Much of Detroit and Michigan cheered Wednesday night when the Houston Tigers won the World Series.
Deep in the baseball mart of Texas, and elsewhere in the big-league galaxy, they’re known as the Astros. But in these parts Houston simply carried too much Tigers identity to think of it as anything other than Motown’s adopted World Series child.
And that of course had everything to do with Justin Verlander’s summer relocation.
It was nice that a charismatic outfielder, Cameron Maybin, who had been hugged and cuddled by fans during his 2016 season here, also slurped champagne Wednesday after the Astros had toppled the Dodgers in Game 7.
But it was Verlander who spurred a peculiar, probably unprecedented, Tigers attachment to a rival team as it out-wrestled the Yankees, then the mighty Dodgers, to win a championship Verlander and his Tigers had never been able to grab in Detroit.
This is the way it looked that night of Aug. 31 when there was a literal 11th-hour fire-drill that saw the Astros scurry to finish a deal they, only late that night, had begun to concoct with Tigers general manager Al Avila.
Those of us who had been watching Verlander’s work in 2017 knew he needed a new home. With a World Series-caliber team. On a roster that, with one more arm as lofty as Verlander’s, could steal the post-season, rather than be consigned to every-fifth-day artistry for a rebuilding team in Detroit.
All along it looked as if Houston would — and should — be that team. But for reasons the Astros might or might not now explain, something had held them back during the July and August trade hours. Whether it was too much money yet owed Verlander, or too many precious prospects they’d need to fork over as ransom for a player of his grandiosity, the Astros, like the Cubs, like the Dodgers, and even the Yankees, were sidestepping a pitcher most of us thought could be a team’s difference-maker in October.
Which is absolutely what Verlander became for the Astros.
The Tigers needed this trade as much as Houston. Shaking hands with Verlander and wishing him the World Series ring he never got here was not easy for a team, nor for the folks who had come to see him as something of a baseball deity in Detroit.
But needs had to be fulfilled in Detroit just as the Astros — and Verlander, for that matter — were mandated to make this closing-hours swap work for everyone.
It has been a cart-wheeling triumph for the Astros and for an ace pitcher who can now add World Series jewelry to a hand opposite the one that will soon bear a wedding ring, a sign of his nuptials with Kate Upton that are supposed to be consecrated any hour now in Italy.
The Tigers, too, might someday shine because of their witching-hour deal in August that brought three choice prospects: Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, and Jake Rogers.
Different needs. Different timelines. Different measures by which a trade that truly could be considered one of those win-win-win arrangements might also work for a reconstructing Tigers club.
“It’s going to help set us up for the future,” Avila said Thursday, conceding that Verlander’s champagne shower was a moment the Tigers, too, could feel good about.
“As an organization, we’re extremely happy,” Avila said. “Verlander helped them win the World Series — and Verlander got his ring.”
The Tigers got a jump-start on redoing their top-prospects list at the same time a business office in need of dropping a few tons of salaries shed a chunk of Tigers payroll blubber.
Only one mystery remains as the Astros get ready for their downtown parade and wonder, amid the bubbly, where they might have been minus that late-night bartering that came within seconds of missing an inviolate midnight deadline.
What took them so long? And where were the Dodgers, who settled instead on Yu Darvish, a good pitcher but never for a moment a performer on Verlander’s level, as the World Series confirmed.
Where had been the Yankees, who had the money and the prospects to make Verlander their bonanza?
The Cubs? They needed another starter as anyone from Chicago’s north side with first-grade baseball capacity had known since spring.
Avila had been open to trading Verlander since last autumn and every GM in baseball knew it. They knew it in July as the inter-league deadline came and expired with Verlander twirling magic for a Tigers team going nowhere.
But not a single serious offer began to percolate until that waning-hours trade twilight of Aug. 31, when, many of us suspect, manager A.J. Hinch — who all along knew Verlander could put his team over the edge — pushed Astros GM Jeff Luhnow to finally ship a stable-full of thoroughbreds to the Tigers for baseball’s most eligible pitching prize, Verlander.
The Dodgers had payroll issues of their own and backed away from a deal with Detroit. But everyone knows had they opted instead for Verlander rather than for Darvish there would be a celebratory flotilla about to wend its way down Colorado Boulevard, or wherever the Dodgers’ championship parade were routed.
They could have eased their payroll concerns by turning around this autumn and trading Verlander for at least the price they paid the Tigers in August. But they hung tight to their prospects and to their existing paychecks and instead brought aboard the comparatively feckless Darvish.
What matters today as Verlander and Upton head for the Amalfi Coast, or whatever Paradise their vows are to be blessed, is that a glorious pitcher finally has his championship, as does a town that never before had known such baseball bliss.
It counts, too, that the Tigers can feel good about what happened late Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. They can be glad for what Verlander did while here, for what he helped the Astros complete, and for what he delivered to Detroit that might help restore some of those lush baseball seasons that once were the norm at Comerica Park, embodied by a pitcher a town and a team aren’t about to forget.