PHILADELPHIA — The accomplishments Justin Verlander has amassed since being traded to the Astros in the dying seconds before the 2017 trade deadline is enough to fill a career for most pitchers. Never mind that he already had a great career in Detroit for 12 seasons before coming to Houston.
Since slipping into 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), thrown his third career no-hitter, 3,000 strikeouts exceeded and was the 2017 ALCS Most Valuable Player. What’s missing from his resume is a World Series win, something he can make up for when he starts Thursday’s Game 5 against the Phillies. He’ll have big shoes to fill as Houston turned over the second no-hitter in World Series history en route to a 5-0 win over Philadelphia in Game 4. The series is now tied, 2-2.
With his contract expiring at the end of the season and Verlander likely out of his $25 million contract for 2023, his Game 5 start could be his last in a Houston uniform. He’ll turn 40 on opening day next year, but he should have a strong free agent market for his services, who are enjoying one of his best seasons.
“Really and truly, it’s been one hell of a ride, no matter what, whether I stay or not,” said Verlander. “I 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 was just trying to be more in the moment and be present and enjoy the ride.”
In eight career World Series starts, Verlander is 0-6 with a 6.07 ERA. He was seeded with a 5-0 lead in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday but failed to defend the lead. He gave up five runs in six hits and two walks over five innings, and the Phillies rallied for a 6-5 win in 10 innings.
“I found some mechanical things that I had to clean up,” Verlander said. “I’ve been working really hard ever since. But there’s really no way of knowing how things are going until you get into the game and see player reactions. So you work as hard as you can. You put that into practice, you see how it feels – ‘Are you getting the results you want?’ – and then you take it into the game and hope that’s it.”
Verlander has been struggling with some mechanical issues in the lower half of his body since returning from a brief stint on the injury list with a calf injury. He’s 3-1 with a 3.55 ERA in seven starts (regular season and postseason) since his return and admits he wasn’t quite as good as he was before the injury.
“But the only thing I can do is try to prepare as best as possible,” said Verlander. “Whether it contributed or not, if you’ve had a couple of bad starts and things aren’t as sharp as they were, look at what might be causing it. …But I’m going back to the beginnings of my mechanics and I’m very bottom-half driven. So that played a role for me.”
Depending on what happens in Game 4, Verlander could be looking to salvage the Astros’ season when he starts Game 5. He’s been 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 a little different [in the postseason]Verlander said, “during the regular season, if something’s wrong or you’ve got an inning with a high pitch count or something, you can try to massage the pitch count a little bit and take a few pitches here or there.” that you hold for you can get some quick outs. But in the playoffs you can’t risk giving up a run or two on pitches like that. So there’s a slightly different strategy, but I don’t think it changes depending on where we are on the show.”