By Steve Keating
DETROIT (Reuters) - Justin Verlander is not only the ace of the Detroit Tigers pitching staff, he is the workhorse ready to be sent out again minutes after beating the Texas Rangers on Thursday and extending the American League Championship Series.
At a time when starting pitchers are coddled, their innings and pitch counts meticulously managed, Verlander is a throwback ready to take to the mound whenever asked.
Or, in some instances, even when he is not asked.
"I'll be ready to go next time whether that's Game Seven out of the bullpen or Game One of the World Series," declared Verlander. "Hopefully it's Game One of the World Series.
"But whenever Skip needs me, I'm ready."
Trailing the best-of-seven series 3-2, the Tigers will need two more wins in Texas to advance to the World Series and if Detroit manager Jim Leyland is true to his word they will do it without any more help from Verlander.
"He's going to rest now," said Leyland. "Obviously, if we don't move on, he's done. "Even if we were fortunate to get to the World Series, we can make an adjustment if we need to do give him an extra day."
He did not disappoint, delivering 7 1/3 innings of gritty work holding the Rangers in check as the Tigers unleashed a home run barrage to register a 7-5 win.
With the bullpen depleted, Verlander entered new territory, tossing career high 133 pitchers before leaving the game to a standing ovation in the eighth after serving up a two-run homer to Nelson Cruz.
"I think in a lot of other cities after giving up a two-run home run in the eighth I don't know if I would have gotten that ovation," said Verlander. "I think they realize I was out there grinding and they showed their support.
"It's happened a few times to me where I've acknowledged the fans.
"I don't like to do that in the middle of a ballgame but when they show their support that way, you can't help but give them a little tip of the cap or a wave or something because they've been tremendous all year and they're one of the reasons we're here now."
Verlander has been as close as the Tigers have to money in the bank.
Armed with a fastball that often hits 100 mph, Verlander was 24-5 and captured the pitching Triple Crown this season -- leading the American League in wins, ERA (2.40) and strikeouts (250), while issuing just 57 walks.
Those numbers have made Verlander the leading Cy Young award candidate and earned him a spot in the discussion for American League most valuable player honors.
"One of the very best," said Texas manager Ron Washington of Verlander. "He can throw anything at any time. As he get late in the ballgame, he's like he's in the first inning.
"He has a focus that's unmatched. He has an ability to do things that you just don't see pitchers do. "All you can hope is that you catch him on a day when he doesn't have it."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)