HOUSTON -- Once he made the difficult decision to waive his no-trade clause and leave the Tigers after 13 years to join the Astros late Thursday night, Justin Verlander couldn't help but be excited about what was next -- the chance to return to a pennant race.
Verlander, who arrived in Houston on Saturday and threw a bullpen session between games of the doubleheader sweep of the Mets, met with the media on Sunday morning and expressed his elation about pitching for the team with the best record in the American League. Expectations have risen, with Verlander set to make his first start for the Astros on Tuesday in Seattle.
"First of all, I just want to say how excited I am to be here and be an Astro," Verlander said. "Obviously, this was a pretty emotional decision for me, being in one place for so long. It really felt like family there. I'm excited for my new family. I [had] to pitch against this team. I know how good these guys are. The opportunity to come play for a championship-caliber team for not only this year but for the remainder of my contract is ultimately what it really came down to."
Verlander, the 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player, is 10-8 with a 3.82 ERA in 28 starts this season, including 5-3 with a 2.31 ERA in his last 11 starts. He gives Houston an impact arm at the top of the rotation to help them better match up in October with Cleveland and Boston.
"We're very excited about it," Luhnow said. "We've done a lot of work since Jim Crane bought the team in 2011 to put this organization in position to potentially bring the first championship to the city of Houston. Adding a top-of-the-rotation-caliber, All-Star, Cy Young, MVP to our club is exactly what we need to maximize our chances of not only winning this year but potentially in the years to come. We're thrilled to have him here."
The moments leading up to the deal -- through which the Tigers acquired three premium prospects from the Astros and will pay some of the $56 million Verlander is owed the next two years -- were nerve-wracking for Verlander. He was in constant communication with Tigers GM Al Avila and finally got the call while walking back from dinner to learn he was indeed leaving Detroit.
"At one point I was kind of pacing back and forth in my living room -- it was just [fiancée] Kate [Upton] and I -- and I'm going, 'Trust your instincts, trust your instincts. What are your instincts telling you?'" Verlander said. "I was just so caught in between with emotion and excitement of a new ballclub, and ultimately, it came down to winning and joining an organization that's set up to win for a long time."
The situation in Houston -- a team poised to contend for the next several years -- proved to be too much to pass up.
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"Ultimately, I'm really happy with the choice I made," Verlander said. "As time went on, as the emotional side of it kind of subsided, the excitement really started to come in."
With Verlander on board and McCullers returning from the disabled list on Wednesday, the Astros -- who at one point had four starting pitchers on the shelf -- have a glut of arms. It's going to be up to manager A.J. Hinch to piece together his rotation, but Verlander is a game-changer.
"We've had a couple of seasons here in a row that we're very proud that they've been winning seasons," Hinch said. "He's going to create more of that for us -- what he brings to the table, the credibility he brings, the presence he brings. Listen to him, look at him, talk to him, he's as big of a potential impact as we could have possibly imagined. You walk into that clubhouse. We've got a lot of personalities. We just added another one."