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Verlander delivers in tight postseason spots

Righty is 3-1 with a 1.48 ERA over past four starts in an elimination game
MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Justin Verlander hasn't lost a postseason elimination game since the left side of the Astros' infield was in middle school. Third baseman Alex Bregman and shortstop Carlos Correa were 12 years old the last time it happened, the last time a team gave Verlander the baseball in October and its season ended.

Bregman and Correa are now 23. Verlander is still one of baseball's best stoppers at age 34. He'll take the ball for Houston in tonight's Game 6 of the American League Championship Series with the Astros' backs squarely against the wall.

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NEW YORK -- Justin Verlander hasn't lost a postseason elimination game since the left side of the Astros' infield was in middle school. Third baseman Alex Bregman and shortstop Carlos Correa were 12 years old the last time it happened, the last time a team gave Verlander the baseball in October and its season ended.

Bregman and Correa are now 23. Verlander is still one of baseball's best stoppers at age 34. He'll take the ball for Houston in tonight's Game 6 of the American League Championship Series with the Astros' backs squarely against the wall.

View Full Game Coverage

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"It feels good to have him," second baseman Jose Altuve said. "It's no secret what he can do."

Dress for the ALCS: Get Astros postseason gear

The last time Verlander lost a postseason elimination game was when he pitched for the Tigers in Game 5 of the 2006 World Series. Then just a rookie, he lost a 4-2 clincher to the Cardinals. Verlander has been the second-winningest playoff pitcher of his generation since, and he's basically as good as it gets in elimination games.

Game 5 of the 2011 ALCS against Texas: won.

Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS against Oakland, and the same-game, same-round rematch a year later: two wins, both in dominant fashion. Both of those were also series-clinchers.

Or as Bregman puts it: "He's an animal."

And Correa, who watched as a boy, then a prospect, then a phenom: "Everybody looked up to him."

In all, Verlander is 3-1 with a 1.48 ERA in those three wins over his past four postseason starts in an elimination game, with the only such loss coming more than a decade ago. He was particularly dominant in the past two, shutting out the A's over a combined 17 innings.

(Verlander also earned the win in the Astros' Game 4 clincher in this year's ALDS against the Red Sox, but he did so in relief.)

Video: HOU@BOS Gm4: Verlander comes on in relief, earns win

"He's been there. He's had success there," said Houston right fielder Josh Reddick, who played for those Oakland teams that Verlander overpowered. "He builds off that experience that makes it a comfort level for him. He knows how to dig back and take those outings and build off them for the future."

That sentiment rang loudly around the Astros' clubhouse on Wednesday, after their Game 5 loss, their third in three days at the hotbed that Yankee Stadium became again this week. It gives them as much confidence as a team can have in their position, where one more game could mean the beginning of their offseason.

"[We're going to] try to get on him early and hit the mistakes. When he's on, he's on," Aaron Judge said.

Video: Can the Astros get back on track at home for Game 6?

But Verlander has the history. Here are the details of his three dominant outings in elimination games.

2011 ALCS, Game 5
Opponent: Rangers
Down 3-1 in the series, Verlander kept the Tigers' season alive by outpitching C.J. Wilson in what would be the last start of Verlander's AL MVP Award campaign. Verlander allowed two runs through seven innings before getting chased by a two-run homer from Nelson Cruz in the eighth. Detroit won, 7-5, but was eliminated two days later in Game 6.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Verlander fans eight in 7 1/3 innings

2012 ALDS, Game 5
Opponent: A's
Verlander had already beaten Jarrod Parker, and his upstart A's, with a brilliant performance in Game 1. Verlander topped it in Game 5 in Oakland, striking out 11 in a four-hit shutout to send the Tigers to the ALCS against the Yankees with a 6-0 win.

Video: DET@OAK: Verlander sends Tigers to ALCS with shutout

2013 ALDS, Game 5
Opponent: A's
Same situation, same venue, a year later, Verlander outdueled Sonny Gray to send Detroit to the ALCS again. Verlander struck out 10 over eight innings, allowing just two hits and one walk in a 3-0 triumph.

Video: DET@OAK Gm5: Verlander pitches Tigers into ALCS

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

Houston Astros, Justin Verlander