DETROIT - The St. Louis Cardinals pounded rookie Justin Verlander as if he were a piata.
The Redbirds shattered the hard-throwing right-hander's confidence early in the game.
They punctured a hole in his heater.
Two big blasts were all it took to cool off the 23-year-old Verlander and the red-hot Detroit Tigers.
Scott Rolen's solo homer in the second tied the game, and reigning NL MVP Albert Pujols followed with a two-run shot in the third.
That was all the offense the Cardinals would need in handing Verlander and the Tigers a 7-2 loss last night at Comerica Park.
Rolen and Pujols both connected on fastballs from Verlander that were up and out over the plate.
Verlander didn't have his best stuff. His fastball, clocked at 100 mph in his two previous playoff starts, topped out in the mid-90s.
Pitching to Pujols was a big mistake. It made no sense.
Chris Duncan had just given St. Louis a 2-1 lead in the third with a two-out double.
First base was open when Pujols stepped to the plate.
With Jim Edmonds due up next, most figured the Tigers would walk Pujols - one of the league's premier power hitters - and go after Edmonds.
Verlander didn't back down. He challenged Pujols, a .324 hitter in the playoffs who had just
one RBI in the Cardinals' last nine postseason games.
Pujols hammered Verlander's first offering into the seats in right field, scoring Duncan from second.
"I take full responsibility for that," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "It's the manager's decision to pitch to Pujols or walk him. I pitched to him, and obviously he burned us. I take the bullet there, and we'll just leave it at that."
Verlander, who also had an errant pickoff throw in the sixth, never recovered.
Nor did the Tigers, who had their seven-game postseason winning streak snapped and looked very rusty after a week-long layoff.
Detroit had outscored its opponents 40-15 during that stretch while posting a 2.14 ERA.
But that all went out the window quicker than you could say Verlander last night.
Pitching on nine days rest, he lasted just five-plus innings. He struck out eight, but allowed six hits and seven runs (six earned). And his postseason ERA ballooned to 10.80.
"I thought he was very tentative and really didn't attack them early, and that was kind of disappointing," Leyland said.
Verlander, 8-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 14 starts at home this season, wasn't even the best rookie pitcher on the field.
St. Louis' Anthony Reyes, whose five regular-season wins were the fewest of any Game 1 starter in World Series history, took control after giving up a two-out RBI single to Carlos Guillen in the first.
Reyes, who wasn't on the Cardinals' NL division series roster and pitched just once in the NL championship series, was brilliant, retiring 17 consecutive batters at one point.
The 25-year-old right-hander, who won just two road games all year, tamed the free-swinging Tigers on four hits and two runs in eight-plus innings.
He also handed them their first home playoff loss in five games.
"I don't know if I can top this," Reyes said. "This is the best thing that's happened to me in my career."
To add insult to injury, Reyes was a 13th-round pick of the Tigers in the 2002 amateur draft, but he elected to return to Southern Cal for his senior season. He was drafted by the Cardinals in the 15th round the following year and signed with them.
Reyes not only had a coming-out party on the grandest stage of all last night, he burst the Tigers' World Series bubble.
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