His initials might be J.V., but he's definitely on the varsity. And after this year, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers will probably add three other initials to the end of his name: MVP.
A pitcher winning the most valuable player award? Blasphemy to many old-time baseballers. How can a player be an MVP, they argue, when he plays only once every fifth day, spending the other four jogging in the outfield, throwing on the sidelines, snoozing in the bullpen and eating a lot of sunflower seeds.
Verlander has been so dominant on the mound for the Tigers that veteran observers are using his 2011 season as a barometer to measure some of the greatest seasons of all time. He will almost certainly be a unanimous winner of the Cy Young Award as the American League's best pitcher. As for the MVP, ask yourself this question: Where would the Tigers be this year without Verlander on their pitching staff?
The playoff-bound Tigers don't want to think about it, but how's this for a stat: In his last 26 starts, Verlander has a record of 22-2. Overall this year (through Sept. 18), he's 24-5. Replace that outstanding record with a middle-of-the-road 11-11 pitcher, and the Tigers' may not have coasted to the A.L. Central title, which they wrapped up mid-month. Valuable member of the team? Obviously. Most valuable in the league? Almost certainly.
First baseman Miguel Cabrera, catcher Alex Avila and DH Victor Martinez are all having outstanding years at the plate, but it's Verlander carrying the team on his shoulders. Manager Jim Leyland may rest his ace a little bit down the stretch as the Tigers prepare for the playoffs, but he's probably good for enough starts to win 26 (not a stretch). If he does so, it would be the most victories by a pitcher in the A.L. since 1990, when Oakland's Bob Welch won 27.
Verlander's season to remember is not just about victories. He leads the league in strikeouts and batters are hitting just .190 against him. He has allowed only 53 walks in 244 innings, and his WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning pitched) is a remarkable - and league-best - 0.91. Overall, he stars in more hitters' nightmares than any other demon or pitcher.
Oh, and one more thing: He threw his second career no-hitter this season, and came within an eyelash of a third.
"Doesn't surprise me," Leyland told Tim Brown of Yahoosports.com "And it wouldn't surprise me if he gets another one at some point in his career. That's how good his stuff can be on certain days."
• Headline at Fark.com: "Justin Verlander pitched last night. You know the rest."
• Comedy writer Jerry Perisho: "Driver Danica Patrick is stirring up trouble by leaving the IndyCar circuit and moving to NASCAR. She's 1-for-112 in IndyCar; if she were a baseball player, she'd be riding the bench in single-A."
• Comedy writer Jim Barach: "NBC has signed a nine-year package with the PGA to televise golf tournaments. The only concern is by then, Johnny Miller will be so grouchy he will keep yelling at all the pros on the practice green to get off his lawn."
• Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle: "Jeremy Shockey rescued a Panthers teammate choking on a chunk of meat in the team cafeteria. One report said Shockey used the Heimlich manoeuvre. However, witnesses say Shockey slammed the victim in the back, causing him to cough up the meat. I believe that's called the James Harrison manoeuvre."
• Headline in TheOnion.com: "Report: Kevin Durant's success could lead to more NBA teams drafting tall players."
• Perisho again: "The belly putter is becoming a popular trend in the PGA. John Daly says he can't use his bellybutton to hold a club because that's where he keeps his beer."
• Red Sox DH David Ortiz, to The Boston Globe, on his team's September nosedive: "Nobody's to blame except everybody."
• Budd Bailey of the Buffalo News, on A's GM Billy Beane attending the premiere of Moneyball in Toronto on Friday: "You'd have gone too, just to make sure that Brad Pitt was really playing you in a movie.
• Ian Hamilton of the Regina Leader-Post, after Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini fired his 36th soccer coach in 24 years: "Who knew that 'Zamparini' is Italian for 'Steinbrenner'?"
• Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times reports that Tigers manager Jim Leyland didn't wash - or change - his lucky underwear during his team's recent 12-game win streak. "This might explain the team's great pitching," noted Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com. "No one wanted a visit on the mound."
• Barach again: "The Pittsburgh Pirates clinched their 19th straight losing season. It makes Pirates fans think back to better times. Bill Mazeroski's home run, Roberto Clemente in the outfield, Barry Bonds wearing a size 7 hat."
• Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Pirates for clinching their 19th-straight losing season. The Pirates rallying cry again for next year: "Just finish one game above .500, baby!"
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