There are things you can't predict.
When the Detroit Tigers had both Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson in fine fettle and then acquired Jarrod Washburn - this would have been early August - the only pertinent question had nothing to do with the team winning the AL Central, but by how many games.
And then Jackson lost form, not to mention three of his last four starts with bushels of runs allowed in the process. And Washburn was injured. And, suddenly, two things became apparent - the Tigers had no lock on a title and their No. 2 starter was in reality a 20-year-old kid whose total professional resume prior to this season was 24 starts in the Class A Florida State League.
The 2009 regular season goes into extra innings late this afternoon when the Tigers meet the Minnesota Twins in a one-game, winner-take-all playoff for the division title and an ALDS berth vs. the Yankees.
The Tigers feel fortunate to be there and equally fortunate to have Rick Porcello rested and ready to take the ball.
"He's not afraid of anybody or anything," outfielder Ryan Raburn said of Porcello after hitting two home runs in Sunday's 5-3 win over Chicago that snapped a three-game losing streak and sent the Tigers to Minnesota for today's tie-breaker.
"Rick might be 20, but he doesn't have the stuff of somebody who's 20. He throws strikes and he goes after hitters. There's nobody in this room that doesn't think he can do the job."
Porcello is 14-9 and the Tigers are 18-12 in games he has started.
"He's pitched awfully well," said manager Jim Leyland. "I know one thing for a fact. He will not be scared. How will he do? I don't know, but I expect he'll do very well."
Porcello, who is 1-2 against the Twins and 0-2 in Minneapolis, will have to deal with the loudest environment he's ever faced today in the Metrodome.
"I remember being there for the '87 World Series and my wife and I were sitting next to each other and couldn't hear each other talk," Leyland said. "We couldn't have a conversation."
That it could prove to be the final baseball game ever played at the Metrodome should have the fans' vocal chords in World Series-type form.
The Tigers could have avoided today's game with a stronger kick in the final weekend of the regular season and Leyland knows he opened himself to criticism by not moving Verlander and Porcello (8-3 at Comerica Park) up in the rotation for weekend home games against the White Sox. Instead, he started little-used, little-known Alfredo Figaro, who didn't make it out of the second inning on Saturday, and held Verlander for Sunday.
"Justin said he was willing to pitch on three days rest and Porcello even said something to me about going to the bullpen if he was needed," Leyland said. "That's just the kind of guys they are. But those are two young golden arms. There was no way I was going to do anything to risk that. I can't justify that. If we're not good enough, then we're not good enough."
So, it's up to Porcello to be good enough today. Late Sunday afternoon, as the relieved Tigers lounged in their clubhouse watching the end of the Twins game against Kansas City on TV, music blaring, little kids running every which way, noise everywhere, Porcello sat alone in a cocoon of silence, staring into his locker. He was entertaining no visitors, giving no interviews. He was gathering a game face to go along with his 1-2, fastball-slider punch.
Still, facing a Twins team that won 16 of its last 20 games, a team that staved off elimination by beating the Tigers last Thursday - the same pitcher who won that one, Scott Baker, will start today - before sweeping the Royals, a team that has all the momentum and will play at home where it has won seven of nine against Detroit this year, well, it's a load of pressure for a young kid.
"He's been young all year," Leyland said.
End of discussion.
Contact Blade sports columnist
Dave Hackenberg at:email@example.com
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