If five was ever Justin Verlander‘s lucky number, it isn’t this morning. The Tigers All-Star and reigning MVP gave up five earned runs in the first (and his last) inning of Tuesday’s All-Star Game. That’s obviously a rare occurrence. How rare? That’s why you come to The Hardball Times: so borderline-obsessive stats-craving fans like me can tell you just how rare.
Looking at it from the Midsummer Classic angle, it’s only been eight years since a pitcher gave up five runs or more in a single frame of an All-Star Game. That’s when Roger Clemens got shelled for six in the first inning of the 2004 game. There are, however, two mitigating factors to Rocket’s debacle. One, only three of the runs were earned. Two, his catcher was Mike Piazza, victim of an infamous Clemens beanball and an even more infamous bat-splinter chuck (which sounds like Batman’s worst utility belt device). It’s very strongly suspected that Piazza was tipping Clemens’ pitches to the AL batters in an act of retribution. You may believe or not as you wish.
For five earned runs hung on one pitcher in an inning, we have to go back to 1983, when San Francisco’s Atlee Hammaker gave up seven runs, all earned, in two-thirds of the third inning against the American League. The capper to that fireworks show was Fred Lynn‘s grand slam, the only one in All-Star Game history. Probably not as rare as Pablo Sandoval getting that bases-clearing triple against Verlander, but still pretty historic.
As for how often this has happened to Verlander, the answer is what you would expect: not often. Last night was only the fourth time he has given up five runs in a single inning in the majors.
On April 13, 2006—only his fourth big-league start—he coughed up five runs in the third inning against the While Sox before being lifted for Jason Grilli. Four months later, on August 26, he suffered a six-run fifth against Cleveland, giving way to Zach Miner. Last, on April 10, 2010, it was an All-Star preview as Verlander gave up five runs in the first inning, again versus Cleveland. He lasted five-plus frames in that game before Eddie Bonine relieved him. Ron Washington was not so forgiving last night.
Perhaps he should have been. Despite the early 5-0 hole and a 7-1 deficit in the sixth, Verlander’s Tigers came back to win that game, 9-8, on a so aesthetically pleasing walk-off wild pitch. This being the only experience of a five-run inning that Verlander had had in nearly six years, maybe he had grown to expect such comebacks and was trying to set one up last night.
No, of course not. But it’s the best explanation I had, especially since Verlander has never thrown a bat-shard at Mike Napoli.