This was the game Justin Verlander lived for from the first time he donned an Astros uniform this year. He’s 3-1 with a 1.49 ERA lifetime in postseason elimination games. He pitched a complete game masterpiece in Game Two of this American League Championship Series.
Justin Verlander’s career could end today, and Saturday’s the game they’ll remember him for for years to come. The no-hitters of the past? The dominance he once had in Detroit and re-claimed down the stretch for this year’s Astros? Sure, you’ll think of that. Hard not to.
But Game Two of this American League Championship Series is the one you’ll remember. When he went out like his vintage self and struck out a lucky (for him) thirteen Yankees and surrendered one measly fifth-inning run while pitching a five-hitter and giving the Astros bullpen the day off.
For a few moments it looked as though Astros manager A.J. Hinch made a big mistake in the bottom of the fifth in Fenway Park Monday. With one out and one on for the Red Sox, he brought in Justin Verlander, his Game One starter and winner—who’d never thrown an inning of relief in his life until now.
Later, in the bottom of the ninth, it looked like Hinch made a mistake asking closer Ken Giles for a six-out save when Red Sox rookie Rafael Devers stepped up to the plate to lead off.
Justin Verlander was an eyewitness to the last time anyone hit three out in a single postseason game. Matter of fact, he was the victim twice, when he was a Tiger and Pablo Sandoval was a still-productive Giant. Kung Fu Panda’s three bombs in Game One of the 2012 World Series launched the Giants to a Series sweep.
Verlander thinks it’s far more fun to be just the eyewitness. Especially when he’s the beneficiary, as he was in Game One of his Astros’ American League division series against the Red Sox. And, perhaps even more, when it’s Jose Altuve hitting the three.
Well, the Astros have gotten everything they wanted from Justin Verlander since dealing to bring him over from the incredible shrinking Tigers. Including, they dared to dream, the still-formidable righthander pitching and winning the American League West-clinching game, which he did Sunday in his first home start for his new club.
Do you get the feeling Justin Verlander simply prefers to pitch for a team with a realistic postseason shot? It’s not that he’s throwing steaks past wolves even in an Astros uniform, but since he came to the Astros in a waiver period deal making him eligible for the postseason, Verlander’s looked strong enough that the Astros must be thinking about him opening a division series, no questions asked.
Concerning the rest of Hardware Week, a few sobering observations:
* Kris Bryant, the National League’s MVP, was a no-questions-asked solid pick. And yes, it’s rare that a guy follows a Rookie of the Year campaign with an MVP and a World Series ring. Maybe the least controversial award pick this year was Bryant. But if they’d given the award to one player across the board, Bryant would probably have finished second to Trout. And there’s no shame in that.
Vin Scully ended his broadcasting career in the home ballpark of the Dodgers’ age-old rivals, receiving an affectionate pre-game visit from Willie Mays, awash in a sea of placards (THANK YOU VIN) and maybe the only known standing ovation ever afforded a Dodger in San Francisco. His final words were as gracious as you might have expected from this excessively modest man who always seemed to believe his gift from God was merely something on loan.
First, the Tigers all but threw the proverbial towel in on 2015 when they unloaded three otherwise key parts at the non-waiver trade deadline. Then, they showed they weren’t kidding by letting general manager Dave Dombrowski go just months before his current contract would expire.
“They basically told me they decided to change direction of leadership in the organization,” Dombrowski told the Detroit Free Press a day later. ”It’s kind of like an end of an era. You never like to see it end.” But he said he saw it end when his assistant GM Al Avila showed up at the ballpark Tuesday and looked as though something just wasn’t right.
“We could not find our game in the World Series,” Miguel Cabrera mourned, while the San Francisco Giants partied heartily in Comerica Park’s visiting clubhouse. Actually, the Detroit Tigers found their game in Game Four, when they needed it most. The problem was finding it against these San Francisco Giants, who were so accustomed to playing with elimination a game away they didn’t know how to get comfortable on the threshold of a sweep.