What’s wrong with Justin Verlander?
The most frequent explanations for the sudden woes of the Detroit Tigers ace this season concern his declining fastball velocity or a possible undiagnosed physical ailment.
But what if the problem has nothing to do with his right arm and everything to do with the buxom blonde on his arm?
If Verlander has been jinxed — or distracted, more likely — into the worst stretch of his career by girlfriend Kate Upton, it would not be the first time an athlete had encountered a major slump around the time he was romantically linked with the swimsuit pin-up.
Call it the Kate Upton Effect. In addition to Verlander, the supermodel’s “victims” may include former Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and NBA All-Star Blake Griffin. Let’s lay out the numbers, as we know them, for the most curvaceous curse in sports.
Verlander’s travails have cleaved a couple times in recent years. The former MVP and Upton were first pegged as a couple in early 2013. That May, he turned in a sequence of uncharacteristic shoddy outings. By June, they were splitsville. Verlander recovered in time to post a blistering postseason for the Tigers, piling up 31 strikeouts in 23 innings over three starts while allowing just one run.
The pair rekindled this year, but 2014 has been an utter bust on the mound: Verlander is carrying a career-worst 4.98 ERA and fanning just 6.4 batters per inning, his lowest figure since 2006. Recently a high-90s flamethrower, the 31-year-old’s average fastball speed in down to 92 mph.
The playboy Jets quarterback’s career went into inexorable decline after a fling with Upton, circa 2011-2012. From back-to-back runs to the AFC Championship game in his first two seasons — when he dated hex-proof “Sopranos” starlet Jamie-Lynn Sigler — the screws started to come loose for Sanchez in the middle of the 2011 season, right when he was first spotted making late-night sneaks from Upton’s pad.
He threw seven interceptions as the Jets lost their final three games to miss the playoffs for the first time in his tenure. In 2012, we witnessed the indignity of the Buttfumble, one of eight lost fumbles that went with 18 interceptions and a high-profile benching … all in Upton’s wake. In 2013, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in an exhibition game and departed in the offseason to become the Philadelphia Eagles backup, a forgotten man.
If “cozy” means what it’s supposed to mean, the Clippers power forward joined Upton’s list in the spring of 2013. Which is right around the time the high-flying Griffin finished the worst of his four NBA seasons and almost precisely when he stumbled through a playoff debacle (amplified by an ankle injury) in a six-game, first-round exit against the Memphis Grizzlies.
I mean who wouldn't be distracted by her, but they were together in 2012 and he had a great year.