Into the offseason we go

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As is always the case at this time of year, I’m at a bit of a loss. My brain and body still think it’s baseball season. The hot stove stuff doesn’t seem very real yet. And, even though we’ll totally get into it like crazy now, it does feel like a step down from where we’ve been.

Indeed, I feel like someone who just came back from a grand adventure or a fantastic journey who has trouble slipping back into the ho-hum of daily life. Free agency is fun, but it’s not a baseball game. Damn far from it. And it seems even farther from it this year, what with just how thrilling the playoffs and World Series were.  How did a medieval French soldier go back to farming after surviving the Second Crusade? How did Neil Armstrong teach undergrads at the University of Cincinnati after walking on the moon? How do you come back down from something that harrowing and wonderful?

I have no idea, but onward we must go.

If you missed it over the weekend, we learned that Bud Selig is going to step in and deal with Theo-compensation. We also heard that the Angels’ 2012 payroll isn’t going up.  Jason Giambi and the Rockies decided to stay together, making him one of the only gigantic stars to actually have a third act to his career. The Indians kept Fausto Carmona because they realized that pitching does not grow on trees. The Yankees exercised their options on Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano. Javier Lopez (Giants) and Marco Scutaro (Red Sox) learned that they’d be staying put. In the biggest news so far — though when it’s all done it will likely be no big deal — we learned that CC Sabathia will opt out of his contract.

There will be other twists and turns. Pujols. Darvish. The new collective bargaining agreement. Big splashy free agent signings that we’ll talk about as if Carl Crawford and Adam Dunn never happened. Some deals so minor that we’ll almost completely overlook them as if Mike Napoli never happened. I’ll go to the Winter Meetings and once again realize that it’s far more interesting to talk about them as a happening than it is to talk about what actually happens there. I’ll devote a solid two weeks to alienating the entire professional baseball press when I rail against the Hall of Fame voting.  I assume that a good two dozen guys will be in The Best Shape of Their Lives. It will all be fun. And within a few days I’ll be totally into it and the 2011 season will seem like a distant memory.

But I’m not quite there yet.  For now, I want to close my eyes and try to recapture the wonder of everything we just experienced. I want to savor the 2011 season for one last moment before it ceases to be a present happening and, instead, becomes forever consigned to history …

… There. OK. Forward. Onward. Into the offseason we go.

Video: Justin Verlander reaches career mark with 270th strikeout

Justin Verlander
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Justin Verlander is approaching the tail end of a fantastic year with the Astros — arguably one of his best in the last decade — and on Saturday, he kicked off his last regular season start at Minute Maid Park with a strikeout, his 270th of the year. While that’s still a few shy of Max Scherzer‘s league-best mark of 290, it was a new personal record for Verlander, who had yet to beat the previous career record he set with 269 strikeouts in 2009.

Verlander’s moment arrived at the top of the first inning on a seven-pitch called strikeout against the Angels’ Kole Calhoun. Cole worked a 2-2 count, then fouled off a pair of 95-MPH fastballs before missing the seventh and final pitch at the top of the strike zone.

Jose Fernandez battled twice as long in the next at-bat, albeit with far more disastrous results. His 14-pitch duel against the Astros’ righty ended when he caught a fastball on his hand and was forced to come out of the game.

After expending a total of 27 pitches in the first inning, however, Verlander returned in the second to strike out the side, then logged another pair of strikeouts in the third. With six strikeouts through three innings, he boosted his season strikeout total to 275 — just a hair above fellow Houston righty Gerrit Cole (and all other AL pitchers), who previously led the team with 272 whiffs on the year.