The Matchup of the Year meets an early shower

Posted Thursday, May. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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lebreton My late father — God bless him — liked to place the occasional wager on the occasional big league baseball game.

Long before there were sabermetrics and Baseball-Reference.com, dad kept notebooks in which he would meticulously log the daily box score lines of all the major league pitchers.

Dad passed away on New Year’s Eve of 1982. And if truth be told, betting on baseball did not make him a wealthy man.

Thursday night’s Rangers-Tigers game was a good example of why.

It was billed as the best pitching matchup of the season. An epic clash of Hollywood starters. Detroit’s Justin Verlander already has won a Cy Young Award. Texas’ Yu Darvish likely will one day do the same.

The TV networks tittered with anticipation. Put the kids to bed early, ESPN advised. Though it’s only 40 games into the season, the pitching showdown was being hyped as an American League Championship Series opener preview.

Ryan against Clemens. Gibson versus Seaver. That kind of stuff.

But then we looked out in the third inning Thursday, and someone named Darin Downs was on the mound for Detroit.

And I thought about my dad’s notebooks and all the ballpoint pens he emptied, entering all those strikeouts and hits allowed that, even then, were far from money in the bank.

Who saw Thursday’s third inning coming? Who saw Darvish being rocked by a Don Kelly homer and three more Detroit hits in the top half? And what were the odds of Verlander being chased in the bottom of the inning, after walking in two runs and giving up a three-run home run to... hope you were sitting down for this... Geovany Soto?

As a wise man once said, that’s the way baseball go. Tigers manager Jim Leyland replaced Verlander with reliever Downs — 38 innings in his big league career — with two outs in the inning, turning the Big Game of the Season into an Edsel. Motown reference fully intended.

But then a funny thing happened. Darvish, unfazed by what seemed like an hourlong third inning, began to tie the Tigers in subtle knots. He walked no one over the next five innings. And after Jhonny Peralta’s lead-off home run in the fourth inning, Yu-san allowed only a Prince Fielder single.

With the Rangers’ bullpen in clear need of a night of rest, Darvish gave manager Ron Washington 130 pitches spread over eight innings. By the time Yu left the game to a roaring ovation, Verlander and Downs, we presume, were both long since showered and dressed.

Advantage, Darvish. But you get the feeling it’s only the first meeting of many.

For one thing, Leyland’s lineup still remains the most imposing in the American League. With Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Fielder and Victor Martinez batting in the middle of the Detroit order, the Tigers will be a formidable hurdle for the other AL Central contenders, Cleveland and Kansas City, to catch.

And the Rangers?

If taking two of three in Oakland earlier in the week didn’t validate the Rangers’ seven-game lead in the AL West, Thursday night’s 10-4 victory did.

Texas’ pitching staff began the day with the lowest ERA in the American League. Opponents were batting only .217 against Rangers pitchers.

Losing starter Alexi Ogando for more than a precautionary two weeks would hurt. But the Rangers have been getting production from every part of their batting order — the litmus test for every title-contending team.

That, and a No. 1 pitcher who, even after a rocky inning, can rise up to match the pregame hype. 

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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