Vintage Verlander fuels Mets' sweep, 5th straight W

Right-hander logs 8 strong frames in twin-bill nightcap as Lindor's HR sparks another rally

May 22nd, 2023

NEW YORK -- In 2005, the year that broke into the Majors, there were 602 instances of a starting pitcher throwing at least eight innings. It happened across MLB, on average, about three times per night.

This year, entering Sunday’s play, there were only 25 such outings across MLB. Oftentimes, days pass without a single one, which is what makes Verlander so unique. Even at age 40, he can go deep. He can pitch fast. He can throw with pace and attack a team susceptible to it, as he did Sunday night in a 2-1 win over the Guardians.

Verlander and Max Scherzer combined to allow one run over 14 innings in the two halves of a doubleheader at Citi Field, with Scherzer taking a no-decision in the Mets’ 5-4 matinee win.

“Him and Max are perfectionists,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “They are who they are because they’re perfectionists and they work on their craft day in and day out. They don’t back down from any challenge.

“The four days they’re not pitching, they spend trying to figure out how to be better.”

Such was certainly the case for Verlander, whose clunker on Tuesday elicited questions about his form coming off more than a month on the injured list. To answer those questions, Verlander spent his work week tinkering with mechanics in the hopes of better results.

The immediate results were spotty, as Verlander allowed multiple hard-hit balls in the first inning, including a José Ramírez solo homer. But he recovered to retire 22 of the final 24 batters he faced, trusting the scouting report of the Guardians as free swingers.

Often forcing contact early in counts, Verlander needed just 98 pitches to complete eight innings -- the longest outing by a Mets starter this season.

“I feel he sometimes gets better as the game goes on,” said Guardians outfielder Myles Straw, Verlander’s former teammate with the Astros. “That’s kind of what he did. He made the adjustments he needed to make. He is a Hall of Famer.”

When Brooks Raley locked down the final three outs for the save, becoming the first Mets pitcher in six years to appear in both halves of a doubleheader, the game ended in a tidy two hours, six minutes.

“I figured I would like to attack the zone and see where it took me,” Verlander said. “It worked out pretty well.”

This was far from a stress-free outing for Verlander, however, because the margin for error was so thin. The Mets tied the game on a Lindor leadoff homer in the sixth inning and went ahead for the first time on a Jeff McNeil sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth, with both runs coming off Guardians starter Shane Bieber.

It was the fifth straight game the Mets have won by one run, matching a franchise record set in 1984. They’ve also come from behind in each of their last eight victories dating to May 6.

Raley called it “a great day of baseball,” which would seem to be true regardless of one’s rooting interest.

In front of a national audience on Sunday Night Baseball, the Mets and Guardians became the first teams to have each of their starters go at least eight innings in the same game. For New York, starts of even seven innings have been exceedingly rare for a rotation that’s spent most of the season in flux.

But perhaps behind Verlander and Scherzer, that’s beginning to change. Entering Spring Training, the team envisioned those two forming an historically potent pitching tandem.

Injuries to both players, as well as a suspension for Scherzer, delayed that vision from becoming reality. Shaky starts from both cast doubt over the idea that two of the game’s oldest pitchers could properly calcify into the backbone of a team.

Then, over about eight hours on Sunday, the Mets received confirmation that it can in fact work quite well.

Verlander noted that the mood inside the home clubhouse hasn’t changed much over the last five games, because the Mets have always been a positive bunch. But there’s something to be said for backing it up with victories.

“It’s never quite good enough until you’re the last team standing, and that’s what these guys are trying to give themselves a chance to do,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Games like this, and series against good clubs certainly don’t hurt that.”