HOUSTON -- Any debate about who should win the 2022 American League Cy Young Award was likely put to rest in the span of five remarkable innings Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, if it was even in question to begin with.
How could anyone deny Justin Verlander after his remarkable season? How can you not be awed by Verlander coming off Tommy John surgery and having one of the best years of his career? How did he do this at age 39?
Verlander, making his 28th and final start, struck out 10 batters and walked one in five hitless innings, lowering his ERA to 1.75, in the Astros’ 10-0 win over the Phillies. Houston is 105-56 heading into Wednesday’s regular-season finale.
“I don’t think it’s the right time to talk about that, to be honest,” Verlander said of the Cy Young Award. “With the postseason coming up, personal accolades aren’t really something I try to think about, and I intentionally try not to.”
Verlander (18-4) and relief pitchers Hunter Brown and Héctor Neris combined for eight no-hit innings before Phillies catcher Garrett Stubbs -- the former Astro who got his 2021 AL championship ring earlier in the day -- got a hit off Will Smith to start the ninth.
The Phillies, who clinched a National League Wild Card berth Monday, sat regular starters Jean Segura, Nick Castellanos, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and Kyle Schwarber, but that didn’t dampen Verlander’s performance.
“We wanted to get him the victory, of course, and wanted him to win the ERA title, as well,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He was magnificent. I know they had an All-Star team on the bench other than [Bryce] Harper, but still, they got a good offense over there.”
The 1.75 ERA is the lowest for a qualified AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez, who had a 1.74 ERA in 2000, and gives Verlander his second ERA title. If he wins the Cy Young -- which will be announced in November -- it will be his third, adding to those he won in '11 with the Tigers and '19 with the Astros.
“I think I’m probably the least surprised person [that] I’m here,” he said. “Everybody wants to ask me, ‘How amazed are you?’ For me, I’m not. I know how hard I worked, I know how good I felt, I know how good the rehab went, I know how good my body felt at the end of the season. To me, this was maybe not what was supposed to happen, but what I expected to happen.”
Verlander threw 175 innings, which was the result of working in a six-man rotation and a stint on the injured list with a calf injury. He posted a 0.83 WHIP and a .186 opponents' ERA, which led the AL. He didn’t allow a homer in his last 58 2/3 innings.
“The last few starts, it was like the Secretariat movie, when he’s coming around the last turn,” Verlander said. “He’s having a great race and the trainer is like, ‘Just don’t fall off!’ That’s how I felt. I had to keep reminding myself, ‘Just finish strong. Let’s not try to limp home for any particular reason, because I want to finish with whatever flashy numbers there are.’ Kind of go back out there and pitch to what got you here, which is go out there and win baseball games, keep your guys in the game and don’t try to do too much.”
Verlander retired the first 12 batters he faced on Tuesday, including eight strikeouts in a row, which tied the Astros' club record accomplished twice previously: Jim Deshaies on Sept. 23, 1986, against the Dodgers and Don Wilson on July 14, 1968, at Cincinnati.
Here are some other Verlander numbers from his 2022 season:
• Verlander is the 12th pitcher (16th occurrence overall) to win an AL or NL ERA title in their age-36 season or older. Eight of the previous 11 to join this list are in the Hall of Fame, and Clemens would be a shoo-in if not for PED reasons.
• The 10 strikeouts give Verlander 79 career double-digit strikeout games (including playoffs), which ties Bob Gibson for ninth most all time since 1901. Verlander also passed Max Scherzer and moved into 12th-place all time with 3,168 strikeouts.