'True competitor' Verlander set for must-win G6

Right-hander tossed complete game in win over Yankees in Game 2

October 18th, 2017

HOUSTON -- Recreating his Game 2 masterpiece is a big ask of , but the Astros hope their postseason stalwart has something similar in the works for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series under pressing circumstances.

The Astros find themselves trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven ALCS presented by Camping World after Wednesday's 5-0 loss to the Yankees in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium, turning Game 6 into a must-win.

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Fortunately, there's no one they'd rather have on the mound than Verlander, who pitched a complete-game gem on Saturday to help the Astros secure a two-game lead. After three losses in New York, it's back to Verlander for a rematch with right-hander and the Yankees at Minute Maid Park.

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"He's been there," Astros outfielder said. "He's had success there. He builds off that experience, which makes it a comfort level for him. He knows how to dig back and take those outings and build off them in the future."

Verlander, a 13-year veteran who has started four potential elimination games, has won each of his past three, two of them coming against Reddick's former club, the A's, in Game 5 of the AL Division Series in 2012 and '13. His ERA in elimination games sits at 1.48.

"He raises the bar," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "His presence will immediately make everybody sit up straight, stand up a little more, have a little bit more energy. It's hard to measure. It's hard to fake. You either have it or you don't. Verlander has it."

The right-hander racked up 13 strikeouts against the Yankees in Game 2, yielding just one run and going the distance while his teammates went to work in the ninth and staged a dramatic walk-off victory to make a winner out of Verlander.

The scene brought to light the kind of moments Verlander envisioned when he agreed to waive his no-trade clause and join the Astros via Detroit at the waiver Trade Deadline on Aug. 31.

"I think so far I've done what they've asked or what they've needed of me to help the rotation and get deep in the playoffs," Verlander said. "This is obviously the biggest game for the Astros up to this point of the season. The expectations are there. My teammates, I'm sure, are expecting a lot of me. And I expect a lot of myself. This is why we play the game. And I love these opportunities to pitch in these atmospheres, this type of game."

The workhorse totaled 124 pitches (93 strikes) in a gritty display in Game 2. He held the Yankees to five hits and one walk, and was rewarded for his effort when doubled home from first base with the winning run in the home half of the ninth.

Verlander stuck with his four-seam fastball 57.3 percent of the time, throwing it at a 77.5-percent strike rate, per Statcast™. His slider was just as effective, resulting in a strike 77.5 percent of the time.

Statcast™ also shows that Verlander had the best four-seam spin rate in Game 2 of any of his starts since the application was introduced in 2015. High spin rate is what gives a fastball the "rising fastball" type of effect, with 2,500 rpm considered elite. In Game 2, all of Verlander's fastballs had more than 2,500 rpm, reaching as high as 2,635. His velocity was there, too, as good as it has been all year.

Verlander displayed an average four-seam velocity above 96 mph in five starts this year. Two of them have come in October, Game 2 included.

"I kind of step on the gas," Verlander said. "I feel as good now as I've felt all year. This is what we work so hard for. My workout regimen in the offseason, my throwing regimen, my shoulder regimen in-season, all that stuff, this is when it pays off the most.

"I came out of that start better than almost any I have all year."

The Baby Bombers trio of , and Greg Bird were hitless in a combined 11 at-bats against Verlander, who kept New York's veteran crew in check as well. Several Yankees hitters, however, have enjoyed past success against the right-hander; is 6-for-18, 6-for-20 and 10-for-37.

"He's got good velo, spots his fastball well," Judge said. "When he's working that pretty well and then he mixes in his offspeed pitches, it's difficult. We're just going to go down there and keep our game plan. Just try to get on him early and hit the mistakes. When he's on, he's on. He's tough to hit."

Verlander, 34, has enjoyed his share of October showings. Tonight's outing will mark his 20th (19th start) in the postseason, a stretch that has seen him compile a stellar 3.18 ERA, with 128 strikeouts across 116 innings.

"He's a true competitor," Astros catcher said. "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."