Martin Fennelly Columns
Verlander, Price bring heat to Trop tonight
ST. PETERSBURG - The other day, they exchanged text messages. "You pitching Friday?" "Yeah. You?" "Yeah. I can't talk to you anymore.""That was me, the last one. I was just kidding," Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander said Thursday at Tropicana Field. His text buddy was Rays left-hander David Price. They know each other. Meet up at All-Star games, I guess. Tonight, Verlander, 29, and Price, 26, currently two of the best pitchers in the world, with Verlander up ahead, on top, will have a throw down. It's worth seeing. If you think of it, bring a radar gun. Me? I'd pay just to hear these guys' fastballs. Plus it's Zim Bear night. "It's one of those marquee matchups," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. It doesn't matter that the injury-riddled Rays are losing their grip or that Detroit is scuffling below .500. If you love baseball — and pitching — this is your kind of night. "And maybe you can even plan on doing something after the game — it might go by fast," Rays infielder Elliot Johnson said. The heat is on. There's Price, 26, who should make his third All-Star team and who has regained his 2010 form, when he was runner-up in AL Cy Young voting. He's 10-4 with a 2.95 ERA and, according to one source, Fan Graphs, owns the second-highest fastball velocity in the majors at 95.4 mph, behind only Washington sensation Stephen Strasburg. Then there's Verlander, The Man, who throws 100 miles per hour in his sleep, who has two no-hitters in his career and narrowly missed his third just last month. Next month, Verlander will probably start the All-Star game. Last season, he only was voted both the MVP and Cy Young of his league. That hadn't happened in 25 years. He won 24 games, with 250 strikeouts and a 2.40 ERA. He's right back at it in 2012: eight wins, 2.52 ERA, the AL leader in strikeouts and innings. Price on Verlander: "I think he has a streak of 60 straight starts or something of at least six innings. That's pretty tough to do. He's a workhorse. He's been that way ever since he's been in the league." To be accurate, Verlander has only had 58 consecutive starts lasting six innings or more, the longest since Hall of Famer Steve Carlton made 69 of them for the Phillies, the last in 1982. Verlander on Price: "I see someone who's extremely aggressive with his fastball. He's got a great one, so why not?" It doesn't mean they're only about fastballs. They have loads of pitches. And it doesn't mean either of them is unbeatable. The Rays stunned Verlander in the ninth inning in Detroit in April — after he'd held them to one hit through eight. In his next start, Verlander pitched a complete game to beat the Royals, hitting 100 mph to end the game with a strikeout — on his 131st pitch. Did we mention to bring a radar gun? In his last start, Price was clocked doing 100 mph on one pitch in his win at the Phillies. It was no little thing. Understand, guys who hit 100 aren't really all that shy about talking about it. Why should they be? Price thought of Verlander, Mr. 100. "He does it in the ninth inning — all the time." That's a Koufax-Ryan orbit. "I don't throw it early, but that's on purpose," Verlander said. "It's always been that way for me since I was little. I got stronger as the game went on. I think most guys maintain their velocity, but it's pretty rare to increase your velocity." His topper? "103, in Oakland, rookie year, my second or third time out," Verlander said. He hits 100 all the time now. It's still pretty cool. "It's empowering, I guess," Verlander said. "People notice." There was this game in Cleveland, the Tigers were down late and he started bringing it. "It got to the point where I was just airing it out," Verlander said. "One batter, I think I went 100, 101, 102. I could tell by the crowd. The noise they made for 102 was different than the noise they made for 100. It was pretty cool. But I've done a lot of hard work to get myself here. This is what I want to be, right here." He'll be here tonight. So will David Price, who has been bumping into a lot of other No. 1 starters lately. "I think it's unlucky," Price said. "But it's fun. It's what you envision as a little kid, you're going up against somebody else's big guy and getting that win." Price-Verlander. Lucky us. Text a friend.