HOUSTON — He’s won the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, was the 2017 AL Championship Series MVP, has thrown three no-hitters and will win his third AL Cy Young Award later this year. For a pitcher who has done it all in his career, Justin Verlander Chasing an even bigger carrot.
When Verlander takes the mound against the Phillies Game 1 of the World Series is Friday at Minute Maid Park, he will look for his first win at the Fall Classic. That’s right — in seven World Series (four with Houston and three with Detroit), Verlander was 0-6 with a 5.68 ERA. Verlander’s teams are 1-6 in his seven World Series starts, with the Dodgers coming off an 11-inning victory over the Astros in Game 2 of the 2017 Series.
Verlander was reminded of this fact Thursday, saying he and manager Dusty Baker are chasing that elusive World Series victory. Baker has won more games (2,093) than any other manager in AL/NL history without a championship. Verlander’s start Friday will be his 12th in Game 1 of a postseason series (and third this year), tying him with Jon Lester in AL/NL history.
“I think it would be a wonderful thing to have on our career list,” Verlander said. “However, that’s not my goal. My goal is not to go out there and win baseball. There are games in the World Series that I don’t deserve to win. There are games where I thought I played well where we could have won, and it didn’t work out. At this point in the season, it’s personal like that. Goals don’t matter.
Verlander started Games 1 and 5 of the 2006 World Series for the Tigers against the Cardinals, allowing 10 runs (seven earned) in 11 innings. He started the first game of the ’12 World Series for Detroit, giving up five runs and six hits in four innings against the Giants. Since coming to the Astros, he has a 4.70 ERA in four Fall Classic starts — two each in the ’17 and ’19 World Series.
In fact, Verlander has the most starts without a hit in World Series history. There are 34 pitchers to make at least seven Fall Classic starts, and all but one of them — Cincinnati’s Gary Nolan (one hit) — have at least two wins.
“I want to win, yes,” Verlander said. “Like I said, that’s not my goal, so I don’t want to say it’s lacking, because innately, that becomes a specific goal of mine. My goal is to go out and give myself the best chance to win. If it ends up being a win, great. I think we won the World Series. I’ve been a part of games where pitching has started, which is more important than getting a hit.
On Friday, Verlander will pitch three years and one day after his previous World Series start, Game 6 of the 2019 Fall Classic against the Nationals. With the Astros needing a win to clinch the World Series title, he gave up three runs and five hits in five innings, including homers to Adam Eaton and Juan Soto.
Coming off Tommy John surgery last year and focusing on his rehab, Verlander wasn’t part of Houston’s run to the ’21 World Series. The Astros were without an injured Lance McCullers Jr. when they faced the Braves in the Fall Classic. But this year, they’ve been bolstered by incredible pitch depth.
Verlander went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA in 28 regular-season starts. After giving up six runs and 10 hits in four innings against the Mariners in Game 1 of the AL Division Series — one of the toughest starts of his postseason career — Verlander held the Yankees to one run and three hits in the game. 1 in the ALCS. He will pitch Friday on eight days rest — a long wait for what he hopes is another career first.
“It’s a different time frame where you’re not going to rush in an extra simulated game or anything, so I threw a couple bullpens,” Verlander said. “This year, I’ve been through the cycle twice, where I’ve had eight days off. So I’m hoping to repeat that for the rest of my life.”