KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The All-Star Game hadn’t produced a first-inning meltdown like the one Justin Verlander had Tuesday night since 2004, when Roger Clemens surrendered six runs in a highly anticipated start before his hometown fans in Houston.
Verlander, the American League’s reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner, gave up five first-inning runs, and with the way the National League has pitched in recent years, that lead looked insurmountable.
The N.L. – which had held the A.L. to one run in winning the two previous years – was dominant again, winning 8-0 as 11 pitchers combined for the shutout.
Verlander had given up only six first-inning runs in 18 starts for the Tigers this year. Only one team scored multiple first-inning runs off the right-hander, and that was the Yankees, who jumped out of the gate with two on June 3.
Verlander’s forte has been his ability to save his hardest pitches for big, late-inning jams. He came out against the Twins in his July 4 complete game throwing 91 miles per hour in the first inning.
This time, in his first All-Star start, he clearly was overamped. His first two pitches were 97 and 98 mph. He hit 100 mph six times in the 35-pitch inning, hitting 101 once.
“That’s why I don’t try to throw 100 all the time,” Verlander said. “It usually doesn’t work out too well for me. I know this game is important, that it’s for home-field advantage, but it’s for the fans. They don’t want to see me throw 90 and paint corners. They want to see a 100-mph fastball. I gave ’em that.”
But he kept missing his mark, issuing two walks in the middle of the inning, as the N.L. sent nine batters to the plate.
Ryan Braun hit an RBI double, giving the N.L. a 1-0 lead, and Pablo Sandoval made it 4-0 with a two-out, three-run triple off the right-field wall. Dan Uggla added an RBI single before Verlander got Rafael Furcal to ground to second base, ending the inning.
“Obviously, home-field advantage is big, but hey, I wasn’t out there trying to give up runs,” Verlander said. “It’s not how I normally pitch, and it really messed me up.”
It didn’t sound as if Verlander was going to let the outing spoil his trip.
“I was able to laugh about it right away,” he said.