Several years ago, I got a home Tigers jersey. Since then, I ironed on an Ernie Harwell memorial patch, but never got around to having a name put on the back.
This is probably a good thing, because if I had personalized the jersey around the time it was purchased, I probably would have put the number 29 of bespectacled also-ran Nate Robertson. Before you judge, think about how many Tigers there have been with red hair and glasses over the years.
That's the thing about jerseys ... you never know when the name on the back might lose its luster. Believe me, I know. Right next to the blank Tigers jersey is a Packers jersey ... number: 4; name: FAVRE.
I'm waiting for the Packers to retire Favre's number before dusting off that one. I can do that, because the image of a legend is timeless. And if I ever get a name for my Tigers jersey, it's going to be the 35 of Justin Verlander.
Verlander collected his 18th victory with relative ease Tuesday against the Twins, a win that helped Detroit extend its lead in the American League Central back to three games. Of course, it shrunk back to two after Minnesota took the series finale Wednesday. The guy can't pitch every time out, unfortunately.
The highlight moment from Tuesday's game for me was watching Verlander baffle Justin Morneau on one of his physics-defying curveballs, followed by a shot of Morneau rolling his eyes on the way back to the dugout.
It's been a season full of that for Verlander, and Tigers fans. I missed his no-hitter in Toronto in May, as I was at a weekend retreat. I was following the game on the Internet during some free time, but had to leave the WiFi area during the ninth inning to do a job. I like to believe that the rainbow that appeared in the sky a few minutes later was proof that God is a Tigers fan. It's been that kind of season for Verlander. Then again, I'd also like to believe the Almighty has better things to do than meddle with May baseball.
WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement and is an advanced mathematical calculation of a player's value (in victories) to his team above that of an average player. Verlander's WAR at this point in the season is already 6.6, surpassed only by that of Blue Jay slugger Jose Bautista - and Verlander only plays once every five days.
Perhaps more important than Wins Above Replacement is Irreplaceable Wins. Detroit is 14-3 in games Verlander has started after a loss, including Tuesday.
In a 162-game season, the difference between excellent and excrement is very small. The best team in baseball, the Phillies, have a .653 winning percentage. The worst, Houston, is at .323. If this were the NFL, a .653 season is between 10 and 11 wins, while .323 is about a 5-11 campaign. 10-6 might not even get you a Wild Card these days and 5-11 surely won't get you No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Even the 2003 Tigers, a complete disaster of a team, went home winners 43 times. The 2008 Lions would have killed for that much success.
In a situation like that, the most critical weapon to have is a stopper. But when you can field a horse like Verlander every fifth day, the odds of that killer eight-game skid go way down.
That's why I don't think Cleveland or Chicago will catch the Tigers in the AL Central this year. Yeah, Detroit is a flawed team (as Wednesday's defensive foibles proved), but they've got an anchor for the storm. Neither Cleveland nor Chicago has Justin Verlander or a reasonable facsimile. And as we all learned in 2006, once you get to the playoffs, all bets are off.
Granted, Bill Simmons of ESPN.com said that the only way the Tigers would beat the Red Sox in a best-of-seven series was if Verlander started six games, but given what he's meant to the team, why not?
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.