BOSTON Daniel Nava had faced other pitchers who throw 100 miles per hour before. But he had never faced one who is also the reigning American League Cy Young Award and MVP. Until Tuesday night, that is.
Clearly, the advantage has to go to the pitcher with all the hardware. Right?
Batting in the lead-off spot, facing Justin Verlander for the first time, Nava saw three pitches none faster than 92 mph in his first at-bat against the Tigers right-hander, grounding out weekly to third base. He walked on seven pitches in his second at-bat, in the third inning. That sett the stage for his next duel with Verlander.
With Red Sox holding a slim one-run lead, the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth, Nava showed little sign of intimidation facing the Tigers right-hander with the blazing fastball.
Verlander started Nava with a 99-mph fastball, which Nava fouled back. Verlanders next pitch came in at 100 mph for a ball, followed by an 81-mph curveball, making the count 2-1. The next pitch at 100 mph -- high and inside made it 3-1. Nava swung and missed at 99-mph fastball, setting the runners in motion for Verlanders next pitch a 100-mph fastball which Nava laced into left field for a three-run double.
Nava had just one hit against Verlander. But his lone hit gave the Sox and starter Daniel Bard a comfortable 4-0 lead to hold off the Tigers and Verlander.
It was the first bases-loaded hit off Verlander this season, and the first hit to drive in three or more runs off him since a three-run home run by Seattles Justin Smoak on April 27, 2011.
He gave me a tough at-bat, Verlander said. I really feel like the turning point in that at bat was the 1-1 curveball I tried to throw. I threw it for a ball, got myself behind in the count and then threw another ball. So then Im 3-1, and he knows whats coming. He hit it down the line for a double. Obviously that was the turning point in the game.
Mostly Im disappointed about is not being able to get ahead of him. I think if Im ahead in that situation, hes not able to get to the fastball in that situation.
Nava knew he would have to be a quick study if he were to have any success against Verlander.
Based off the first at-bat, I was really just trying to pick the ball up, said Nava. I was having a hard time picking the ball up. So from that point, got that 3-1 pitch that I swung through. So I was saying I need to shorten my swing up. Fortunately I got a pitch to do that with.
I really had to make some adjustments because I got owned that first at-bat.
The three runs proved to be the difference in the game, as the Red Sox beat the Tigers, 6-3, climbing above .500, at 25-24, for the first time this season.
Obviously I was excited to get that hit because there were three guys on and knowing that Verlander is obviously a pitcher with great stuff, you dont know how many opportunities youre going to get like that, Nava said.
So for us to have guys on and get them to work a little bit with what he has, were trying to take advantage of it and make the most of it. So it was just a good opportunity for the guys ahead to get some knocks and then fortunately it worked out the way it did. But its a team gameand thats what its about.
Although the numbers were staring at him, Nava didnt look at the velocity readings on the center field video board.
I didnt want to look up there, because I wanted to be as comfortable as I could in the box and how comfortable really are you with a guy whos that good? Nava said. So I knew that it was coming hard, but thats all I knew. I didnt know it was 100 mph. Thats one less thing you need to worry about.
Nava, who made his big league debut in 2010 but played all of 2011 in the minors, was called up May 10. In 19 games, he is batting .276 with two home runs and 15 RBI. He has batted lead-off the last two games. Before Monday, he had appeared in just three games in the lead-off spot, all in 2010, the last with one at-bat as a pinch hitter. His last start in the No. 1 slot was Sept. 6 that season.
Manager Bobby Valentine has said Nava, who was not even on his radar in spring training, has certainly earned his attention. Nava has reached base safely in 17 of the 19 games hes played.
Well Ive been talking about Daniel Nava, Valentine said. Monday night saw him at a restaurant, told him hes making me look really good and I appreciate itThat at-bat was as good an at-bat as Ive seen in years. 100 mph pitch on a 3-2 count down the line in left, after just missing a 3-1 pitch that I knew he really wanted. I thought it was a very, very good at-bat.
I wasnt looking at the speed but I was looking at the competition and it was one of those things I think you all probably appreciate, the fans do, but guys in in uniform appreciate it more, it was mano a mano. It was a great competition. And Im proud of him. Im happy hes on my team.