No trade in Astros history has been more fruitful than the Justin Verlander deal.
Intended to put what looked like a contender over the top, Verlander did exactly that in what was perhaps the Astros’ most pivotal game of 2017.
Game 6 of the American League Championship Series was an elimination game for the Astros, after having dropped three straight to the Yankees in the Bronx — and getting outscored 19 to 5 in the process.
Though the Astros still had home-field advantage, they were on the ropes. Fortunately for the club, their recently-acquired ace was slated to take the mound.
In Game 2, Verlander pitched all nine innings while allowing just one run on five hits, tallying 13 strikeouts by the end. It’s one of the greatest performances of his career, but arguably not the most clutch. That label would be reserved for Game 6.
After getting their clocks rung at Yankee Stadium, it almost felt as if the Astros had just one hope: Verlander. It seemed that it was solely up to him to save the season. And he did.
Spinning seven scoreless innings enabled the Astros to force a Game 7, and subsequently advance to the World Series. The rest is history.
The Astros do not capture the 2017 title without Verlander. Now, fast-forward to the present, and it seems that sentiment could apply to the 2022 team, which is expected to not only capture the AL pennant, but win the last game of the season as well.
There’s little left to write about Verlander and his spectacular 2022 campaign; it’s already been covered from seemingly every angle multiple times over. But the one that feels most salient at this juncture is his Astros legacy, which may conclude this winter when the 39-year-old ace hits free agency. While it’s no guarantee that Verlander will sign with another team, his high price tag figures to make his departure likely.
Game 1 of the American League Division Series is tonight, and the Astros’ future Hall of Famer will be on the mound. In a way, it feels like the beginning of the end. After five-plus years of dominance, headlined by a 2.26 ERA across 652 innings, this year’s playoff run could be the last time Verlander pitches in an Astros uniform.
After effectively missing all of 2020 and 2021 due to injury, it’s fitting that Verlander returns to spearhead a postseason push that is fairly reminiscent of recent Astros teams, including the group that won it all in his first year in town.
Verlander is the favorite to win the AL Cy Young award and takes a career-best 1.75 ERA with him into the dance. He could not be more primed to exert the dominance that he and the Astros are accustomed to. If this winds up being his end in Houston, all signs indicate he’ll go out with a bang.