On Justin Verlander, Carlos Guillen, and the Bunt


There is a lot of talk surrounding yesterday’s game this morning. ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike were both up in arms over Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander‘s comments about Erick Aybar‘s bunt to lead off the eighth inning yesterday afternoon. Verlander admitted he was surprised that Aybar would bunt in that situation (with a no-hitter in progress) and called the play “bushleague.” Tigers manager Jim Leyland went out of his way to say that he had no problem with Aybar’s bunt and called it a good play.

The whole situation was quite strange yesterday and continues to be today. The game itself was intense to begin with with Verlander matched-up against Jered Weaver, two of the favorites for AL Cy Young consideration this year. The Angels had taken two of the first three games against Detroit and were looking for a much-needed series win as they try to stay close in the West, while the Tigers badly needed to victory to maintain their cushion in the Central. The game had a playoff atmosphere from the first pitch on.

But Weaver took exception to Magglio Ordonez staring down a home run to left and voiced his displeasure to Ordonez as he rounded the bases. The ball that Maggs hit traveled down the left field line and looked like it had a good chance to go foul. It is possible (and I think probable) that Ordonez was simply waiting at the plate to see if the ball landed fair or not. It’s not as if Ordonez has a history of showboating on his home runs, either. This is a guy who has been the picture of professionalism throughout his career, that Weaver took exception to Magglio says more about Weaver than it does Maggs.

Obviously, Weaver’s reaction was discussed in the Tigers’ dugout and when Carlos Guillen connected on a no-doubt shot in the bottom of the seventh, he put on quite a performance of posing and staring at the majestic home run. It didn’t take long before Weaver began barking at Guillen and Carlos turned his gaze from the fly ball directly unto the pitcher, staring Weaver in the eyes as he made a display of flipping the bat and almost pirouetting on his way down the first base line. Make no mistake (and Weaver didn’t), Guillen was telling the hurler that if he thought Magglio had shown him up, Guillen was going to show him what posing for a home run looked like.

I’m not saying it was right, but Guillen was sending a message to Weaver in that situation and Weaver reacted in the way that any self-respecting pitcher should, by throwing one over the head of Alex Avila on his next delivery. He was immediately tossed, as he should have been.

Did Guillen’s showboating lead to Aybar’s bunt in the next half inning? I don’t know, but I’d guess it did. If Guillen had simply run the bases and Weaver not gotten himself run from the game, perhaps Aybar doesn’t try to end the no-hitter with a bunt. But Guillen had thrown down the gauntlet and any kind of baseball etiquette was out the window as soon as he made eye contact with the pitcher on his jaunt around the bases.

I do know that if I were an Angels fan, I would be quite angry with Guillen and the Tigers today, and I would have felt that Aybar was justified in laying down that bunt on Verlander. So I guess, as a Tigers fan, I can’t be too upset with how things transpired yesterday. Aybar didn’t break out the no-no, but thanks to Verlander’s error on the play he did reach base. When Don Kelly threw to the plate with one out and Aybar breaking from third, that was the play that in hindsight, I think cost JV his chance at history. If Kelly goes to first on the play the run will score, but the bags would have empty with two outs and Verlander would have been back in the windup as he faced Maicer Izturis.

Lost in all the commotion of the oddity of the seventh and eighth innings was yet another completely dominant start by Verlander. Once again he showed the definition of “ace”. If Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young last year based on his dominance despite his record, Verlander looks to be a shoo-in for the award this year. In a match-up against what should be his main competitor for the award, Verlander completely outclassed Weaver, both in performance and poise.

I’m awfully glad he pitches for Detroit and every time he takes the hill I thank the Padres for taking Matt Bush with that number one overall pick in 2004.

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