Reports of Justin Verlander’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
With most of his measurables in decline since 2013, in 2014 it seemed the one-time ace had lost his touch. The perennial All-Star from 2009 to 2013 saw his ERA balloon to 4.54 in 2014, and he became a veritable lightning rod as the Detroit Tigers struggled around him. He struggled with control, and his strikeout numbers, which had been above 200 every season from 2009 to 2013, fell to 159 in 2014.
With the Detroit Tigers facing a full rebuild after a disappointing 2017, Verlander was traded to the Houston Astros late in the season, making five starts Houston before the postseason started.
At the age of 34, Verlander has re-captured lightning in a bottle. He won all five of his late-season starts for Houston and has been almost untouchable in the playoffs. He bookended wins in the ALDS series against the Boston Red Sox, picking up the Game 1 win as the starter and then again in Game 4 coming out of the bullpen.
Verlander turned in another big-time performance in Game 6 of the ALCS versus the New York Yankees. With the Astros down 3-2 and on the brink of elimination, Verlander tossed seven scoreless innings, striking out eight. Over the two starts he made against New York, he posted a 0.56 ERA, struck out 21 and walked just two.
“He’s been everything that we could have hoped for and more,” said Houston Manager A.J. Hinch following the Game 6 win. “This guy prepares. He rises to the moment. He’s incredibly focused, locked in during games and he emptied his tank tonight.”
Even when most around him doubted he could comeback, Verlander kept the faith. After starting 2016 with a 2-3 record and a 6.49 ERA, the pitcher tweeted on May 3 of that year “I’m going to dominate soon! I’m close. Doubt me if you want…We’ll see.”
He claims it was nothing more than going back to basics, finding a reliable release point and regaining his control. While that may sound easy enough, it obviously wasn’t. Hard work and perseverance when those around may have had doubts has proven once again that it takes more than just talent to pitch a team to the top of the mountain. It also takes hard work and guts.