The results were so preposterous, they would be easy to dismiss if this were the regular season.
The Tigers’ Justin Verlander throwing 98 pitches in four innings? Allowing two of Pablo Sandoval’s three homers? Getting rocked by the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series, 8-3?
As Verlander mouthed to no one in particular after Sandoval’s second homer Wednesday night, surprised that the ball carried as far as it did: “Wow.”
It was Verlander’s earliest departure in a game uninterrupted by rain since June 16, 2009. He was outpitched by Barry Zito, and struck out fewer as a starter than Tim Lincecum did as a reliever.
Regular season, no problem, go get ’em the next day. World Series, big problem, especially considering that Tigers victories in Verlander’s two starts were all but a given, and that the Giants — as the theory went — would have needed to win four of the other five games.
So much for that logic. So much for the supposed invincibility of a pitcher who had allowed two earned runs in 24 1/3 innings for a 0.74 ERA in three previous starts this postseason. And so much for the notion that the Tigers are favorites in the Series, thanks to their starting pitching.
Frankly, it’s difficult to know what to think anymore. Verlander might have been “out of sync” (his words) due to his seven-day layoff. Manager Jim Leyland seemed to agree with that assessment, describing Verlander’s command as “not good,” and saying that he “just got out of pitching and started throwing a little bit too much.”
Plate umpire Gerry Davis also might have frustrated Verlander; one Tiger suggested that Verlander “wasn’t getting pitches in the bottom of the zone like Zito was,” while another claimed that Davis, “missed a bunch.”
Yet, even if both players are correct, c’mon.
The absurdity of the night was best captured by a sequence in the third inning when Marco Scutaro (who else?) hit a two-out, RBI single to give the Giants a 2-0 lead and Verlander went 2-0 on Sandoval.
Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones strolled to the mound to remind Verlander to slow down his delivery and not concern himself about Scutaro. Verlander stared at Jones incredulously — a “what-the-heck-are-you-doing-here?” look — then broke into a slight smile.
Verlander said he wasn’t “mad” that Jones visited him, but added, “It was 2-0. It’s not like the wheels were falling off in that type of situation.
“I’m somebody who likes to work off rhythm. I usually know what I’m doing out there. When things are going wrong, I still know what I’m doing wrong.
“I was ready to make my next pitch. I don’t think any pitchers like to see the pitching coach come out there ever. I told Jeff when he got out there, ‘All you did is get the crowd really into it right now. They’re all chanting and yelling.’ We kind of had a little laugh and that was it.”
Hardee-har-har. Sandoval hit his second homer on the next pitch, a 2-0 fastball on the outer third, as opposed to the 0-2 fastball that Verlander failed to elevate enough on Sandoval’s first homer.
Fastball command indeed was Verlander’s biggest issue — he would try to go in on left-handed hitters and the ball would run back over the plate, or even down and away. But let’s not forget the Giants’ role in all of this.
Verlander generated only 12 swings and misses in 53 pitches, or 22.6 percent, according to STATS LLC. His swing-and-miss rate in the regular season was a career-high 25.6 percent. It increased to 26.7 percent in his two Division Series starts against Oakland, and 28.6 percent in his one ALCS start against the Yankees.
The Giants actually fouled off 27 pitches on their 53 swings, with leadoff man Angel Pagan accounting for 13 of those fouls, including six straight at one point. Jones compared the night to a start in Cincinnati on June 9 in which Verlander threw 127 pitches in six innings.
In the end, Verlander allowed all five of his runs with two outs. And the scary thing was, he was but one of the Tigers’ problems.
The offense scored just once against Zito in 5 2/3 innings. The defense included Delmon Young positioning himself almost in the San Francisco Bay in his first appearance in left field since Sept. 2. And Leyland’s effort to rebuild the confidence of former closer Jose Valverde with a mop-up inning turned into a mess.
Valverde entered the game in the seventh with the Tigers trailing 6-1. He struck out Lincecum — hooray! — then allowed four straight hits before getting pulled in favor of Joaquin Benoit.
The way Valverde saw it, his mechanics were good, his pitches were moving. Back in the dugout, he engaged in a prolonged conversation with Jones, asking his pitching coach, “What do I have to do?” Jones was supportive, saying, “I thought he threw the ball much better than he has.”
Leyland didn’t share that opinion.
“You know, he wasn’t terrible, he just wasn’t good,” Leyland said. “For whatever reason it’s just … doesn’t seem to be coming out quite right, although he did have a few 93s. You know, it’s a little bit puzzling, to be honest with you. It looks like it’s just not quite exploding.”
So, the Tigers already are down one game to none, and most of their biggest weaknesses — late-inning relief, corner-infield defense, Young in left, a lack of offensive depth — have yet to be exposed.
The pitching matchup in Game 2 — Doug Fister vs. Madison Bumgarner — again seems to favor Detroit. Verlander spoke highly of not only Fister, but also Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, telling reporters, “I don’t know if you guys have been watching, but the three guys behind me have been doing pretty doggone well as well.”
OK, but Verlander is the reigning MVP, a strong candidate to win his second straight Cy Young Award, the guy rumored to be dating supermodel Kate Upton, for crying out loud.
There’s no explaining most of what happened on Wednesday night, but this Series suddenly looks quite different than nearly everyone imagined.
All because Verlander wasn’t Verlander. All because he lost Game 1.