For One Day, Carl Pavano is the Most Important Man in Baseball

There's some tired aphorism about baseball being "a marathon, not a sprint," right? So when you take a sizable lead in that marathon from about the fourth mile to the last thousand feet, then trip all over yourself at the end, you're the Detroit Tigers.

That's not entirely fair to the Tigers, who, it should also be noted, did the baseball equivalent of a kick earlier this week, taking two straight against the Minnesota Twins in the middle of a four-game set and pushing their AL Central lead to three games with four to play. But the Twins won the last game in that series, and their next two against the Royals, while the Tigers have been dragging bloody, blistered feet through two awful showings against the White Sox, losing 8-0 on Friday and 5-1 yesterday. Now, the AL Central race is tied, and it comes down to the season's final day like any "Hollywood-couldn't-script-this!" pennant race should.

Except the twist here is that while the Tigers will send ace-slash-All-Star-slash-no-hitter-thrower Justin Verlander to the mound today, the Twins are turning to Carl Pavano.

Really, Carl Pavano? The guy who flamed out with the Yankees? The guy who you plucked from Cleveland's waivers earlier this season for a minor-league middle reliever? And you're putting him on the mound on three days' rest, Minnesota? On Wednesday, this guy, on full rest, got battered by the Tigers for seven earned runs. Pavano's actually been decent this year overall, with a 4.01 FIP that belies his 5.07 ERA, but he's been utterly ineffective against Kansas City, conceding 27 earned runs in 36 2/3 innings.

Add to that futility the idea that, with a loss, this could be the last game in Metrodome history, or, with a win, the most memorable regular-season game ever played on that rugged turf, and you get a combustible mix of importance and improbability. Pavano may not have the results behind him to make fans confident, but thousands of delirious Minnesotans behind him may be all the confidence he needs.

Sure, there are two pieces to this AL Central puzzle, but Verlander's allowed one earned run in two complete games against the White Sox this year. Nothing's impossible, but Verlander not being his brilliant self against a team he's dominated (albeit, for a statistically meaningless period) would be explained by his late-season struggles (16 ER in 29 1/3 IP in his last four starts) continuing. That's drama, but with a lower-case d.

Pavano's being asked to do something he hasn't been able to do this year under normal circumstances, but with a division title on the line and the mystical weight of a stadium's history on his back. Verlander might put on the more effective performance, but today, Carl Pavano is the show.

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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