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Verlander to Open Game 1 for Tigers Saturday

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    NEWSLETTERS

    So what that the Texas Rangers won their only game this season against Detroit Tigers when ace Justin Verlander was on the mound.

    That was six months ago. This is Game 1 of the AL championship series.

    "Too long ago," manager Ron Washington, dismissing any advantage the win in April might give his Rangers in the ALCS opener.

    "He throws about 120," Josh Hamilton, last season's AL MVP, said with a grin. "First of all, he's human. So he can either be on or be off. But what makes him good is he locates his pitches when he's on. He's got a 12-to-6 hammer and he throws 95 -- 101 when he wants to. So it puts a lot of different things in your mind if you allow it to."

    Even though Verlander lost at home to the Rangers in April, that was in a 2-0 complete game.

    Plus, the big right-hander who won 24 games during the regular season has never lost at the hitter's paradise known as Rangers Ballpark, where Verlander is 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his three starts and will face the defending American League champions Saturday night.

    After remaining a spectator and cheering teammates in the Tigers' AL division series clincher Thursday night against the Yankees in New York, Verlander is back on his normal routine.

    The ALCS opener comes on the fifth day after his Game 3 start in the AL division series. He struck out 11 over eight innings in a victory that was a restart of sorts since rain halted the series opener of aces after only 1½ innings.

    "It was definitely a little odd situation we ran into. But that's behind us," Verlander said Friday. "It was definitely tough (watching). Any time that you know you're not going to have anything to do with the outcome of the game, it's difficult. It's just like being a fan, except there's a little bit more in it for me personally being on the team."

    Detroit manager Jim Leyland was steadfast in sticking with the decision not to use Verlander, who had volunteered to pitch in relief in the ALDS clincher.

    "Obviously that was important for him starting Game 1 for us," catcher Alex Avila said. "You can't ask for anything more."

    The Rangers, in their second consecutive ALCS after having never won a postseason series before last year, counter with C.J. Wilson.

    The left-hander won 16 games in the regular season, but he allowed eight runs (six earned) in five innings in losing the playoff opener against Tampa Bay on Sept. 30, the same day the initial matchup between Verlander and CC Sabathia got wet.

    "That particular game was my first bad game I had in a while. I had of lot of really good games leading up to the playoffs," Wilson said. "It was unfortunate. I had extra rest. ... I feel like it gives me a chance to get back in my routine and execute."

    Sabathia, who didn't make it through the sixth inning Monday, made the first relief appearance in his professional career in Game 5 of the ALDS.

    The only pitching Verlander did Thursday was a bullpen session before the game. He said he "felt normal, felt great" three days after some of the last of his 120 pitches in Game 3 were still hitting 100 mph on the stadium radar gun.

    "I was definitely a little bit more sore than normal," Verlander said about how he felt the day after the game. "More so my body and everything than my arm. My arm was pretty normal."

    Leyland never wavered on his decision to hold out Verlander, even though they were seen smiling in the dugout near the lineup card during the game.

    "I thought that was basically a common sense decision," Leyland said. "There were also some combinations that played in that. (Max) Scherzer won two games at Yankee Stadium this year. Scherzer was more rested. ... Verlander was real assertive in the game he pitched. He was throwing 100 mph in the eighth inning. That's real dangerous. The combination that was a no-brainer."

    In the middle of their clubhouse celebration after the game, Leyland approached Verlander.

    "He came up to me and said something along the lines, 'You never trust your skipper, do you? It worked out all right, didn't it?"' Verlander said, smiling.

    After Verlander, the Tigers are going with Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello.

    Derek Holland will start Game 2 on Sunday for Texas, while Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison are set for the first two games in Detroit.

    The Rangers won three consecutive games against the Rays to wrap up that series Tuesday. They then had a day off before working out at home Thursday while waiting to see who and where they would play the ALCS opener.

    The Tigers had to play late into Thursday night at Yankee Stadium to win, then didn't get to their hotel in Texas until about 5:40 a.m. Friday.

    "We're still winding down. We probably wouldn't even be here today if it wasn't mandatory," Leyland said.

    Texas has home-field advantage after winning a franchise-record 96 games, just one game better than the Tigers in the regular season after both teams played so well the final month. The Rangers won six in a row and 12 of 14 to end the regular season, while Detroit won 20 of 25 down the stretch.

    Detroit won the season series 6-3.

    Reliever-turned-starter Alexi Ogando threw seven shutout innings in his second career start in that April game against Verlander.

    Ogando was the starter and winner for all three victories against Detroit, though Washington said the right-hander will remain in the bullpen for the ALCS, as he was against the Rays for three scoreless appearances.

    The April series in Detroit was the one when AL MVP Josh Hamilton broke a bone in his right arm on a headfirst dive trying to score on a daring dash to an uncovered plate on a foul popout. Hamilton missed six weeks, but still hit .298 with 25 homers -- fifth on the team -- and 94 RBIs.

    When the Rangers went back to Detroit in August, they were without All-Star third baseman Adrian Beltre and lost two of three again.

    "You can forget the season series, the fact that we won that," Leyland said. "We may have missed a couple of star players. Certainly that had something to do with it. You can throw that out of the window. This is a tremendous team, a very versatile team."