In a postseason dominated by strong bullpens, starting pitching has made all the difference. After Justin Verlander staved off elimination with another dominant performance on Friday night — earning himself American League Championship Series MVP honors in the process — Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined to blank the New York Yankees 4-0 in Game 7 of the ALCS.
Morton’s performance could not have gone any different from his start at Yankee Stadium in Game 3. He gave up just one hit in his first four innings of work, racking up four strikeouts in the process. The Yankees’ took an aggressive approach at the plate, but his biting curveball and slider kept them off balance. Even a leadoff double from Greg Bird in the fifth inning wasn’t enough; Morton induced a ground ball and benefitted from a phenomenal defensive play from Alex Bregman and Brian McCann to get out of the jam.
The Astros offense then exploded for three runs in the bottom of the fifth, giving their pitching staff a 4-0 lead to protect. Jose Altuve hit a solo home run to right, generating “M-V-P!” chants that only grew louder as the game went on. Carlos Correa and Yulieski Gurriel followed with singles, and Brian McCann drove a Tommy Kahnle changeup into the right field corner to plate two more runs.
From there, it was all McCullers. The Astros’ Game 4 starter shut down the Yankees, allowing just one hit in four frames. He finished off the game throwing 24 consecutive curveballs, and struck out six Yankees — including four of the final six that he faced — to clinch his team’s first American League pennant.
For Houston, this game (and series) more than justified their last-minute decision to trade for Verlander. Not only has Justin been unhittable throughout the postseason — he struck out 21 Yankees and allowed one run in 16 ALCS innings — but his presence pushed Morton and McCullers down in the rotation, allowing the two to piggyback for the win in Game 7.
Ahead for Houston are the Los Angeles Dodgers. Stars like Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, and Justin Turner will draw the headlines, but our focus will be on another former Tiger: Curtis Granderson.
Either Justin Verlander or Curtis Granderson will win a World Series ring in 2017.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) October 22, 2017
Outside of the Tigers themselves making it to the World Series, it doesn’t get much better than that.