Justin Verlander Checks Off Final Box With First World Series Win
PHILADELPHIA—From the moment the Tigers drafted Justin Verlander second overall out of Old Dominion in 2004, the righthander showed he was special.
Verlander led the minors with a miniscule 1.29 ERA in his first professional season and made his major league debut barely a year after being drafted. One year later, he won the American League Rookie of the Year award and led the Tigers to the World Series. The year after that, he pitched his first no-hitter and made his first all-star team.
And so began one of the most decorated careers of a generation, one that has come to include two Cy Young Awards (with a third likely on the way), an MVP award, three no-hitters and a World Series championship. As far as draft picks go, Verlander is the living embodiment of what every team hopes for when they select a pitcher at the top of the draft.
But for all of Verlander’s accomplishments, one critical thing was missing on his Hall of Fame resume. On Thursday night, he finally crossed that final, elusive item off the list.
Verlander held the Phillies to one run over five workmanlike innings to earn his first career World Series win, and the Astros held on to pick up a tense, 3-2 win at Citizen’s Bank Park. The Astros lead three games to two as the series returns to Houston for Game 6 on Saturday.
Verlander made his first World Series start 16 years ago. Pitching in his fifth World Series across three different decades, he finally got his first World Series win.
“My boys, my teammates, my family, they gave me the rookie treatment after the game,” Verlander said with a bright smile on his face. “They put me in the cart and rolled me in the shower and just doused me with all sorts of stuff. It was one of the best feelings in my career.”
It was certainly a long time coming. Verlander pitched in four previous World Series—2006, 2012, 2017 and 2019—and never earned a win in any of them. He started Game 1 of this year’s World Series and coughed up a 5-0 lead as the Phillies rallied to win the opener. After that latest implosion, Verlander’s record stood at 0-6, 6.07 in eight career World Series starts, an enormous blemish on an otherwise spotless career.
Now, it’s gone.
“I was thankful for the opportunity,” Verlander said, “and thankful to come through.”
It was hardly a vintage Verlander performance. He gave up four hits, walked four and allowed a runner to reach scoring position in four of his five innings. He surrendered a leadoff homer to Kyle Schwarber and a ringing, 115 mph double to Bryce Harper. He needed 94 pitches to get through five innings and fell into deep counts throughout the evening.
But when it mattered most, he made the pitches he needed to. With two outs and the bases loaded in the second inning and the score tied 1-1, he struck out Rhys Hoskins swinging through a 90 mph slider to end the threat and escape unscathed. After the Astros took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on Jeremy Peña's home run, he jammed Bryson Stott with a 97 mph fastball high and inside for a flyout to right to strand the tying run at second base in the bottom of the frame. And in the fifth, after allowing Harper’s screaming double, Verlander battled through a 10-pitch at-bat against Nick Castellanos and got him to fly out to right, once again stranding the tying run in scoring position and ending his night on a high note.
In all, seven Phillies batters reached base against Verlander after Schwarber’s leadoff homer. He stranded all seven of them.
“I mean, this guy, he's been one of the best getting out of trouble,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “And, you know, to me, that was his game. Like I've said many times, he's our ace, and it's hard to pull your ace because that's why he's the ace.”
The Phillies continued to threaten after Verlander departed, but the Astros bullpen held to keep him in line for the win.
Bryan Abreu entered in the sixth and stranded a pair to again leave the tying runner on second base. After the Astros added to their lead to make it 3-1 in the eighth, the Phillies crawled back within one on Jean Segura’s RBI single to right and had the tying run on third. Schwarber ripped a shot down the right-field line that appeared to be the game-tying hit, but Astros first baseman Trey Mancini, playing the line after holding Segura at first base, corralled it and stepped on first to record the final out of the inning and keep the Astros lead intact.
Chas McCormick added to the Astros defensive heroics in the ninth, making a running, leaping catch at the center field wall to rob J.T. Realmuto of extra bases. Ryan Pressly hit Harper to put the tying run once again on base, but he subsequently induced a groundout from Castellanos to complete a five-out save and seal Verlander’s first World Series win.
“Trey and Chas, both just huge contributors to tonight. Bullpen, Ryan Pressly, I mean, it just is so symbolic for me that my first win in the World Series is just such a great team win,” Verlander said. “There's so many people that go into all these wins in my career. Countless individuals that I've played with that have made great plays in certain situations that get overlooked. To have it happen on the biggest stage tonight was pretty special.”
Verlander, 39, is a free agent after the season. His start on Thursday could very well have been his last one in an Astros uniform.
Whatever happens next, he certainly made it count. After chasing one for 16 years, he finally has a World Series win.