Justin Verlander is set to take the mound for the Houston Astros on Tuesday night, aiming to earn the first World Series ring of his already storied career.
Having served as Detroit’s rotation anchor during their recent four-year reign over the American League Central, Verlander is no stranger to the postseason spotlight. Two moments come to the minds of Detroit Tigers fans when it comes to Verlander’s postseason heroics.
Moment 1: October 11, 2012. Oakland, Calif.
The Tigers, deadlocked in an ALDS matchup with the Oakland A’s, had their backs against the wall. After failing to put away the A’s at Comerica Park in game four, the series shifted back to Oakland for a decisive fifth game with momentum heavily favoring the home side. Manager Jim Leyland called on Verlander, giving him one job: to play the role of stopper.
After a dominant showing in the first game of the series (7 innings, one run, 11 strikeouts) there was a certain set of expectations around Verlander going into the game. If he could produce another solid outing the Tigers would be in good shape.
Verlander then took it upon himself to shatter these expectations.
From first pitch he dominated the A’s from the top of the batting order on down, including four strikeouts of A’s shortstop Stephen Drew. As the Tigers advanced to their second consecutive ALCS the A’s were unable to advance a man beyond second base as Verlander came out and delivered what would be, for most, the storybook performance of a career.
Verlander’s final line: 9 innings, four hits, 11 strikeouts, zero runs.
The team would eventually reach the World Series, behind another sterling Verlander performance in the third game of the ALCS, as he hurled 8 1⁄3 innings of three hit, one run baseball to put the Tigers comfortably into the driver’s seat of the series.
Moment 2: October 10, 2013. Oakland, Calif.
Though laced with similarities, the narrative was a little bit different this time. The Tigers, fighting for their lives after falling to a 2-1 ALDS deficit against the A’s, managed a win in game four to force a decisive fifth game, placing the two teams in the same scenario just 364 days after the previous season’s winner-take-all showdown.
Leyland, once again, knew who to put on the mound. Verlander, once again charged with playing the stopper and keeping the Tigers alive to fight for their second consecutive pennant, knew what he had to do. And this time momentum was on his side.
They say that history repeats itself.
The precedent from 2012’s game five was going to be difficult to top. But Verlander took it as a challenge, delivering a performance that, in many ways, surpassed the previous year’s showing.
He took to the mound looking as calm, collected, and poised as ever before. Verlander came out of the gate firing, retiring the first 16 batters he faced, further carrying a no-hitter through 6 2⁄3 inning before allowing a base hit. The A’s never posed a real scoring threat, failing to advance a man beyond first base as the Tigers advanced to their third consecutive ALCS.
Verlander’s final line: 8 innings pitched, two hits, zero runs, 10 strikeouts (all swinging third strikes).
The Tigers would ultimately fall short of their second consecutive American League pennant, falling in six games to the eventual champion Boston Red Sox.
Now an Astro, Verlander is undefeated since joining the team at the eleventh hour of August’s waiver trade deadline, posting a 1.06 ERA and 0.647 WHIP down the stretch for the American League champions.
Upon returning to the postseason Verlander has shown that he’s the same high-stakes ace baseball fans remember. His postseason performance includes a game six victory over the Yankees to force a seventh game in the ALCS, eerily similar to the two starts in Oakland discussed above. Verlander will once again be in the spotlight, being trusted with what is arguably the biggest game of his career. Verlander carries a track record that favors the Astros in this kind of high leverage situation.
Postseason magic hasn’t failed Verlander yet. Only time will tell if history will, once again, repeat itself.