-hot Miguel Cabrera was there to provide the Tigers with more than enough offense. In his last three games, Cabrera is hitting .583 with five homers, seven runs and 10 RBIs. To make things worse for opposing managers, he’s drawn three walks, and Prince Fielder has followed all of them with hits, driving in six more runs.
Wednesday, Cabrera hit a RBI double in the first, and his third-inning walk led to a Fielder double that started a four-run inning.
Then came the play that will live in highlight videos for years. Cabrera hit a fastball to deep right-center, where it looked like Michael Bourn would make a routine catch. As the centerfielder tensed himself for contact with the wall, the ball bounced off his glove and landed on top of the fence.
Bourn looked into his glove, looked frantically around him for the ball, then let out an embarrassed chuckle. At the same time, Cabrera pumped his fist and laughed while slowing into his home-run trot.
“That was lucky, but I’ll take it,” he said with a laugh. “I thought it was an out, but like my dad always told me, it is better to be lucky than good.”
The sentiment is older than Miguel Cabrera the Elder — Napolean said he’d rather have a lucky general than a good one — but a more appropriate one might have come from the pen of Ernest Hemingway: