HOUSTON -- The crowd roared when Justin Verlander, already having thrown 109 pitches, emerged from the end of the Astros' dugout and headed to the mound prior to the start of the ninth inning Saturday. An epic pitching performance was about to be legendary, a tied game was about to
HOUSTON -- The crowd roared when Justin Verlander, already having thrown 109 pitches, emerged from the end of the Astros' dugout and headed to the mound prior to the start of the ninth inning Saturday. An epic pitching performance was about to be legendary, a tied game was about to be won.
Verlander pitched around a one-out single in the ninth inning and wound up throwing 124 pitches, including a staggering 93 strikes, and he was rewarded when Carlos Correa doubled home Jose Altuve from first base with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World. The Astros' 2-1 win over the Yankees gives them a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
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"Big moments are meant for big-time performers," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "From pitch one, Justin Verlander was big for this team -- really pitch one as an Astro. But most importantly, this game today, he was exceptional in every way. From controlling his emotions to executing every pitch to being dominant with his fastball, the put-away breaking ball, a couple changeups -- he just was every bit the top-end pitcher in the league that he's been for a really long time."
An opportunity to win the elusive World Series ring is why Verlander waved his no-trade clause and approved a deal to the Astros as the seconds wound down on the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline. His ability to rise to the occasion in big games is why Houston pursued him so vigorously.
"Yeah, I mean, this is what I envisioned when I made that decision," Verlander said. "When it came down to it, when I decided to say yes, these are the moments that you envision. You don't envision going 5-0 in the regular season once you get here. That's all fine and great, but that's not why I was brought here. I was brought here to help this team win a championship."
The Astros are two wins away from reaching their second World Series, thanks in large part to Verlander, who joined Mike Scott, Roy Oswalt and Dallas Keuchel with one of the most clutch pitching outings in Houston's postseason history. Verlander struck out 13 batters, allowed one run and five hits and walked only one.
"He's in total control of what he's doing," catcher Brian McCann said. "He's a true competitor. He wants the ball and doesn't want to come out of the game. He's been doing this for a long, long time, and when you look at the back of his baseball card -- the consistency, the longevity, the big games he's pitched in -- we're glad he decided to come here."
Verlander threw 57.3-percent four-seam fastballs at a 77.5-percent strike rate, according to Statcast™. He threw 31.5-percent sliders (76.9-percent strikes), 9.7-percent curveballs (58.3-percent strikes) and two changeups (one swinging strike).
"He was using [his slider] effectively," Yankees slugger Aaron Judge said. "He was throwing it down in the zone. His fastballs, too. He was making a lot of tough pitches."
Verlander's 124 pitches are the most recorded by any pitcher in a postseason game since Keuchel threw 124 in Game 3 of the 2015 AL Division Series against Kansas City. His 93 strikes are the most thrown in a postseason game since Verlander threw 94 in Game 5 of the 2011 ALCS for the Tigers against the Rangers.
"I felt really good, really strong early," Verlander said. "And then in the middle innings, I kind of lost my slider a little bit. Everything kind of clicked after that, and I was just able to make my pitches. And that's kind of what I kept telling myself. I don't try to see the big picture or let myself think too far ahead, it's just being in the moment, make your pitches and try to execute as long as you can until the manager says you're done."
Hinch wasn't about to take the ball from Verlander.
"Sometimes you have to combine what you know with what you see," Hinch said. "And that's really hard to do in this job. Obviously, it's a results-oriented game. When it works out, you feel great about it; if it didn't work out, I would have felt terrible about it."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.