In 20 years, we may not remember everything about the 2017 season. We may not recall that three different position players pitched this season or that Ashur Tolliver wasn’t the front man of a Pearl Jam tribute band.
We may not even remember bigger individual moments, like Josh Reddick losing a home run off his glove in Boston.
Memory is a tricky thing. It fools us almost as often as it helps us. When dealing with public memory, things get even murkier. But, I can guarantee that Game 2 of this year’s ALCS will be The Verlander Game, forever and always.
We’ll remember Carlos Correa’s home run that a 12-year-old from Liberty Hill “stole” from Aaron Judge. We’ll remember Jose Altuve’s dazzling slide to win the game and Gary Pettis’, um, courage(??) in sending him home.
The star, the one who will define this win and maybe this playof run is the big right-hander acquired from Detroit in the closing seconds of Aug. 31.
The reasons Verlander’s masterpiece will stand the test of time would make Nolan Ryan shake his head. He and Mike Scott (the last two Astros pitchers to strike out 10 in a playoff game before Dallas Keuchel and Verlander came along) threw complete games on the reg. Verlander going back out for the ninth will be memorable precisely because it just doesn’t happen any more.
The last pitcher to throw a complete game in the playoffs was Jose Contreras in 2005. That’s 12 years in between complete games! The ‘86 NLCS featured a complete game in half of the six games. Things have changed is what I’m saying.
We’ll also remember the game for Verlander’s strikeouts. The dude threw 93 strikes in his nine innings. He kept pounding the zone and the Yankees couldn’t catch up to it. His velocity stayed up into the ninth inning and he struck out the side in the eighth. With every pitch later in the game, the buzz in the crowd grew.
But, what we might not remember looking back on it was that the Yankees struck out 10 times or more in seven straight playoff games. The only team that didn’t light up the Yankee batters were the Twins, who still whiffed five New York batters in the AL Wild Card game.
The Yankees struck out nearly 22 percent of the time during the regular season. That’s a familiar place for Astros fans, who saw their hometown nine ignore strikeouts for much of the Luhnow Era.
With so much swing-and-miss in New York’s lineup, it’s not surprising that Dallas Keuchel and Verlander were able to take advantage of it.
Most of all, though, we’ll remember this game because it was Justin Verlander’s iconic moment with a team he’s still getting to know. Houston fans only saw him for five games during the regular season. He was frequently brilliant in those five games, regularly pitching into the seventh inning and rarely allowing more than one run per start.
But, Verlander didn’t have time to build up a Randy Johnson-esque frenzy. He joined the team late in an already magical run that saw the Astros win 100 games for the first time since Johnson’s ‘98 season. Verlander didn’t ignite a winning streak, he just added to an already loaded arsenal of great players on a great team.
With so few games in an Astros uniform, moments get magnified, especially in the already-under-the-microscope playoffs. Verlander’s first playoff start was great, but it was a blowout and he didn’t need to finish the game. His second appearance was almost disastrous as he came out of the bullpen in Boston to give up the lead.
Was Keuchel’s win less memorable in Game 1? Not really. The Beard did what he does and shut down the Yankees like he has time and time again. But it’s the presence of those other moments that make Game 1 less iconic. It was brilliant but doesn’t define him.
Game 2 defined Verlander’s brief Astros tenure. No matter what happens for the rest of the playoffs, we’ll always have the moments in this game. We’ll treasure the standing ovation he got walking back to the mound in the ninth.
We’ll remember the Verlander game and smile.