Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
My brother operates a roller coaster for his summer job.
Justin Verlander is living one.
The cliche we use in sports is "he's having an up and down season." I'm not sure that description is vivid enough to properly portray the range of emotions Verlander has put us through this year.
It's been a memorable season for No. 35. Let's look at some of the highlights ... and lowlights.
March 29: Eager to reward their ace, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski wakes up and decides to roll a wheelbarrow full of money up to Verlander's front door. Justin, who was busy polishing off his MVP trophy at the time, happily accepts, becoming the richest pitcher of all-time in the process. The deal is worth $180 million over seven seasons.
April 1: Verlander, still fat and cocky from his big payday, throws all zeros against the Twins in his season debut. The outing is cut short when Verlander's pitch count balloons to 91 after just five frames. Despite good results, his fastball looks noticeably slower. In fact, his average heater tops out at just 90.9 mph, his lowest velocity in 254 career starts.
April 18: The lanky righthander fails to match Hisashi Iwakuma in an epic pitcher's duel at Safeco Field. He ends up throwing a season-high 126 pitches, striking out 12 with one walk in seven innings. Verlander's record slips to 2-2 for the season.
May 11: Pitching against Cleveland, Verlander struggles with his control from the get-go. He winds up handing out five free passes, his most in a game since 2010 (August 17th versus the Yankees).
May 16: After weeks of teetering on the edge, things finally spiral out of control for Verlander in arguably the worst start of his career. In just 2 2/3 innings against Texas, Verlander surrenders eight runs (all earned) on six hits, lasting just 70 pitches. Geovany Soto's three-run homer is the nail in the coffin. The Rangers' seven-run third inning causes Verlander's season ERA to jump from 1.93 to 3.17.
May 27: Less than two weeks removed from his meltdown versus Texas, Verlander puts together a nice outing against Pittsburgh, stacking up a season-best 13 strikeouts in seven innings. This Pirates team is the same one he tossed a one-hitter against in 2012. Verlander finishes the month with a 6.41 ERA in five starts.
June 8: Being a member of the Verlander clan has its advantages. Just ask brother Ben. On this day, the Tigers take Justin's younger brother (a college outfielder at Old Dominion) in the 14th round of the MLB Draft. Justin shows that he's proud of his baby bro by handing him the keys to a brand new Range Rover (list price: $83,545). So far, Ben is hitting .277 with five steals in 31 games for the Connecticut Tigers (Detroit's Single-A affiliate).
June 12: Verlander turns the lights out on Kansas City, firing seven innings of three-hit ball. Unfortunately, the Tigers' bats fall asleep and Verlander exits the game with the score tied at zero. The no-decision snaps the righthander's four-game winning streak.
June 19: Upton alert. Justin's ex (you may know her from the SI Swimsuit Issue), pushes send on a tweet that some interpret as a jab at Verlander. The tweet is quickly taken down but because social media rules the universe, naturally everyone finds out about it. Meanwhile, Bleacher Report and others try to convince us that this is important. It doesn't work.
July 1: Verlander tells ESPN Radio that he has found a flaw in his mechanics and he vows to fix it. Fantasy owners, Tigers fans and Barack Obama all let out a sigh of relief.
July 7: Verlander is invited to his fifth consecutive All-Star Game. Jim Leyland spends all day on GMail sifting through angry messages from Yankees fans who feel that Hiroki Kuroda (not invited) was more deserving. He proceeds to add six replacements to the American League roster, all with last names other than Kuroda. Red Sox fans across the country stop what they're doing to give Leyland a standing ovation.
July 9: Verlander gets blasted for 12 hits (a season-high) as the Tigers fall 11-4 to the White Sox. So much for fixing his mechanics. Irate Yankees fans assemble outside Jim Leyland's home with weapons they took from Ron Burgundy's Channel 4 news team ("Brick, where did you get a hand grenade?").
July 14: Verlander finishes the first half on a high note ... kind of. It takes the Rangers (the team he got destroyed by two months earlier) 6 2/3 innings to get their first hit, a double by Mitch Moreland. Verlander gets out of the inning unscathed but doesn't come out for the eighth because of "quad tightness." Gasp.
July 16: Still recovering from a quad something or other, Verlander sits out the All-Star Game. He goes to New York anyway and watches the Home Run Derby with his teammates. Mostly, he just hangs out and waves at people because, why not?
July 25: In an effort to frustrate fantasy owners as thoroughly as possible, Verlander gets blown to pieces by the White Sox, allowing 11 hits and seven runs (again, all earned) in six innings. His record falls to 10-8 and fantasy owners who took Verlander ahead of Clayton Kershaw in the draft (including the dude typing all of this) slowly begin to lose faith in humanity.
I'm dizzy. The Verla-coaster rides again next Wednesday versus the Nationals.
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