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Which ace would you pick to win one game?

MLB.com @MikeLupica

At a time in baseball when we now see "Opener" starting to get thrown into the same pot with "Closer," when Rays manager Kevin Cash has used openers on his way to getting the Rays to a rather amazing record of 42-41, I still want to celebrate true aces today, which you sometimes think have become almost as rare as old-fashioned Sunday afternoon doubleheaders. Or two-and-a-half hour games.

I've always gone with Buck Showalter's definition of a true ace, which is that you simply know one when you see one, apart from whatever kind of a gaudy stat lines they have. Justin Verlander pitched like an ace in October against the Yankees, in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park with his team down 3-2 in the series after just having been swept three games at Yankee Stadium.

"I think an ace is a pitcher that both sides take notice when he pitches," manager AJ Hinch said. "He brings immense confidence to his team that we are going to win that night. He backs up that feeling with performance. An ace has that immeasurable impact on every player on the field."

At a time in baseball when we now see "Opener" starting to get thrown into the same pot with "Closer," when Rays manager Kevin Cash has used openers on his way to getting the Rays to a rather amazing record of 42-41, I still want to celebrate true aces today, which you sometimes think have become almost as rare as old-fashioned Sunday afternoon doubleheaders. Or two-and-a-half hour games.

I've always gone with Buck Showalter's definition of a true ace, which is that you simply know one when you see one, apart from whatever kind of a gaudy stat lines they have. Justin Verlander pitched like an ace in October against the Yankees, in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park with his team down 3-2 in the series after just having been swept three games at Yankee Stadium.

"I think an ace is a pitcher that both sides take notice when he pitches," manager AJ Hinch said. "He brings immense confidence to his team that we are going to win that night. He backs up that feeling with performance. An ace has that immeasurable impact on every player on the field."

Video: Facing elimination, Verlander lifts Astros to Game 7

Verlander pitched seven shutout innings that night, threw 99 pitches, struck out eight and allowed five hits to the Yankees -- really, he gave them nothing. He did what true aces are supposed to do in moments like that: he stood on the mound and threw his fastball at the Yankees and said, "See if you can hit this."

"It goes without saying," A's boss Billy Beane said on Sunday, "that an ace needs to be statistically good. But where a very good pitcher can carry a pitching staff, an ace carries an entire team."

Two players that fit that definition for me are Dave Stewart with the old A's, and Madison Bumgarner of the Giants. In fact, when you consider Bumgarner's bat, he really could carry an entire team. From an earlier era, Bob Gibson comes to mind.

Then Beane said: "An ace, whether real or imagined, has a clear presence, whether physical or cerebral."

Or both.

Another frame of reference I have always used is Josh Beckett's performance in Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS in Cleveland, his team down 3-1, and Beckett going up against CC Sabathia -- in Sabathia's Cy Young Award winning season for the Indians. Beckett allowed a run in the first, and nothing after. He struck out 11 that night. Beckett started that game and closed out the Indians at the same time, because the Indians never won another game in that series. The Red Sox never lost another game in '07, and won another World Series.

And sometimes you get a pure ace game at the beginning of a July 4 weekend, in the middle of the regular season instead of the middle of the postseason. That is what Chris Sale gave you on Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, as dominant a performance by a Boston pitcher against the Yankees -- and against these young home-run Yankees -- since Pedro Martinez came into the old Stadium nearly 20 years ago and struck out 17 and allowed just one hit (a homer by Chili Davis) against 28 batters faced.

Sale wasn't as good as Martinez on Saturday night, as he allowed one hit to the Yankees in seven innings and struck out 11, on a night when the Red Sox won, 11-0. But he was close enough. Andrew Benintendi spoke after the game about seeing the kind of stuff Sale had in the bottom of the first, with Sale having already been staked to a 4-0 lead because of Rafael Devers' grand slam off Sonny Gray, and thinking to himself, "Here we go."

On this night, Sale was the ace of his sport, moreso than Verlander, Max Scherzer or Luis Severino; more than Corey Kluber, or Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole. After all the games this year, when the Sox didn't get Sale enough runs, they got so many on Saturday night that you were waiting for somebody to invoke the mercy rule from Little League. Sale was the kind of presence to which Billy Beane referred -- both physical and cerebral.

The Yankees got aced.

I've asked this before, and will ask again: Who is the best of the handful of true aces we have in the game right now? If you had one game to win, to whom would you give the ball? Bumgarner isn't what he was. Clayton Kershaw is hurt. So throw those lefties out of the conversation for now.

Right now, I believe these are the four best starters (Kluber just barely misses the cut), each with remarkably similar stats to go along with the presence they've all shown:

Tweet from @MikeLupica: If you had one game to win, to whom would you give the ball?

Sale: 8-4 record, 2.41 ERA, 116 innings pitched, 164 strikeouts, 74 hits, 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

Verlander: 9-4 record, 2.12 ERA, 118 2/3 innings pitched, 144 strikeouts, 78 hits, 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Scherzer: 10-4 record, 2.04 ERA, 114 2/3 innings pitched, 71 hits, 13 strikeouts per nine innings.

Severino: 12-2, 2.10 ERA, 111 2/3 innings pitched, 132 strikeouts, 81 hits, 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

Scherzer has the very best numbers across the board. Verlander has gone into a bit of a slump. Severino was outdone by Verlander in Game 6 in October. Sale didn't win in the playoffs against Verlander's Astros.

Sale, Verlander, Scherzer or Severino? We all just saw Sale do what he did, and where he did it. So right now, today, I'd give the ball to him if I needed to win a game.

Who would you give it to?

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com. He also writes for the New York Daily News.

Cleveland Indians, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Luis Severino, Justin Verlander