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World Series starts and, perhaps, ends with Justin Verlander

Giants vs. Tigers offers plenty of stars, but Detroit pitcher Verlander stands above them all. Giants probably have to beat him at least once, and that's not easy.

October 23, 2012|By Bill Shaikin

SAN FRANCISCO — This is a one-man World Series.

The most valuable players in waiting, Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey, are here. So is Prince Fielder, the only one of baseball's $200-million men still in uniform this season. So is Matt Cain, who pitched a perfect game this season, and Tim Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young winner trying to reclaim his fastball in middle relief.

Yet this World Series belongs to Justin Verlander.

The series opens Wednesday, with the most dominant pitcher in baseball starting for the Detroit Tigers. If Verlander beats the San Francisco Giants in both of his starts, the Giants would have to win four of the other five games to win the series.

"That's not going to hurt my feelings at all," Tigers reliever Phil Coke said.

The Giants might be waving the flag of destiny, winning six elimination games to get to the World Series. But the Tigers swept the New York Yankees to get here, enabling them to align their rotation to lead off with Verlander, infusing them with such confidence that Fielder could not identify something that concerned him about the Giants.

"Nothing really," he said. "If we just play good baseball, there's nothing really to worry about."

The Giants, in search of their second World Series title in three years, heard all about how they would be confounded by elite pitching in the 2010 postseason. They beat Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels in the National League Championship Series, then beat Cliff Lee twice in the World Series.

However, Verlander is a cut above. The defending American League Cy Young winner and MVP has won all three of his playoff starts this season, with an 0.74 earned-run average in the process. He has won seven consecutive starts overall, with an 0.69 ERA.

Aubrey Huff, the Giants' likely choice to be the first pinch-hitter against Verlander, said he has a plan for that at-bat.

"Cheat," Huff said.

Not literally, although he might be forgiven given the possibility of doom. What he meant was that the Giants' hitters might want to look for the fastball and try to hit it, even early in the count, rather than wait out Verlander and try to hit his more annoying curve and change.

His fastball starts at 95 mph in the first inning. Most pitchers lose velocity as the game goes on, but Verlander gains.

"His stuff is so good, he almost can throw anything at any time and get away with it," Tigers catcher Gerald Laird said.

For most pitchers, even good pitchers, a high pitch count means an early exit. Not for Verlander.

"It doesn't matter whether you're at 100 pitches or 170 pitches," Huff said. "He is going to finish what he started most nights."

Huff was kidding, but not by much. Verlander's pitch counts this postseason, in order: 121, 122, 132.

"Nobody pitches behind Verlander," joked Jose Valverde, the Tigers' closer for much of the season. "Everybody sits down, takes a coffee, drinks a Sprite."

Verlander has pitched seven complete games this season, including one in the division series. The Angels had five complete games this season. The Dodgers had two.

"He's definitely going to make it a tough series for them," Laird said, "to have to beat him twice — you never know, maybe three times if he comes out on short rest."

That could be a relief appearance in Game 7, a la Randy Johnson in the 2001 World Series, but Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said he had scheduled Verlander for two starts, on regular rest.

"He told me he was pitching Game 1, so I said OK," Leyland said, smiling.

Verlander is so talented that he treated the All-Star game as the exhibition game that it is, coming out and throwing as hard as he could to light up the radar guns for the fans. He threw 100 mph and got lit up, giving up five runs.

The National League won and so the World Series starts here rather than in Detroit. Not that the Tigers care — home-field advantage swings their way if they win Game 1, and Verlander is pitching.

"It doesn't really matter where he opens up," Laird said. "If he's on the road or he's at home, you get the same Justin Verlander, and that's dominating."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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