This is precisely why the Houston Astros acquired Justin Verlander, to be a big-game pitcher when the season’s on the line.
And, unbelievably, it’s on the line Friday night for the Astros, who, despite jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the series, now find themselves facing elimination after the upstart New York Yankees reeled off three consecutive victories at home in the American League Championship Series.
Verlander, 35, has been outstanding since being traded from the Tigers, appearing in eight games for the Astros (seven starts) — and winning them all, including 3-0 in the postseason. The Astros’ $40 million commitment through 2019 is paying off nicely. But truth be told, Verlander hasn’t faced a pressure-packed start like this since the 2013 American League Division Series.
In his 20th postseason appearance of his 13-year major-league career, this will be the fifth time Verlander has taken the mound in an elimination game.
His previous four, of course, were with the Tigers. Here’s a look back at how he fared.
2006 World Series, Game 5
This is the only elimination game Verlander lost, and it wasn’t totally his fault. The Tigers offense went ice cold in the World Series against the Cardinals, who took home the title this Oct. 27 night in St. Louis with a 4-2 victory. Verlander went six innings and allowed just one earned run on six hits, while striking out four and walking three. That said, the two unearned runs were the result of his throwing error, the latest miscue by a Tigers pitcher in the 2006 World Series, leading to a serious increase in PFP reps during spring training in 2007.
2011 ALCS, Game 5
The Tigers trailed 3-1 to the Texas Rangers when Verlander got the call Oct. 13 at Comerica Park. His future teammate, Ian Kinsler, led off the game with a double and eventually scored on a Josh Hamilton sacrifice fly, but Verlander was pretty sharp the rest of the way. He pitched into the eighth inning, allowed four earned runs on eight hits while striking out eight and walking three. The Tigers offense, led by two Delmon Young homers, perked up in a 7-5 win and took the series to Game 6 back in Arlington, where the Rangers sealed the deal.
2012 ALDS, Game 5
Folks around baseball raved about Verlander’s 13-strikeout, complete-game effort earlier in this year’s ALCS — but the truth is, according to BaseballReference.com’s Game Score model, this start, Oct. 11 in Oakland, actually was the best of his postseason career. The Tigers staked him to a 2-0 lead, which was more than enough, as Verlander allowed just four hits (three singles) while striking out 11 and walking one in a 6-0 victory over the A’s. That series eventually catapulted the Tigers to their second World Series appearance of the Verlander era.
2013 ALDS, Game 5
This was like deja vu for Verlander and the Tigers, who trailed 2-1 in the series to the A’s but clawed out the win in Game 4 to get the ball again to Verlander in a do-or-die Game 5 in Oakland. On Oct. 10, it was almost one year to the day from his previous elimination start. And he was equally brilliant, Game Score ranking this his second-best postseason start (this year’s ALCS gem is ranked third). Detroit struck early on a Miguel Cabrera homer, and Verlander did the rest, allowing two hits in eight innings, while striking out 10 and walking one in the 3-0 triumph.
By the numbers
■ Verlander in the playoffs: 10-5, 3.18 ERA, 128 strikeouts in 116 innings, .208 opposing batting average
■ Verlander in elimination games: 3-1, 1.48 ERA, 33 strikeouts in 30.1 innings, .183 opposing batting average