HOUSTON — He won American League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, was the 2017 AL Championship Series MVP, threw three hits and will likely earn his third AL Cy Young award later this year. For a pitcher who has done everything in his career, Justin Verlander is always chasing a big enough carrot.
When Verlander takes the mound against the Phillies in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday at Minute Maid Park, he will seek his first win in the Fall Classic. That’s right — in seven career World Series starts (four with Houston and three with Detroit), Verlander is 0-6 with a 5.68 ERA. Verlander’s teams are 1-6 in his seven World Series starts, with the lone win being the Astros’ 11-inning win over the Dodgers in Game 2 of the 2017 Series.
Verlander, who recalled that fact on Thursday, said he and manager Dusty Baker were both chasing that elusive World Series victory. Baker has won more games (2,093) than any other manager in AL/NL history who has not won a championship. Verlander’s departure Friday will be his 12th in Game 1 of a playoff series (and third this year), tying him with Jon Lester for the most in AL/NL history.
“I think that would be a wonderful thing for us to have on our career roster,” Verlander said. “That’s not my goal, though. My goal is not to go out there and win a baseball game. There were games in the World Series where I didn’t deserve to win. There were games that I thought I started pretty well where we could get a win and it just didn’t work out. At this point in the season, personal goals like that just 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) over 11 innings. He started Game 1 of the 2012 World Series for Detroit, allowing five runs and six hits over four innings against the Giants. Since joining the Astros, he has a 4.70 ERA in four starts at the Fall Classic — two in World Series 17 and 19.
In fact, Verlander has the most starts in World Series history without recording a win. There have been 34 pitchers to make at least seven starts at the Fall Classic and all but one — Cincinnati’s Gary Nolan (one win) — have at least two wins.
“I would love to win, yes,” Verlander said. “As I said, that’s not my goal, so I don’t want to say it seems to be missing, because naturally that would make it a particular goal for me. My goal is to go out and give us the best chances of winning. If that translates into a win, great. I’ve been in games that I’ve pitched and started that we’ve won in the World Series, which is more important than getting the win.
On Friday, Verlander will pitch three and a day after his previous World Series start, which was Game 6 of the 2019 Fall Classic against the Nationals. With the Astros needing a win to clinch the World Series title, he allowed three runs and five hits — including home runs to Adam Eaton and Juan Soto — in five innings.
Coming off of Tommy John surgery last year and focusing on his rehabilitation, Verlander was not part of Houston’s run at the ’21 World Series. The Astros were also without an injured Lance McCullers Jr. when they faced the Braves in the Fall Classic. But this year, they’ve been bolstered by incredible pitching depth.
Verlander went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA in 28 regular season starts. After allowing six runs and 10 hits over 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 six innings in the game. 1 of the ALCS. He will kick off on Friday on eight days off – a long wait for what he hopes will be another career first.
“It’s kind of a weird time where you’re not going to try and rush into extra mock play or anything, so I just threw in some relievers,” Verlander said. “This year I had a few times in the rotation where I had eight days off. So just kind of hoping that all the repetitions throughout my life will show up.