The Indians swept the Tigers and won the week as they solidified their hold on first place in the AL Central (Did I mention they are in first place?). This was a very good thing for the (first-place) Indians, who continued their (division-leading) brand of solid, smart, opportunistic (first-place) baseball. The (first-place) Indians have stared down the (third-place) beast that is the (third-place) Tigers lineup, and not blinked. Did I mention they are in first?
But one other thing that remains from the series finale is the last inning thrown by Justin Verlander in Thursday’s game. It was, quite simply, off the proverbial hook.
It was probably the best pitched non-playoff inning I’ve ever seen.
Thursday’s game was kind of like a mini-playoff game in May, with lots of strategy and moves. It’s the kind of game that makes baseball great. The Indians did just what they were told to do when facing Verlander, they just tried to put the ball in play. That, plus the fact Justin Masterson was so good, gave Cleveland a win — and an impressive sweep. But Verlander ended with a statement to remind the Indians that they will have to go through him to win the division.
Watching him in the eighth was downright incredible.
He started the inning throwing mid-90s, and got faster as the inning progressed.
On his 112th pitch of the game, he hit 100. Then he struck out Jason Kipnis throwing 101.
Verlander threw three strikes to Kipnis, and they were 98, 100 and 101 — the last his 113th pitch of the game.
He then faced Asdrubal Cabrera and threw him an 82 mph curveball, but followed with a fastball that hit 102. The next pitch: A nasty curve at 83 that froze Cabrera and had him flipping the bat away as if to say: “I’m helpless against this guy.” Which he was.
Verlander threw 11 pitches that inning, and four were over 100.
Baseball folks call what he did sick or nasty.
It was all that — and more.
The Indians were helpless.
“Amazing,” Indians manager Manny Acta said.
The chart below (from BrooksBaseball.net’s PitchFX tool) shows Verlander’s pitch speed throughout the game. Note how he a) mixes speeds, which continually keeps hitters off balance, and b) how his speed increases as the game goes on. This is not supposed to happen. Guys are supposed to lose strength and speed as the pitch count grows. He did the opposite.
The far right of the chart shows just how unhittable he was against Cabrera. His speed was increasing with each pitch, and the breaking ball he dropped had Cabrera striding into a Burke Airport runway before the pitch was halfway to the plate.
In fact, watch Verlander as he throws strike three to Cabrera. He’s on his way to the dugout before the umpire signals.
This was the most memorable non-playoff inning I’ve seen. Short of Paul Byrd’s double-windup, it might be the best I’ve ever seen.