Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Strikeout kings face off in Texas

Verlander, Darvish head-to-head tonight

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Justin Verlander says it's May. Yu Darvish says it's not the first great opposing pitcher he's faced, and won't be his last.

True on all counts. These showdowns don't come along every day, though. And this one -- the AL's strikeout king against his potential heir -- is as enticing as they come.

The hard-throwing right-handers from Detroit and Texas will meet tonight in a billing that really hasn't been matched in Arlington since Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens faced off at old Arlington Stadium in 1989 -- five years before Rangers Ballpark opened.

"That's pretty good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I would say that would be pretty interesting, I would think."

You would think. But you wouldn't be Verlander, the staff ace for Detroit. Or Darvish, the Rangers' second-year star. Or Texas manager Ron Washington.

"In May, getting excited, I try not to," Washington said. "It's great for the fans. If it doesn't go in our favour, it doesn't end our season. If Verlander has his stuff, it will be a long night. If Darvish has his stuff, it will be a long night. By long night, I mean runs will be at a premium, and it will be the first one to make a mistake."

That's pretty much the way it was on April 30, 1989, when Ryan and the Rangers beat Clemens and the Boston Red Sox 2-1. Both went eight innings. Clemens gave up six hits with six strikeouts. Ryan limited the Red Sox to three hits and fanned 11.

Ryan is now the CEO in Texas, and figures to be watching from his usual seat in the first row near home plate.

"It's a nice matchup," Leyland said. "It's good for baseball."

Darvish is baseball's strikeout leader with 80 and on pace for 300, which hasn't been reached since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did it as Arizona teammates in 2002. Verlander has been the AL's strikeout leader three of the past four seasons.

Verlander doesn't push 100 m.p.h. on the radar gun quite as much as he used to, but always seems to find the velocity he needs in big moments.

Darvish can hit 95 m.p.h. and beyond, but the Japanese star is known more for varying speeds on his fastball and an array of pitches that had him within an out of a perfect game in his first start of the season at Houston.

"I saw him pitch last year a couple times," Verlander said. "I know he's striking out the world this year, but other than that, I haven't seen too much."

Both are coming off subpar games. Darvish gave up two homers against the light-hitting Astros. Verlander had his worst outing of the year in a 7-6 loss to Cleveland.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 16, 2013 D6

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