Shaikin: Justin Verlander adds to Hall of Fame-caliber legacy with first World Series win
What defines a legacy?
Justin Verlander’s surely could not have rested on this one game, could it? He is favored to win his third Cy Young award this year, and the list of three-time winners is eminently distinguished: Sandy Koufax, Clayton Kershaw, Pedro Martínez, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer and Max Scherzer.
Hall of Famers all, or Hall of Famers to be, Verlander included.
Before Thursday, Verlander had started eight World Series games. He had won none. If the postseason is a crapshoot — and we have heard that for two decades — can the legacy of a player with 482 starts in the regular season truly be tarnished by the results of a handful of games in October and November?
“That’s what people remember,” Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “I mean, I got 2,000 wins and all they talk about is I haven’t won the World Series yet. You know? So what’s the difference? You know what I mean?
“So, yeah, it matters. It matters to the people. It matters to us.”
Of course it does. Kershaw, the greatest pitcher of this generation, fell short so often in October that, in the aftermath of a particularly painful defeat, he said this: “Everything people say is true right now about the postseason.”
That was in 2019. In 2020, the Dodgers finally won the World Series, Kershaw sparkled in winning both of his World Series starts, and the demons were exorcised.
On Thursday, 16 years after he made his World Series debut, Verlander recorded his first World Series victory. And, on Saturday, 20 years after he managed his first World Series game, Baker might be able to call himself a World Series-winning manager.
The Astros won Game 5 of the World Series by a 3-2 score, and they lead the best-of-seven series by a 3-2 margin. The Astros’ Game 6 starter is set to be Framber Valdez, whose undefeated postseason includes six scoreless innings against Philadelphia in Game 2.
Verlander said his teammates rewarded him as if he were a rookie who had won his first major league game.
“They put me in the cart and rolled me in the shower and just dowsed me with all sorts of stuff,” he said, “and it was one of the best feelings in my career.”
Verlander was not particularly sharp. He gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Kyle Schwarber.
The Astros had the bullpen up behind him in the second inning, and again in the fourth.
The Phillies loaded the bases in the second inning and put runners in the scoring position in the third. In the first three innings, Verlander walked four batters, more than he had walked in any of his previous starts this season — 37 in all, postseason included.
Truth be told, Baker would have been perfectly justified — maybe even smart — in pulling Verlander after four innings. The Phillies had the premium part of their batting order due up in the fifth, and the Astros held tight to a one-run lead.
But five innings is the minimum required for a starting pitcher to earn a victory, and Verlander escaped the fifth.
With Bryce Harper on second base, representing the tying run, Verlander needed 10 pitches to retire Nick Castellanos on a fly ball.
Once Harper reached base, Verlander said he thought Baker might remove him.
Instead, Baker flashed back to his days as a player for the Dodgers.
“I remember my teammate, Tommy John, always told me that a good pitcher can get out of trouble twice, and a great pitcher three times, and a so-so pitcher maybe one time,” Baker said.
“I could hear Tommy John talking to me during the game. Sometimes you call upon people that you’ve played with or talked to in the past to deal with the present.”
Baker insisted he did not leave Verlander in the game so he could finish the fifth and become eligible for the victory. Baker was, however, aware of that.
“It was in my heart,” he said.
Verlander needed 94 pitches to endure five innings. The home run to the first batter turned out to be the only run he gave up.
Years from now, when he and his kids look at his baseball card — well, his Baseball Reference page — he can be assured there will not be a zero under the W column in his World Series statistics. He was elated.
“Now I can say I got one,” he said.
Verlander has struck out more batters than any other pitcher in postseason history, just ahead of Kershaw. He has given up more home runs than any other pitcher in World Series history. His World Series earned-run average stands at 5.06.
No matter. He is no longer winless in the Fall Classic. On Saturday, for the first time as a manager, Baker could hold the championship trophy. The Astros are 27 outs from another piece of metal.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports