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Goochland Recalls Tigers' New Ace, "Lights Out" Fastball

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So far, the fanfare hasn't fazed him, says his longtime girlfriend, Emily Yuen: "It's funny; Justin and I live such normal lives outside of baseball."

In recent weeks Verlander, 23, has made national headlines as the red-hot, "lights out" righthander leading the Tigers to the top slot in the Major Leagues with a record, at press time, of 68 wins and 33 loses — seven games ahead of the Red Sox and six ahead of the Yankees.

Sports pundits credit Verlander's fastball (more than 100 mph), sizzling curveball (90 mph) and a lethal changeup as one of the keys to the Tiger's turnaround. Two years ago the Tigers had one of the worst records in baseball.

After Verlander pitched a 4-1 win against the Cleveland Indians July 26, he had a record of 13-3, tied for first-best pitching record in baseball with Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling of Boston and Toronto's Roy Halladay.

The only thing that surprises Bryan Gordon about Verlander's ascent is how quickly it's happened. Gordon, dean of students at Goochland High School, was the school's head baseball coach and athletic director when Verlander attended.

"He's still the same Justin," Gordon notes of the lanky, 6-foot-5, 200-pound Verlander. He's the only player Gordon's coached to make it to the majors, not to mention earn a $3.12 million signing bonus.

Gordon can't help chuckling that he saved Verlander's life once during a road trip. They'd stopped for dinner at Hardee's, where Verlander began choking on his hamburger. Gordon says he performed the Heimlich maneuver on Verlander, dislodging the obstruction.

Two weeks ago Gordon got to see Verlander in action. He and his wife and son attended their first Major League game. It was a Tigers' home game against the Kansas City Royals. Verlander pitched to win. What's more, he caught a line-drive hit directly at him. It became ESPN's No. 1 play of the day, Gordon recalls.

Meantime, Yuen describes the limelight as fun but fleeting. The couple has been dating since high school, she says, through their college years at Old Dominion University. Since Verlander's career has taken off, they've bought a condo in Lakeland, Fla., 15 minutes from the Tigers' spring-training facility. They're growing accustomed to the jet-setting and the fame, but relish normalcy. Before going on the road last week, Verlander and Yuen spent their last night in Detroit at an arcade, she says.

"We're only 23," Yuen says. "We're having a blast and trying not to let any of this go to our heads." S



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