NEW YORK -- Citing health concerns and common sense in equal measures, manager Jim Leyland refused to use ace Justin Verlander in Thursday's American League Division Series Game 5 because, in Leyland's words, doing so would be "foolish."
He hinted at the side benefit only in passing. Now that the Tigers have advanced to the AL Championship Series, there is no doubt as to who will pitch Saturday's Game 1 against the Rangers. On full rest, Verlander will be ready.
"We've been doing it all year long," Verlander said in the immediate aftermath of Detroit's 3-2 victory. "This is just the first step. We have two more steps to go."
With the Rangers breezing past the Rays in their half of the bracket, Texas had the luxury of setting its rotation as it saw fit, trotting its own ace out for Game 1. All of which sets the stage for Verlander and C.J. Wilson to square off Saturday in Arlington, in a meeting of two of the league's best pitchers.
If not for Verlander's superlative regular season, Wilson's statistics -- a 16-7 record, 2.94 ERA, 206 strikeouts and 74 walks in 223 1/3 innings -- would have seemed elite. As it was, they became lost in the shadow of Verlander's 24-5 record, 2.40 ERA, 250 strikeouts and 57 walks in 251 innings, despite comparing favorably to the numbers of nearly every other pitcher in the league.
Of course, this is October, meaning none of that will matter when Wilson and Verlander take the mound for Saturday's Game 1. Just last week, for example, the Rays knocked Wilson out after five innings at Rangers Ballpark, plating eight runs in ALDS Game 1. Even Verlander struggled early against the Yankees before settling into dominant form in ALDS Game 3.
"C.J.'s been our best pitcher all season long," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said earlier this week. "One great thing about the postseason is we know how to turn the page. If something doesn't go our way, we turn the page. I'm sure C.J. was ready to go the second after Game 1, so he'll be motivated, he'll be ready to go. He's definitely been our guy all season."
Not since April has Verlander faced the Rangers, allowing two runs in a complete-game loss at Comerica Park. The next day, Wilson earned a no-decision when the Tigers touched him for four runs over 6 2/3 innings of an eventual Rangers defeat. Never before have Verlander and Wilson squared off opposite each other as starting pitchers.
But that is not to say that their history is moot. Both Verlander and Wilson have plenty of experience facing the lineups they will see on Saturday, even if those matchups are not necessarily fresh. Wilson, for instance, has held Tigers hitters to a collective .215 average in 79 career at-bats, with strong histories in particular against Delmon Young (3-for-15), Victor Martinez (3-for-17) and Jhonny Peralta (1-for-14). Verlander has done even better, holding the Rangers to a combined .198 mark with 46 strikeouts in 172 career at-bats.
This season, his teammates have fared nearly as well. The Tigers won six of their nine games against the Rangers this summer, taking two of three in all three series. Now, they stand four victories away from the World Series, with Verlander set to pitch at least twice in the ALCS.
The first of those will take place Saturday in Arlington, with each team trotting their best starting pitcher to the mound. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. on FOX).
"He's been our No. 1 guy all year," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said of Wilson. "He needs to be out there."
"We're right where we want to be," Verlander said. "We're ready to go to Texas and keep playing good baseball."