OAKLAND -- He’s won a Cy Young Award, was Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player, won a World Series title and is probably headed to Hall of Fame when his marvelous career is over. It takes something pretty substantial to awe Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander these days.
When Verlander struck out Oakland’s Robbie Grossman in the seventh inning of the Astros’ 5-1 win at the Coliseum on Saturday night, Verlander passed Cy Young and moved into 21st place on the all-time strikeout list with 2,807. He dominated the A’s, finishing with eight strikeouts and one run allowed in eight innings, and said afterwards it was “pretty humbling” to pass a legend.
“Sometimes when you’re playing this game, it has the unique ability to really put things in perspective for you,” Verlander said. “As much as you try to keep your head down and keep pitching and not pay attention to whatever is going on, any time Cy Young pops up on your radar and you’re associated with him, it’s pretty special.”
Verlander’s teammates and Astros manager AJ Hinch recognized Verlander’s achievement in a brief postgame celebration with a bustling clubhouse full of good vibes and loud conversations.
“That was really nice,” Verlander said. “Pretty cool, man. From where I started to now, it’s been a long journey and and hopefully have a long way to go.”
Verlander (9-2) retired all nine A’s hitters in his third time through the batting order to improve to 12-1 with a 1.68 ERA in his last 15 starts against Oakland (regular season and playoffs).
“He’s just really good,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He elevates well with high velocity and throws breaking balls in off counts. Keeps the ball on the corners. We just didn’t have too many good swings off him.”
The A’s were aggressive against Velander and swinging early in the counts, forcing him to make an adjustment. Stephen Piscotty burned him for a solo homer in the second, but he plowed through the middle of the game and hit the eighth inning having thrown 88 just pitches. A two-out double to Chad Pinder to walk to Matt Chapman brought Hinch from the dugout to gauge how his ace was feeling.
“I just wanted to go out and see where he was fatigue-wise,” Hinch said. “Guys are always going to want to stay in the game, but I trust him, specifically, to let me know if he emptied his tank on the Chapman at-bat and I got the answer I kind of expected and wanted. I also saw the visual. He was locked in, ready for the next hitter. That’s the best telltale sign for me.”
Indeed. Verlander struck out Matt Olson swinging on his final pitch to end the eighth and strand a pair of runners and pumped his fist in exhilaration walking off the mound.
“He asked me if I have enough in the tank and I said, ‘I’ve got plenty. I’m good to go,’” Verlander said. “He said, ‘All right, it’s your game. You’ve got this guy. This is your last hitter. Go get him.’”
“He’s worked hard and he wants to be the best,” Chirinos said. “He’s trying to do his best all the time he’s going out to pitch. It’s fun to be out there with competing and calling his game.”
Verlander won the 2011 AL Cy Young Award and has finished second three times, including last year. Young struck out 2,806 batters in a record 7,356 innings from 1890-1911. Young has the all-time record of 511 wins, a mark likely never approached in this era.
Due to the uncertain nature of record keeping in the early part of the 20th century, discrepancies occasionally exist among the stats presented by different historical data providers. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician of Major League Baseball, Cy Young’s career strikeout total is 2,806, and not 2,803.