HOUSTON — He has won the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards, was the MVP of the 2017 AL Championship Series, has thrown three no-hitters and will likely win his third AL Cy Young Award later this year. For a pitcher that’s done it all in his career, Justin Verlander is still chasing a rather big carrot.
When Verlander takes the mound against the Phillies in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday at Minute Maid Park, he’ll be seeking 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 only win coming in the Astros’ 11-inning victory over the Dodgers in Game 2 of the 2017 Series.
Verlander, reminded of this fact on Thursday, said he and manager Dusty Baker are both chasing that elusive World Series win. Baker has won more games (2,093) than any other manager in AL/NL history who hasn’t won a championship. Verlander’s start Friday will be his 12th in Game 1 of a postseason 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 list,” Verlander said. “It’s not my goal, though. My goal’s not to go out there and win a baseball game. There have been games in the World Series that I don’t deserve a win. There have been games that I thought I pitched well enough 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) in 11 innings. He started Game 1 of the ’12 World Series for Detroit, giving up five runs and six hits in four innings against the Giants. Since coming to the Astros, he has a 4.70 ERA in four Fall Classic starts — two each in the ’17 and ’19 World Series.
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 Fall Classic starts and all but one of them — Cincinnati’s Gary Nolan (one win) — have at least two wins.
“I would like to get a win, yeah,” Verlander said. “Like I said, that’s not my goal, so I don’t want to say that that feels like it’s lacking, because innately, that would make it a particular goal of mine. My goal is to go out and give us the best chance to win. If that ends up resulting in a win, great. I’ve been a part of games that I pitched and started that we won in the World Series, which is more important than getting the win.”
On Friday, Verlander will be pitching three years and one day after his previous World Series start, which was Game 6 of the 2019 Fall Classic against the Nationals. With the Astros needing one win to take the World Series title, he gave up three runs and five hits — including homers to Adam Eaton and Juan Soto — in five innings.
Coming off Tommy John surgery last year and focusing on his rehab, Verlander wasn’t a part of Houston’s run to the ’21 World Series. The Astros were also without the injured Lance McCullers Jr. when they faced the Braves in the Fall Classic. But this year, they have been bolstered by incredible pitching depth.
Verlander went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA in 28 regular-season starts. After giving up six runs and 10 hits in 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 Game 1 of the ALCS. He will be pitching Friday on eight days of rest — a long wait for what he hopes is another career first.
“It’s kind of a weird timeframe where you’re not going to try and rush in an extra simulated game or anything, so I just threw a couple bullpens,” Verlander said. “This year, I’ve had a couple times through the rotation where I had eight days off. So just kind of hope that all the repetitions throughout my entire life show up.”