Verlander aligning himself with October greats
Astros righty embraces the opportunities to perform on postseason stage
BOSTON -- Justin Verlander says he doesn't worry too much about his legacy or how his body of work will be remembered when it's finally put up against the all-time greats. Maybe that's because the Astros' ace feels he still has so much left to give to the game.
Verlander, who will start Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox on Saturday at Fenway Park, has 200 wins, an AL Cy Young Award, an AL Most Valuable Player Award and a World Series championship on his resume at 35 years old. He also has a chance to cement himself as one of the game's all-time October pitchers. The right-hander also might pitch well into the next decade.
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Verlander is one victory shy of moving into fourth place on the all-time playoff wins list behind Andy Pettitte (19), John Smoltz (15) and Tom Glavine (14). His five wins in the LCS trail only Dave Stewart (eight), Pettitte (seven), Glavine (six) and Smoltz (six). Glavine and Smoltz are in the Hall of Fame, and Verlander's career arc may take him to Cooperstown, as well. How he performs in October will help define him.
"I think you either want to be in the moment or you don't," Verlander said. "For me, I've always wanted to be in it. It doesn't guarantee that you're going to have success. But when you're not shying away from the moment and doing everything you can to be prepared, I think that's the biggest thing. In any facet, if you walk in and take a test, and you're prepared, you feel more confident.
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"When I'm walking out to the mound and I know I've done everything I possibly can up to this point -- all the way back to my first workout of the offseason, I've done everything to build up to this moment, to this point in time -- and I know that I'm as prepared as I can possibly be physically, mentally and the rest is just time to go play baseball."
Verlander, the Most Valuable Player of last year's ALCS against the Yankees, will be making his 23rd career playoff start when the gets the ball on Saturday. He's 12-6 with a 3.08 ERA in his career in the postseason, which included 2 2/3 innings at Fenway Park in Game 4 of last year's ALDS in his only career relief appearance. He's been terrific in his last 11 playoff outings (10 starts) since 2013, going 6-2 with a 1.93 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP in 11 games (10 starts) since 2013.
"We know who we're up against," said lefty Chris Sale, who will start for the Red Sox on Saturday. "He's obviously one of the best around, and really good in the postseason. Like I said, you just strap it on the same way, and go out there and fight until the end."
Since coming over to the Astros in an Aug. 31, 2017, trade with the Tigers that the veteran pitcher had to approve, Verlander has taken his game to another level. This year, he set a career high with 290 strikeouts, reached 2,500 strikeouts and 200 wins for his career, and he led the AL in quality starts (26) and WHIP (0.90), putting him in the hunt for another AL Cy Young Award.
"I think he's a future Hall of Famer," manager AJ Hinch said. "I think he's someone that has done everything in the game from being a big-time pitcher in the postseason to his personal struggles where people were writing him off as nearly ending his career, to now being a Cy Young contender. It's been incredible to watch him grow and mature."
Those who have played with Verlander rave about his competitiveness and preparedness, and how he demands the most from himself and those around him.
"He's definitely well-prepared. He always has been," said Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez, who played with Verlander in Detroit.
There's nothing left for Verlander to prove at this point in his career. His resume speaks for itself, but to know Verlander means knowing he's not satisfied. He believes he can win another Cy Young -- or two -- and perhaps even make a run at 300 wins.
"I've always just been, kind of like, 'Finding Nemo' and Dory -- just keep swimming," he said. "That's me: Just keep pitching. Just head down, prepare myself and just keep pitching. And at the end of my career hopefully when I look up and all is said and done, that's cemented my legacy. But as far as what I think about, it's not that. It's just pitching, taking the ball every five days."
Considering he keeps his arm and his body healthy and strong, and he tries to stay ahead of his health to avoid some of the physical issues that threatened him earlier in his career, Verlander might just pitch forever.
"I think that's going to be what prepares me for the second half of my career," he said, eventually smiling. "I said 'second half,' by the way."