Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander perseveres as Tigers send Yankees to the brink of elimination

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When Justin Verlander gave up two runs and threw 21 pitches in the first inning tonight, it didn’t look like he would be long for this ballgame. Fortunately for the Tigers, he was just getting warmed up.

While CC Sabathia walked a season-high six batters and failed to make it out of the sixth inning, Verlander ended up striking out 11 over eight innings as the Tigers beat the Yankees 5-4 to grab a 2-1 series lead in the ALDS.

Delmon Young played the role of unlikely hero, slugging a go-ahead solo home run off Rafael Soriano in the bottom of the seventh inning to put the Tigers ahead for good. Jose Valverde, who labored Sunday’s win by throwing 34 pitches, survived another shaky ninth inning to lock down the save. He struck out Derek Jeter with runners on first and second to end it.

With their season on the line, the Yankees will now send A.J. Burnett to the hill Tuesday night against Rick Porcello. In other words, God help us all.

Notes

– Verlander really found a groove in the middle part of the ballgame, retiring 13 out of 15 batters from the third inning into the seventh, including seven strikeouts. The Yankees tied the game in the seventh on a two-run double by Brett Gardner, but the Tigers took the lead back in the next half inning on the home run by Young.

– Verlander cracked 100 mph on five straight pitches in the eighth inning, topping out at 101 mph. That’s right. In the eighth inning. Incredible.

– Remember when Buster Olney tweeted before the ballgame that CC Sabathia was 6-0 with a 2.19 ERA with Jerry Davis behind the plate? Well, that little factoid was rendered meaningless tonight. While some claimed that the big southpaw was getting squeezed, it was pretty obvious that he just didn’t have it. He was charged with four runs over 5 1/3 innings, but it could have been much worse. I was honestly surprised to see him back out there for the sixth inning.

– What’s with all the bunting, Jim Leyland? Ramon Santiago failed in his initial attempt to get a sacrifice down in the second inning, but that was actually a blessing in disguise for the Tigers, as he followed it with an RBI single. Then, with Sabathia on the ropes in the sixth, we saw a sacrifice bunt from Alex Avila of all people. Really? They were fortunate that didn’t come back to bite them.

– You want to nitpick that Rafael Soriano shouldn’t have come back out for the seventh after getting the final two outs in the sixth? Fine. But I have a bigger problem throwing a first-pitch fastball to Delmon Young.

– Russell Martin was hit in the ribs by a 100 mph fastball from Justin Verlander in the top of the seventh inning. No big deal. Shook it off and walked down to first base. Respect.

– Jorge Posada drew two huge walks late in the ballgame, including one with two outs in the two-run seventh and another with one out in the ninth.

– Actual quote from TBS broadcaster John Smoltz, presently completely out of context for maximum enjoyment: “That is a shagging dream.”

– Alex Rodriguez drew two walks and had an RBI groundout in the first inning, but is now 0-for-10 in the series. Mark Teixeira went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and is batting .091 (1-for-11) during the series.

Jose Bautista: “I haven’t had to” pay for a meal in Toronto since famous bat flip

Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista flips his bat after hitting a three-run home run against the Texas Rangers during the seventh inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Division Series, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Arguably the most memorable moment of the 2015 season came in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the ALDS between the Blue Jays and Rangers. The game was tied 3-3, but the Jays were threatening with runners on the corners and two outs. Jose Bautista launched a 1-1 Sam Dyson fastball for a no-doubt tie-breaking three-run home run that would send the Jays into the ALCS to face the eventual world champion Royals.

Bautista didn’t immediately run to first base after hitting the home run. He admired it, looked at Dyson, and then flipped his bat triumphantly. As far as bat flips go, it was a 10 out of 10. Yasiel Puig was proud.

The six-time All-Star admitted “I haven’t had to” pay for a meal in Toronto since that moment in the ALDS, as Jonah Birenbaum notes for The Score. Bautista also served as the assistant coach for musician Drake at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. As Drew noted earlier, Bautista had a pretty nice view at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest as well.

The Jays are hopeful to sign Bautista, 35, to a multi-year extension. In six seasons since breaking out with the club in 2010, he has hit .268/.390/.555 with 227 home runs and 582 RBI in 3,604 plate appearances. No one has hit more home runs since the start of the 2010 season, as Miguel Cabrera is the closest at 199. And only Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Robinson Cano, and Albert Pujols have driven in more runs in that span of time. It’s easy to see why, despite his age, the Jays want to keep Bautista around a little while longer.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros did talk long-term contract

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Dallas Keuchel‘s agent Darek Braunecker told MLB Network Radio in early January that he had not engaged in any long-term contract negotiations with the Astros’ front office. Two weeks later, the sides reached a one-year, $7.25 million agreement, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. So was a bigger financial commitment ever discussed?

Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has the answer, writing in his offseason review that the “Astros and Keuchel have had substantial talks about extensions [this winter] … but to no avail.”

Keuchel carries all the leverage in the world after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with a 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, and 216/51 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. He also made three appearances in the postseason to a 2.57 ERA in 14 frames.

Keuchel’s $7.25 million salary for 2016 will be a record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locking up some of his free agent years (2019, 2020, 2021, etc.) would likely take a commitment of $120 million or more.

Houston has the 28-year-old left-hander under contractual control through 2018, and it sounds like the plan is to go season-to-season with his salaries.

He’ll remain a huge value to a good-looking Astros team.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.