PHILADELPHIA — The accomplishments Justin Verlander has racked up since his trade to the Astros in the final seconds before the trade deadline in 2017 is enough to fill a career for most pitchers. It doesn’t matter that he already had a terrific career for 12 seasons in Detroit before coming to Houston.
Since donning an Astros jersey, Verlander has won a World Series championship, won his second American League Cy Young Award (and will likely win a third this year), pitched his third no-hitter in career, surpassed 3,000 strikeouts and was the 2017 ALCS Most Valuable Player. What’s still missing from his resume is a World Series win, something he can rectify in Game 5 on Thursday against the Phillies. He’ll have some big shoes to fill, as Houston twirled the second no-hitter in World Series history en route to beating Philadelphia, 5-0, in Game 4. The series is now tied, 2- 2.
With his contract at the end of the season and Verlander likely to opt out of his $25 million deal for 2023, his departure in Game 5 could be his last in a Houston uniform. He turns 40 on Opening Day next year, but should have a strong free agent market for his services after one of his best seasons.
“Truly and truly, it’s been a hell of a ride, no matter what, whether I stay or not,” Verlander said. “I’ve really enjoyed my time with this group of guys and the city and getting to know the city. And it’s really been a blessing and a wonderful time in my career. So I try not to think about it. I try to be present. We talked a lot about how this year I just tried to be more in the moment and enjoy the ride.
In eight career World Series starts, Verlander is 0-6 with a 6.07 ERA. He was staked to a 5-0 lead in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday, but couldn’t protect the lead. He allowed five runs on six hits and two walks in five innings, and the Phillies rallied for a 6-5 victory in 10 innings.
“I found mechanical things that I needed to clean up,” Verlander said. “Since then, I have worked very hard. But there’s really no way to tell how it’s going until you get in the game and see the batter’s reactions. So you work as hard as you can. You put it into practice, you see how you feel — ‘Are you getting the results you want?’ – and then you put it into the game and hope that’s it.
Verlander has struggled with mechanical issues in his lower half since returning from a brief stint on the injured list with a calf injury. He’s 3-1 with a 3.55 ERA in seven starts (regular season and playoffs) since returning and admits he hasn’t been as good as he was before the injury.
“But the only thing I can do is try to prepare as best I can,” Verlander said. “Whether that contributed or not, when you’ve had a few bad starts and things aren’t as clear as they were, you look at what the underlying reason might be. … But I kind of come back early in my mechanics, and I’m very driven by the bottom half, so for me that played a part in that.
With the World Series tied going into Game 5, Verlander can put the Astros in position to have a 3-2 lead at Houston for Game 6 on Saturday. He’s thrown in pressure situations before and said he doesn’t plan to change his plan of attack too much depending on the situation.
The strategy is slightly different [in the postseason]Verlander said, “whereas in the regular season if something is wrong or you have a high pitch count or something like that, you can try to massage the pitch count a bit and make pitches here or where you think you may get quick exits. But in the playoffs, you can’t risk giving up a point or two with those types of pitches. So there’s a bit of a different strategy, but I don’t think that changes depending on where we are in the series.