Friend of the blog, Becky, was asking us before Sunday’s game, do we remember what we were doing at 11:59 PM on August 31st two years ago. Not sure what everyone else was doing, but I’m pretty sure I was sleeping. But most of us awoke to a glorious September 1st, that brought us one of the best pitchers ever and one who would be the catalyst for the Astros first World Series run.
Flash forward two seasons to another glorious September 1st and Justin Verlander with the help of his new best friend, rookie Abraham Toro, threw a 120 pitch no-hit gem in beating the Blue Jays 2-0. Do not be surprised if like the trade two seasons ago, that the team springboards off this gritty performance to new heights in the weeks to come.
It is easy to point to the statistical brilliance of JV since he came to Houston. His overall 38-14 record, 2.43 ERA and 0.825 WHIP in those two years time are eye-popping. He has stepped up his game in 2019 (17-5, 2.56 ERA, 0.772 WHIP) as he is in a friendly cage fight with teammate Gerrit Cole for his second potential Cy Young Award. But in reality as much as Verlander has helped this team physically, he has helped them more in preparation and psychology.
In 2017, the Astros before the trade had a talented enough team to win it all. They had the best offense, solid pitching and they certainly had a better team than, say, the 2015 Royals, who won it all. But it was obvious they did not believe in themselves totally. Their best pitcher, Dallas Keuchel basically stated so when the team did not make a move at the regular trade deadline when he called out the front office. The psychological lift of adding him to the team, may well have outstripped his 5-0 / 1.06 ERA/ 0.647 WHIP September in what it did for the team.
The source of his no-hitter on Sunday can be seen in his previous start. He was tossed out of a game in the 6th inning with a 9-0 lead. Folks may wonder at the sanity of a pitcher, who would even care about ball and strike calls when comfortably ahead like that, but one of the biggest keys to Verlander’s success is his complete immersion in the moment of the game. Justin was going to give his best effort no matter what and expected everyone else including the umpire to do the same.
One of the greatest gifts Verlander gave his teammates in their race to the championship in 2017 was something he did after getting pulled and sent to the clubhouse in Game 2 of the World Series. Remember that the Astros had not only never won a World Series in their 56 season history, they had never won a World Series game having been swept in 2005 by the White Sox and beat in the first game of the 2017 series. They had fought back with a late rally to tie the 2nd game 3-3, took a 5-3 lead in the 10th and then blew that lead in the bottom of the inning. They had to be feeling down. He came out of the clubhouse and started yelling encouragement to them. He told them what a good team they are and to just get out there and play and beat the other team. Which they did.
In 2019, Verlander may lead the league or even all of baseball in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts and WHIP. He may win his second Cy Young award. He has already thrown his third career no-hitter behind only Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan. But if he leads this team to another world championship, I am sure he won’t give a flip about all the rest. The man is a winner and hopefully it continues to rub off on all those around him.