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Astros counting on vintage Verlander for G2

Veteran righty hopes to stay undefeated since trade, earn split for Houston in LA
MLB.com @RichardJustice

LOS ANGELES -- This very game is why the Astros got Justin Verlander. Stop us if you've heard that one before.

Yep, here we go again.

View Full Game Coverage

LOS ANGELES -- This very game is why the Astros got Justin Verlander. Stop us if you've heard that one before.

Yep, here we go again.

View Full Game Coverage

"We think he can win every single game he pitches," manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't know there's any better compliment for a starting pitcher."

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Verlander has started eight games for his new team, and the Astros have won them all. He pitched once in relief, and Houston won that one, too.

Now, after a 3-1 loss on Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series presented by YouTube TV, the Astros are turning to Verlander again.

"We have a lot of confidence in Justin," third baseman Alex Bregman said, "and we're ready to compete. We can't wait to get out there and play. I think everyone got a taste of what it's like today. We'll play Astros baseball tomorrow."

Houston has put Verlander in tougher situations. When he got the baseball last Friday at Minute Maid Park, the Astros were a game from being eliminated by the Yankees.

Verlander pitched seven shutout innings in a 7-1 victory on Friday night to force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World. He wasn't even needed in Game 7, but was voted the series MVP after two dominant starts.

Verlander has been exactly the guy Houston hoped he would be when it acquired him from Detroit minutes before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline. He hasn't just done what aces are asked to do. Verlander has done what future Hall of Famers, which he is, do almost routinely. These are the guys who want teams -- and seasons -- on their shoulders.

The Astros are far from being in any kind of trouble in this World Series, but they came here knowing they needed only a split of these first two games to gain home-field advantage heading to Minute Maid Park for Games 3-4-5 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Video: WS2017 Gm2: Verlander discusses picking up a bat

"I anticipated the whole 'must win' question; you didn't say it, but I did," Hinch said. "But every game is sort of a must-win. I wanted to get out of here with a sweep, and now that's not going to happen.

"So we come back tomorrow. We get prepared to face [Dodgers Game 2 starter Rich] Hill. Verlander, he's one of our best, if not our best the last couple of months as he's been as an Astro. So we'll certainly ride him out."

Video: WS2017 Gm2: Hinch on Verlander pitching in Game 2

In Game 1, the Dodgers rode seven innings of one-run, 11-strikeout baseball from Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw is probably the best pitcher of his generation, but Verlander is certainly in the discussion.

"[Verlander is] a No. 1, he's a horse," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "He's got the three-, four-pitch mix. Gets lefties and righties out. There's plus, plus velocity. The slider as he changes his grip, the change, the curveball. He's going to compete. And we've just got to go out there, and it's a different style of pitcher, obviously, than [Game 1 starter] Dallas Keuchel, but we've got to go out there and try to [hit] pitches. He's going to come after us, but I think that our guys will be up for it."

There will be no limits. Verlander threw a 124-pitch masterpiece in Game 2 of the ALCS. In three postseason starts, he has allowed three earned runs in 22 innings. There's no better definition of an ace than that. The Astros have been baseball's winningest team (29-14) since the day Verlander walked through the clubhouse door.

Video: WS2017 Gm2: Verlander on winning for city of Houston

As good as Verlander was during the regular season, he has raised his game to another place in the postseason. That's what Houston is counting on for Game 2.

"I think the mental focus is just another level," Verlander said. "I think it's something that would be easy to say, 'Why don't you just do that every game?' It's unsustainable throughout the course of the regular season. If you were that mentally focused, you'd just burn out. It's just another level. I don't know how to really explain it."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Houston Astros, Justin Verlander