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ALCS Gm1: Verlander solid in tough loss to Rangers

ARLINGTON -- Justin Verlander looked at Alex Avila in the Tigers' dugout and smiled as the raindrops fell. Considering he was in the same spot eight days earlier, there wasn't much else Verlander could do.

"I saw him smile at me like, 'I can't believe this,'" Avila said after the Tigers' 3-2 loss to the Rangers on Saturday night to open the American League Championship Series. "I mean, it hasn't rained here in 160-something days and it picked today to rain? But, I mean, you can't control that."

For the second time this postseason, the rain chased Verlander from the opener of a series, a game the Tigers eventually lost. Unlike last Friday at Yankee Stadium, the hitters got in their licks, as well.

When it rains, it pours. When the rain finally stopped, it didn't feel much better, not for the Tigers.

"Quite frustrating," Verlander said. "I really felt as a team, we were starting to get into a rhythm there. We were starting to swing the bats better, and it just killed the momentum. Obviously, that was a tough situation, but that's what you've got to do."

Verlander wasn't the great equalizer for the Tigers in this series, but he was the guy to set the course. When manager Jim Leyland got through Game 5 of the AL Division Series win over the Yankees without using his ace, he set up Verlander for two starts in the ALCS, beginning here.

Verlander wasn't terrible, and he wasn't dominant. Realistically, he didn't pitch long enough to make a great determination either way, thanks to one hour, 50 minutes of rain delays in the top of the fifth inning. But the way the Tigers struggled to convert runners in scoring position, it was going to take a dominant outing to keep them in the game.

David Murphy's RBI triple and run in the second inning and Nelson Cruz's 392-foot drive to left field in the fourth put Texas in command, while Verlander was battling command issues with his upper-90s fastball.

The first rain delay actually came at the right time for Verlander, giving him a chance to head underneath the stands and work out his mechanics.

"His control was not very good," Leyland said. "He didn't have his curveball going for strikes. He had a tough time with it, I think probably trying to overthrow it a little bit."

Not many pitchers can correct that indoors. But add that to Verlander's list.

"Just a little flaw in my mechanics that I worked on in there," Verlander said. "I threw like seven or eight perfect pitches in a row, and I was excited to go out there. But I didn't have the opportunity."

Still, the Tigers had the opportunity to get the lead coming out of the first delay. It was their second situation with the bases loaded and one out. It ended up with a similar result.

Texas lefty C.J. Wilson stranded five Detroit baserunners over the first two innings, including the bases loaded in the first on a Magglio Ordonez double play, but Ramon Santiago's leadoff double in the fifth gave the Tigers one more chance. Though Wilson induced a Brandon Inge groundout in his first pitch out of the first delay, he fell behind the next three hitters and paid with an Austin Jackson RBI double, back-to-back walks over nine pitches and a wild pitch that scored Jackson on an 0-2 delivery to Victor Martinez.

With the tying run on third and go-ahead run on second, Wilson recovered for a Martinez comebacker, then intentionally walked Ordonez to set up a lefty-on-lefty confrontation with Avila. Mother Nature had other plans.

"If C.J. would have got out of that fifth inning in good fashion, I probably would have him back out there," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "But the way it worked out, he had certainly exhausted all of his pitches once the second rain delay came, and we just brought in [Mike] Gonzalez."

The Tigers knew the plan as soon as they saw Alexi Ogando warming alongside Gonzalez in the Rangers bullpen after the tarp came off. Considering Ogando's 3-0 record and 1.29 ERA against the Tigers in three starts earlier this year, they knew they probably had to get their runs off Gonzalez.

All the while, Avila was waiting. He said he was sitting in the dugout, reading a magazine, not thinking about the pitcher.

"I mean, honestly, it really doesn't affect me," he said. "I knew there was going to be a left-hander in there, whether it was going to be him or [a reliever]. I didn't think they were going to bring back Wilson after the second rain delay but, you know, it's the same situation."

Gonzalez induced an Avila grounder on the second pitch of the confrontation. The Tigers stranded nine runners for the night, and they went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. None reached there against the Rangers bullpen, starting with two hitless innings and three strikeouts from Ogando.

"Same thing," Miguel Cabrera said. "He's strong."

Now, the Tigers are looking to set their course for the rest of the series. They have to figure out when Verlander can start again, whether it's Game 5 as originally planned or Game 4 in place of Rick Porcello, who tossed two scoreless innings after the rain.

Until then, it's up to Max Scherzer in Game 2 and Doug Fister in Game 3 to try to help the Tigers rebound after a Verlander loss. They bounced back in the last round quite nicely, but they had Verlander coming back to pitch Game 3 in that set.

"Everybody says, 'Well, if Verlander didn't get the win, this team is beat.' That's not the case, not the case whatsoever," Verlander said. "Guys behind me are going to come in and show everybody what they've got."

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