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Saturday, May 19, 2012

The one where Leyland gushes about JV's near no-hitter ...

A crusty veteran of nearly a half-century of baseball, Tigers manager Jim Leyland doesn't gush like a fan very often ...

But sometimes he gets on a roll. Like Saturday, in the aftermath of ace Justin Verlander's near no-hitter. Leyland's pregame press briefing lasted 22 minutes, much of which the skipper went on and on about Verlander's performance, which Leyland called "the best I've ever seen."

[If you missed it, here's my column from Friday]

Here are his own words:

Q: You said it was among the best games you could remember Verlander throwing?
"Electric was what you saw last night. That’s electric.
"That’s the best I’ve ever seen. In my personal opinion, that was the best game he’s pitched since 2006. I mean, you talk about a masterpiece, that’s taking it to a different level. That’s freaky (crap)."

Q: Will you watch the replay of the game?
"I’m not much into stuff like that. I did save the (lineup) card for Justin and he didn’t even want it. I’m sure he probably would’ve taken it if it was a no-hitter. I save it, though. I offered it to him this morning, but he didn’t care about it. Matter of fact, I think I threw it away. If we don’t start doing better, maybe I’ll take it out of there and sell. I might need some money."

Q: What signaled to you that it was his best game?
"I just thought last night that the slider might’ve been the best I’ve ever seen. He threw some nasty sliders last night, as well as curveballs and changeups. That’s a freak show. That was unbelievable to me, to watch that game. If you watch that game, it was amazing to me how he started out throwing good and as the game went on from the third inning on, it looked like he could smell it. And, that’s usually pretty early to smell a no-hitter.
"That was just the best I’ve ever seen. He threw some nasty sliders last night, as well as curveballs and change-ups, then 100 mph. Like I said, that’s a freakshow. I hate to term it like that, probably get in trouble, but that’s a freakshow.
"That was unbelievable to me, watching that.
"If you watched that game, it was amazing to me how he just kind of started out, throwin’ good, and as the game went on, from about the third inning on — I don’t know that he’d ever admit this, and there’s no sense asking — but from the third inning on, it looked like to me, he could smell it. And that’s usually pretty early to smell a no-hitter.
"It looked like to me, in the third, then in the fourth, in the fifth, then by the sixth inning, there was no doubt in my mind, if you just looked at his face, coming off, going on the mound, it was total ‘I got a shot.’
"One of my buddies from Kentucky called me this morning, and said he couldn’t believe it. He said, if you saw him, the concentration level, he was locating ... I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it.
"That’s probably the best game I’ve ever seen pitched. And I’ve seen a lot of games. Over 3,000.
"I mean, I don’t know how to explain that. That’s freaky (bleep)."

Q: You guys worked with him for years ... “I worked with him just before the game yesterday. We tweaked a couple things,” a joking Leyland interjected midquestion, finishing with, “Nah, I don't tell him a (bleeping thing)” ... you talked with him about knowing where his outs were. Is that a case of him doing that? 
"I can remember this as if it was yesterday. We had tried it some, but I can remember when we went and played the New York Mets, Tom Seaver came in to see me, and I brought Verlander in to talk to him. Now, don’t write a big story about this like Tom Seaver’s taking credit, or I’m taking credit, but I just wanted him to listen to Tom Seaver talk a little bit.
"I know he listened. Did it sink in? I don’t know. I’m not saying that. But I’m just making a point that we’ve tried to get him over the years, not to be full-throttle from the first inning on.
He’s come leaps and bounds in every area. The way he’s handled everything, with the national attention, and all the publicity, notoriety — this guy’s one of the top five names in baseball right now; I mean, that’s my opinion.
"So the way he’s handled that has been beautiful. That’s not easy to do. I had the same problem when I hit .279 my senior year in high school, there was (bleeping) people on my (butt) all the time.
"No, I’m telling you, the way he’s handled this has been unbelievable." 

Q: Does being the way he is make him easier or harder to manage?
"He’s very easy to manage because he’s so good, but he’s very tough to manage because, when you see the pitch count starting to get there, and your (butt) is on the line as the manager, that makes it a little more difficult.
"People don’t understand that, but I’m holding my (breath) every (bleeping) game he pitches.
"That’s a treasure. I don’t want to mess with that treasure ... or any other pitcher I’ve got. We’ve tried to really to take care of them. I always have, and I always will. Sometimes to the tune of getting second-guessed a lot.
"I’ve gotta be careful with it. I asked him in the office — he thinks he can throw 175 pitches. And he’s dead serious.
"I told him, that’ll never happen, as long as I’m here. A week from now, that could happen, if we don’t get better. But it ain’t gonna happen under my watch.
"I asked him one day, ‘How many do you think you can throw?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, I never really ... 170? 175?’
"He’s a treat, obviously. But there’s a little pressure on you, when you manage his games.
"Most guys go from 95, then by the seventh inning, they’re down around 92, 91. This guy goes from 92 to 94 to 95 in the middle, to 99 to 100 late. That’s why it’s a freaky thing.
"I’ve never seen anything like it.

"I’ve never seen a better pitched game than that one last night. Never.
"If you watch Verlander sometimes — and this is what people don’t realize sometimes: The average person sees 98 on the scoreboard, but they don’t see the same 98 I do. I see the difference between the 98 that is more effort and the 98 that’s a little more effortless. There’s a major difference in that.
"He got to 98, 100, it was like fluid. It wasn’t muscling way up. If you really watched close, you could see it.
"That’s (bleeping) amazing to me. It’s amazing."

Q: Can you tell early if he’s got no-hit stuff? "I wasn’t thinking about a no-hitter, to be honest with you, at all. Until about the sixth inning.
"Still, it’s so hard to do, you’re saying ‘Oh, (crap), somebody’s going to get a hit.’ You’re trying to maybe use reverse psychology, or what. Somebody’s gotta to get a hit. Then, all of a sudden, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, you say ‘(Crap), he gets the first out in the ninth ... but he just had them all going. When you’ve got them all going, it’s pretty tough.

Q: Most people don’t think how tough a 1-hitter is ... "Anybody that was here last night, probably saw one of the best games ever pitched in baseball, I would think.
"There was one — it certainly wasn’t a great play, but it was a nice play that Donnie Kelly made; It wasn’t a great play, but it was a real nice play. But normally in those no-hitters, you see somebody that pulls one out of their (butt), or dives and makes a shoe-string catch. You know, some infielder comes in on a chopper, shortstop bare-hands it, and gets the guy by an eyelash. You normally see that. Last night, it was just total dominance."  

Q: Have you ever managed a pitcher that had a chance to throw a no-no every time out? "Well, I don’t think he has much of a chance to throw a no-hitter when he goes out there. I don’t really look at it that way, because of what you just said — it’s just too difficult to do. Somebody’s going to bloop one. I mean, these guys are pretty good hitters.
"I mean, Neil Walker hit a line shot at Boesch that was probably the hardest-hit ball of the night, I would think. It happened to be right at him. It could’ve been down the line or something, but it wasn’t.
"I’ve never seen anything like that. I mean, this is dominant stuff, plus a 100 mph fastball to go with it. That was pretty impressive."

Q: How impressed with the Pirates hitters fighting off no-hitter? "Let’s put it this way: Nobody likes to get no-hit. So I think that’s another part of the impressive thing that Verlander did. They were grinding their (butt) off in at-bats. They were fighting their (butt) off. "They were battling their (butt) off to get him, which is what they should’ve been doing. And they were.
"It wasn’t like Pittsburgh said ‘Oh, (crap). We got no chance.’ They went up there, and they were bearing down. ... It wasn’t like they were swinging bad, it was just that he just totally dominated them.
"I mean, their little catcher (Michael McKenry) put a couple balls in play halfway decent. With two strikes, you could see him spread out, choke up a little bit, try to put a line-drive stroke on it. That’s one of the other things that was impressive about it.
"It wasn’t like these guys were saying ‘Holy (crap), we’ve got no chance.’ They were fighting their (butt) off. Neil Walker was pissed off when he got called out on strikes. They were fighting their (butt) off."


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