By: Will Burchfield
Justin Verlander has been doing his best not to think about it, so he did his best not to talk about it.
But here came the questions, one after another on Monday night, about the trade deadline, about the rumors, about the possibility that he had just made his last start as a Detroit Tiger.
Verlander turned away these probes at first, much like he turned away the Royals for most of the ballgame, but a crack in the facade appeared when he was asked if the ovation he received from the Comerica Park fans felt different on this occasion given the circumstances.
“I guess there might be a fleeting moment where you say this might be the last time,” Verlander said, “but it’s very fleeting. Then it’s, ‘Alright, I appreciate, it but we gotta score a run here and win a game.”
It was 3-3 when Verlander walked off the mound and into the home dugout for possibly the final time at Comerica Park. As the fans came to their feet and saluted him for the seven innings on Monday and all the others in the past — 2,463 of them in total — he admitted his uncertain future popped into his conscious.
“It’s kind of in the background of my mind now,” Verlander said. “You never know what could happen, and there is a moment walking off the mound where you take a second to appreciate (the ovation). I know I didn’t acknowledge it when I was walking off, probably because we’re in the middle of a tie game and you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“Maybe I wish I could have gone back and said thank you. Who knows — maybe there’s a lot more of those to come, maybe there’s not. All I know is that I heard it, I felt it, I appreciated it and I love these fans.”
Verlander, whose turnaround since the All-Star break continued on Monday night, has drawn interest on the trade market from the Dodgers, Cubs, Astros and Brewers, among other contenders. Tigers GM Al Avila said last week the team would be “extremely happy” to keep Verlander until the end of his career, but there’s a good chance his career in Detroit won’t extend past July 31.
He’s scheduled to pitch Sunday the 30th, but surely the Tigers will hold him back if they have a trade in the works.
“It’s going to be a long week,” Verlander said. “But until Al Avila or somebody wearing a suit that works for our management comes down and wants to talk to me about it, I’m not really paying attention to it.”
It’s been a strange few weeks for the 34-year-old, the experience foreign and familiar at the same time. He’s never been the subject of such rampant trade speculation, yet he’s been under this type of microscope before.
“I mentioned it after my last start — I haven’t felt like that since college, with a bunch of scouts there watching,” he said with a wistful grin. “Haven’t really had that sense.”
He doesn’t seem to mind the extra attention — the radar guns, the notepads, the watchful eyes in the crowd — nor does he seem to resent all the chatter.
“Especially in today’s world with social media and everything, it’s unavoidable to see it and hear it,” he said. “But it’s just the nature of it.”
And part of him, a good part of him, appears at peace with the idea that his time with the Tigers could be coming to a close. He patiently held court with the media on Monday night, his tone turning more and more reflective as the interview went on.
It was almost as if it dawned on him, right then and there, that the time has come for good-byes.
“These fans have been nothing but stellar to me my entire career,” he said, “and hopefully they can say the same about me.”