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Verlander washed away again; rain KOs ace in ALCS

Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler leaves the field during a second rain delay at Game 1 of baseball's American League championship series against the Detroit Tigers, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler leaves the field during a second rain delay at Game 1 of baseball's American League championship series against the Detroit Tigers, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
By Jaime Aron
AP Sports Writer / October 9, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas—Justin Verlander was washed out of another Game 1.

Scuffling through a wet postseason, the Detroit ace and likely AL Cy Young Award winner left a start early again Saturday night when a pair of rain delays prevented him from pitching more than four innings. He wound up the loser as the Tigers fell 3-2 to the Texas Rangers in the opener of the AL championship series.

"If anywhere in the country has a drought, just bring me in and I'll fix that," Verlander said, forcing a smile.

Verlander wasn't his usual, dominant self even before the weather turned nasty. The Rangers scored twice in the second and got a solo homer in the fourth, matching the number of runs he'd allowed in all 21 previous innings he'd pitched at Rangers Ballpark.

He gave up five hits, walked two and struck out five. He didn't have a single clean inning, with Texas reaching via hit or walk every frame.

"I just didn't have it," Verlander said. "My location wasn't very good at all. My off-speed stuff wasn't great. ... It was just one of those days."

He'd thrown only 82 pitches, though, when the first delay hit. During that 41-minute wait, Verlander stayed warm by pitching in an indoor cage. He also fixed a flaw in his delivery, throwing "seven or eight perfect pitches in a row."

"I was excited to go back out there," he said.

Detroit scored twice and loaded the bases when more rain came. The game had resumed for only 13 minutes when the tarp was rolled out again, and Verlander knew he was done. That delay lasted 1 hour, 9 minutes, making the decision to switch pitchers "a no-brainer," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

So Mother Nature knocked out Verlander, not the Rangers. It was the same thing in Game 1 of the AL division series, when he threw just 25 pitches against the Yankees before a storm hit. The game resumed without him the next day.

Verlander returned three days later for Game 3, which he won. Leyland resisted the temptation of bringing him back on short rest out of the bullpen in Game 5, and seemed to be rewarded with having him for this game.

Now, Leyland has to think about bringing him back quickly again. Verlander could start Game 4 on three days' rest.

"I'm sure I can," he said.

He said this is a different situation than the last washout because of how many more pitches he threw.

"But I'm always ready," Verlander said. "I'll be prepared no matter what the situation."

Rick Porcello, Detroit's announced starter for Game 4, replaced Verlander and pitched two scoreless innings. A series of relievers shut down the Rangers the rest of the way, but the Tigers couldn't get anything going against Texas' bullpen, either.

"We got beat in what I would call a very, very good ballgame," Leyland said.

Play began under threatening skies, and Detroit got off to a promising start by loading the bases with one out against C.J. Wilson. With Verlander ready to take the mound, the Tigers had to be feeling good knowing they were one hit from taking control.

Instead, Magglio Ordonez grounded into a double play.

"C.J. made a great pitch on Magglio, cut a fastball in and got him to ground it to third," Leyland said. "That was obviously a huge inning."

Verlander opened by walking leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler, only to see him thrown out stealing second base. Elvis Andrus lifted a fly to right-center and Austin Jackson dropped it. Andrus hustled the whole way and wound up at second on the error.

After a two-out walk to Michael Young, Verlander got out of the jam when Adrian Beltre -- who was coming off a three-homer game in the Rangers' clinching win over Tampa Bay -- chased strike three.

Mike Napoli opened the second against Verlander with a single through the right side. David Murphy hit a ball to right-center that just kept carrying until it one-hopped the wall, turning into an RBI triple. A two-out single by Kinsler drove in Murphy for a 2-0 Texas lead.

Verlander gave up a two-out single to Beltre in the third, then in the fourth saw Nelson Cruz drive a pitch high and deep into the left-field seats. Verlander got himself in a 2-0 hole, then tried throwing a pitch down and away. Instead, he threw it middle-up, and Cruz sent it nearly 400 feet.

Verlander wouldn't have been on the hook for the loss if Detroit's hitters had come through a little more.

The Tigers wasted a bases-loaded chance in the first inning, and again in the fifth. After the second delay, which also ended Wilson's night, Alex Avila hit a weak grounder to second base against reliever Mike Gonzalez.

"That's not easy to come out after the rain delay and walk up there with the bases loaded and they bring in a new pitcher, a lefty," Leyland said. "He won the battle tonight."

Detroit's two runs came when Jackson hit an RBI double and scored on a wild pitch.

Alexi Ogando -- who had all three of Texas' regular-season wins against Detroit, all as a starter -- shut out the Tigers in the sixth and seventh to earn the win. Because Wilson didn't go five innings, the winning pitcher was at the discretion of the official scorer.

Detroit came into the game with its lineup weakened because of a strained oblique muscle that kept Delmon Young off the series roster. Young hit three homers in the ALDS against the Yankees, a Tigers record for a postseason series, but was injured late in Game 5. He missed 19 games earlier this year with a similar injury and doctors decided he wouldn't be ready during this series.

"Sure, we missed that bat in there," Leyland said. "There's no question about it."

Ryan Raburn started for Young in left field and went 1 for 3 with a single and two walks. He struck out swinging against closer Neftali Feliz for the last out of the game, at 12:03 p.m.

Miguel Cabrera moved up from cleanup to Young's No. 3 spot in the order, with Victor Martinez taking over at No. 4 and Ordonez at No. 5 (then Don Kelly taking his place). The 3-4-5 spots in the lineup went a combined 1 for 9 with three walks, with Cabrera having the only hit, a single.

NOTES: Rain was rare for this stadium this season. The last rain delay at Texas was May 24. ... RHP Max Scherzer will start Game 2 for Detroit on Sunday against LHP Derek Holland. ... The Rangers handed Verlander one of his five regular-season losses, although that came on April 11. He gave up just two runs in nine innings during that game, and hadn't faced them since. He was 3-0 at Rangers Ballpark, and 6-2 against them overall.

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