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Detroit — It's not his first time back in Detroit, and Wednesday won't be his first start back in Detroit with the Houston Astros.

Been there, done that.

That's not to say it's still not an overwhelming time for Verlander, who chummed around with Miguel Cabrera, Jack Morris and others before the series opener Monday night.

"Any time I'm gonna come back here, no matter how long it's been or how many times, it will be a pretty nerve-wracking experience," Verlander said, perched comfortably in the visitor's dugout about two hours before first pitch Monday. "I spent so much time here and have so many memories, it has such a special place in my heart."

Verlander spent more than a decade as the face of the Detroit Tigers, a tenure that featured two trips to the World Series, two no-hitters and a whole lot of trophies, including an MVP and Cy Young and a rookie-of-the-year award.

In fact, for most of his time in Detroit, he was the face of a fantastic sports city.

The state of Detroit sports ... well, let's just say it isn't what it used to be.

"I mean," Verlander said with a chuckle, "the city's doing so much better, and there's not a great sports franchise. It's kind of ironic. We were so good for so long, a lot of teams were good, the Red Wings, the Pistons.

"In my tenure here, they've had some really good teams. To have the city rebound like it has and not have a great sports franchise, it kind of sucks.

"But these guys will turn it around. It's too great of a sporting history, and a lot of pride."

It's been 11 years since the Red Wings won a Stanley Cup, 15 years since the Pistons won it all, and we all know about the Lions.

For the Tigers, this year marks the 35th anniversary since their last title.

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Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander met the media this week at Comerica Park. Tony Paul, The Detroit News

While appreciative of the Roar of '84, fans here are getting pretty tired celebrating that group every five years, instead of a newer champion. They'd much prefer to be celebrating the 2006 team or the 2012 team, but, yeah, that didn't work out.

Verlander's still bitter.

"The reason was the time off before the two World Series," Verlander said. "We had the talent to do it for many years. When it comes to playoff time, it's kind of a roll of the dice. It comes down to the hottest team at the right time. I think we were that team, twice, and we got cooled off by the week layoff for the World Series both times. It sucks; that's the name of the game.

"It's probably the one sport, this sport, where the time off like that wouldn't help you. Every other sport I think it's a benefit, but this one, it is absolutely a negative."

Verlander points to his 2017 Houston Astros, which needed seven games to get by the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. That test kept them fresh, and they won the World Series in seven games over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

He got the ring that long eluded him in Detroit.

"I felt bad for Mr. (Ilitch), he put his heart and soul into this organization, did everything he possibly could to allow us to win a championship," Verlander said. "Came close a couple times. It's probably one of my biggest regrets."

Verlander, 36, now is in his second full season with the Houston Astros, and he's 6-1 with a 2.51 ERA and .163 opponents' average in his nine starts. In 57⅓ innings, Verlander has struck out 68 and walked just 14.

He's not exactly slowing with age, which is good, because he wants to pitch until he's 45 like his idol, Nolan Ryan. And who'd bet against him?

"If he says he can, right now, the way he's throwing the ball, I don't know why he wouldn't," said his manager, A.J. Hinch.

Said his former teammate, Don Kelly, now a coach with the Astros: "Absolutely. We all know he's really special."

Verlander, just before the start of the season, signed a two-year, $66-million extension to stay with Houston through the 2021 season. He figured to have one more big free-agent contract in him, but he took a lot of the soft market and decided to take the cash now.

It could prove a bargain for the Astros, which is interestingly, because it really wasn't that long ago — five years or so, really — when Verlander's velocity was down, he was in constant pain with every pitch, and the future looked dicey.

Now he's coming off a runner-up showing in the Cy Young voting, the third of his career.

Hinch credits Verlander with always evolving, not always easy for a veteran — whether it's tinkering with his pitch arsenal or changing how he takes care of his body, which proved essential after his core-muscle surgery in 2014.

"He's always changing, tweaking, looking for something to do to make his pitches better, make him use his pitches better," Hinch said of Verlander, who made two starts against the Tigers last year — a stinker in Houston, followed by a good one in Detroit. "When you get someone that has the back of the baseball card he has, it's not always easy to get someone to change. But he's an open mind, will literally try anything if he thinks it can help a certain pitch or against a certain hitter.

"It's refreshing to have someone that good, that talented, that successful, want to (change his ways)."

For instance, if Verlander were to face new Tigers second baseman Josh Harrison late in Wednesday night's game, with, say, a no-hitter or better on the line, he might not throw him an outside breaking ball.

That was the pitch, after all, Harrison, then with the Pittsburgh Pirates, knocked up the middle with two outs in the ninth during a game at Comerica Park in May 2012.

That denied Verlander his third career no-hitter, which he still is searching for.

"Every time I see him on TV ..." Verlander said, part-smiling and part-cringing. "I'm not happy about it. I'm still not happy about it."

And that's about all Verlander — a new husband (to a supermodel, maybe you've heard) and new father to boot with the Hall-of-Fame resume and more than $200 million in career earnings — isn't happy about these days.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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