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Best trade ever? Verlander continues to deal

Right-hander has been dominant since being acquired by Astros in '17
MLB.com @MikeLupica

You walked up Jersey Street outside Fenway Park early Saturday afternoon, after the rain and just as the sun was coming out, and realized how much had changed since the last time the Astros played the Red Sox there in the postseason. That includes the fact that a year ago, the Red Sox weren't even calling it Jersey Street again, it was still Yawkey Way.

ALCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 2: Tonight, 7:09 p.m. ET/6:09 CT on TBS

You walked up Jersey Street outside Fenway Park early Saturday afternoon, after the rain and just as the sun was coming out, and realized how much had changed since the last time the Astros played the Red Sox there in the postseason. That includes the fact that a year ago, the Red Sox weren't even calling it Jersey Street again, it was still Yawkey Way.

ALCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 2: Tonight, 7:09 p.m. ET/6:09 CT on TBS

J.D. Martinez, a former Astros player, wasn't with the Red Sox last season. Gerrit Cole wasn't with the Astros. But you know how much both of them meant to their respective teams this season.

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

One thing that had not changed in a year was Justin Verlander, who continues to look like one of the best and most important trade acquisitions in baseball history. And now, he's trying to help the Astros make more World Series history this season.

The last time Verlander was at Fenway Park in October, he came out of the bullpen in Game 4 of the 2017 American League Division Series against the Red Sox, same as his mound opponent Saturday night, Chris Sale, did in that game. Verlander gave up a home run that day, to Andrew Benintendi, but he gave AJ Hinch 2 1/3 innings when the Astros needed them.

Verlander earned the win as the Astros advanced to the AL Championship Series, and later winning the World Series.

"Does it always have to be that guy?" Boston radio reporter Jonny Miller said on Saturday afternoon.

Verlander pitched six innings against the Red Sox in Game 1 of this year's ALCS on Saturday night, giving up two runs on two hits and striking out six in the Astros' 7-2 win. Houston has won four postseason games against Boston over the past two seasons, and Verlander has been the winning pitcher in three of them.

Verlander has started eight postseason games since Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow traded for the right-hander several minutes before midnight on the last night of July last season. Verlander is 5-1 over those outings -- that includes two wins against the Red Sox in last year's ALDS and two against the Yankees in last year's ALCS, including Game 6 in Houston when the Astros were facing elimination.

This postseason, Verlander has won each of his first two starts. After the Red Sox tied the game in the fifth inning on Saturday night -- and still had the bases loaded -- Verlander struck out Benintendi looking. Benintendi didn't like the called third strike, and Boston manager Alex Cora was ejected for arguing the call.

Video: ALCS Gm1: Verlander tosses 6 innings of 2-run ball

"That inning, I had kind of lost my feel a bit," Verlander said. "Couldn't point a finger to why. But just to be able to execute a pitch there and get out of the inning. After the curveball before, I thought it was close whether he swung or not. I thought maybe he did, maybe he didn't. I don't know. I was rooting hard for the swing, obviously.

"But you've got two outs there and for me, it was the tying run scoring that was a little disappointing. Thought I could have executed some pitches better. But once that happens, then you've got to reset and not relinquish the lead."

Verlander is 35 and recently spoke about looking ahead to the "second half" of his career. For now, he will try to make more postseason history in Houston.

A lot happened in Game 1, and not just between Verlander and Benintendi, and Cora and home-plate umpire James Hoye. Red Sox pitchers issued 10 walks and hit three batters. A two-run single by George Springer got under the glove of Boston third baseman Eduardo Nunez, and Nunez later committed a big error. Yuli Gurriel closed out the Red Sox with a three-run homer in the ninth.

With a pair of aces on the mound, Verlander was the better pitcher than Sale. Verlander has given up only nine hits over his last four postseason starts, the first pitcher to do that since the Yankees' Don Larsen, who did it over a span from 1955-57.

Verlander didn't have his best stuff, walking four, throwing two wild pitches and needing a rare double play to escape the first. But he won, which is exactly what he's done since the Astros acquired him in a deal that could define this era for them, especially if they win the World Series for the second straight year.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.

Houston Astros, Justin Verlander