SOPHOMORE JINX? Not yet for the Tigers righthander. Last season's American League Rookie of the Year is this year's staff ace: After holding the Cardinals to two runs in eight innings on Sunday, he was 5--1 with a 2.68 ERA for a Detroit team that was tied with the Indians for first in the AL Central. Verlander's fastball gets up into the high 90s, his changeup floats in the mid-80s and his pickoff move may be the game's best by a righthander. At 24 he's already pitched in a pennant race and a World Series, so he's used to pressure. It's a good thing: The Tigers are in Cleveland this weekend.
On how he found out he was Rookie of the Year
I was washing my car in Florida—I live in Lakeland, on a golf course. I had forgotten it was the day of the announcement. I walked into the house and had, like, 20 missed calls from the Tigers. I called our p.r. guy, and he told me. I was pretty excited, but I had to go out and finish washing my car—can't leave the soap on there.
On pitching in Yankee Stadium in the playoffs
It's what you dream about. I [told myself], I'm not listening to what the fans say. The only one I remember was, I was in the outfield shagging the day before, and some guy yells, "Hey, Verlander, you even suck in the video game!"
On how he ended up attending Old Dominion University
Senior year of high school I had strep, and I came out on opening day when all the [major league] scouts were there. I was throwing 83 when I was supposed to be throwing 93. By the time I got it back up there [later in] the season, no one was there to see it. I was at college for three years, and it was great—not so much the school part, but baseball. I was a communications major.
On Goochland, Va. (pop. 16,863), where he grew up
It's a small, everybody-knows-everybody town. There's a lot of farmland. A restaurant there has the Verlander Burger, but they didn't consult me before they made it. It has raw onions and tomatoes, and I don't like either one.
On his dad, Richard
He worked for AT&T as a pole climber. I thought it was the coolest job, like, He gets to climb all the way up there! Then he became president of the local union and then moved on to the national level—that's what he's doing now.
On brother Ben
He's 15 and pitching [for Goochland High]. My parents got married when my mom [Kathy] was 18 and my dad was 20, but they waited nine years to have me, then nine years to have my brother. Even with the big gap, he was always trying to tell on me.
On his deal with friend Daniel Hicks in 10th grade
I wanted a chocolate milk that cost 50 cents, and I didn't have the money. So I said, "How about I give you. 1 percent of my pro signing bonus if you give me 50 cents now?" He found a napkin, wrote it up, and I signed it. I forgot about it, but after I signed, he comes over and whips out this old napkin. I'm like, Oh my God! My bonus was three-point-something million. Was a chocolate milk worth $3,000? I want to say yes. I was parched.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL HEAPE
CHUCK SOLOMON (VERLANDER PLAYING)