HOUSTON — The Astros could see this coming long before it happened. They envisioned it before they even completed the deal for Justin Verlander. They knew that he is the type of pitcher who will keep his motor running until his tank is empty — and maybe then some.
“There’s no point in saving anything,” he said after he saved the Astros’ season for at least another day. “I’m out there until I’m not out there any longer.”
That was his way of reiterating the cliche he used a day earlier, when he said he would go out there and give it all he had. All he had was all the Astros could ask for Friday night — and then some. He pitched seven scoreless innings to keep his team’s season running.
Speaking of cliches, one of the oldest compliments for a starting pitcher is “he gave us a chance to win.” Verlander gave the Astros a chance to win the American League Championship Series heading into Game 7 Saturday night. Charlie Morton will get a chance to start, thanks to Verlander and his 7-1 win over the Yankees in Game 6.
“You don’t see every day, a guy goes out there in a tight game like that and just gets better as the game goes on. That’s rare,” Morton said of Verlander. “And he’s special. He’s one of the greatest pitchers in our generation.”
Friday night’s gem came on top of Verlander’s complete- game victory in Game 2 last Saturday. What’s more, counting his work for the Tigers, who traded him to Houston on Aug. 31, he has won his past four starts in elimination games. The past three of them were scoreless.
“The best way for me to explain it is, multiple times throughout the game, I’d forget what inning we’re in, what’s going on around me,” Verlander said. “My only focus is to execute pitch by pitch. I won’t even remember what batter is coming up.”
Most observers will not forget the at-bat by Todd Frazier in the fifth. He was so surprised by Verlander’s breaking pitch that he gave a perfunctory hack when the ball was just about completely past him. Almost instantly, Frazier was trending on Twitter. He almost got it all back, though, with two on in the seventh, when Verlander was on fumes. George Springer caught Frazier’s drive at the wall.
It was a case of the team helping a pitcher who has carried the team. “He has been everything we could have hoped for,” manager A.J. Hinch said after the game. “This guy prepares. He’s incredibly focused, locked in during the games. I know how much it means to him and I know how much he puts into it.”
That led to an inevitable question: Is it remotely possible that Verlander could be used for an inning in Game 7, a la Randy Johnson in the 2001 World Series? “I don’t know. We’ll have this conversation tomorrow,” Verlander said. “I told [A.J.] I’d be honest with him on how I felt. That will not change going into Game 7.”
But he had enough left in the tank to not rule it out.