ARLINGTON -- C.J. Wilson was terrific for the Rangers all season, but he stumbled badly in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Rays. In five innings, he allowed eight runs on seven hits, including three home runs.
He knows he'll have to be much better than that when he starts Game 1 of the AL Championship Series. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET on Saturday against the Tigers (7:30 p.m. on FOX), when Wilson's opponent will be 24-game winner Justin Verlander.
"That particular game was my first bad game I had in a while," Wilson said Friday after the Rangers' workout at the Ballpark in Arlington. "I had a lot of really good games leading up to the playoffs. I'm looking at it, things even out. You're going to hit a bump in the road. I had it happen on national TV. It was unfortunate. I've had extra rest. I was on three days' rest that time. I feel like it gives me a chance to get back in my routine and execute the way I did all year."
Wilson, who was 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA in 34 starts for the Rangers, was bothered by the home runs. He gave up two to Kelly Shoppach and one to Johnny Damon, a left-handed hitter. It was only the second time in his career that Wilson has allowed more than two home runs in a game.
"Anytime you give up two or three homers in a game, especially if it's two to the same guy, it's bad," Wilson said. "I'm going to focus on my location. I think strategy-wise, I'm going to do what I do the same as always. It's just a matter of executing my plan, getting ahead in the count. I think I was behind in the count a lot. I didn't feel like I was at my best the other day."
Why he'll win: Went 2-1 with a 0.86 ERA in last five regular season starts.
Pitcher beware: Just 2-2 with a 5.58 ERA lifetime in the
Pitcher beware: Allowed eight runs, including three homers, in ALDS start.
Bottom line: Just be Verlander
Bottom line: Rebound from ALDS
He goes up against a Triple Crown winner who should be the unanimous winner of the AL Cy Young Award. Verlander was 24-5 with a league-leading 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts.
But one of those five losses just happened to come against the Rangers. He faced them on April 11 at Comerica Park and lost 2-0. Verlander and Alexi Ogando locked up in a scoreless pitching duel until the Rangers scored two in the seventh.
Verlander is 6-2 with a 2.31 ERA in nine starts in his career against the Rangers. That's the lowest ERA against them for any active pitcher with at least five starts.
"He's got obviously phenomenal stuff," Wilson said. "No one is going to dispute how good he is, how good of a season he had. But at the same time, we beat him earlier this year. So I feel like we have a team that can hit anybody.
"My confidence is in our hitters, not so much anything else. He has to pitch against them. He's got to face the chef, Mike Napoli. He has to face [Adrian] Beltre, Mike Young, [Ian] Kinsler, all those guys. That's his job. My job is to get outs against Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Delmon Young and those dudes. That's the only way I can look at it."
Wilson has been in the Rangers' rotation for two seasons, but has only made one start against the Tigers. He faced them on April 12, the day after the Rangers beat Verlander, and allowed four runs in 6 2/3 innings. The Rangers ended up losing, 5-4, in the bottom of the ninth on a game-winning single by Cabrera.
"Throughout the year, they added some pieces that have proven to be really good additions for them with Delmon and with Wilson Betemit," Wilson said. "Those guys I faced on different teams. I haven't really seen them up close and personal in this lineup. So I don't know how they're going to integrate against me.
"But the biggest thing is just to try to go out there and be ahead in the count and make them adjust to me, because I think if I'm in the driver's seat, which is a metaphor I like as a race car driver, obviously, I get to steer the course of the game a lot more. As opposed to having to try to pitch around their hot zones or whatever like that. You have to focus on your strengths and attack that way."
This is an interesting time for Wilson. He is pitching in the playoffs for the Rangers. He is their No. 1 starter. He loves big games, he loves big challenges and he embraces the responsibility of being an ace.
He is also a free agent after the season. If CC Sabathia stays with the Yankees, Wilson could be the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free agent market. There is the perception that his value in the market could rise or fall depending on how he pitches in the postseason.
"I don't really care," Wilson said. "I don't really care what people talk about as far as my value is or what the number eventually turns out to be or whatever. The most important thing for me is ending this year hoisting a trophy. We put up one trophy last year with the American League.
"Now we want to do two this year with the American League and the World Series. It's nothing other than just trying to fulfill your childhood dreams. You don't know how many chances you're going to get to be on a good team like this. We're lucky to be able to go two years in a row.
"Some teams are there perennially. That's what we're trying to establish here in Texas is a team that goes every year. That's the primary focus for me. I think I had a good body of work this season. I don't care about anything achievement-wise right now other than winning."