Column: Verlander has Astros a win away from World Series title

What defines a legacy?

Surely Justin Verlander’s legacy couldn’t have been based on that one game, right? He is expected to receive the Cy Young Award for the third time this year, and the list of three-time winners is stellar: Sandy Koufax, Clayton Kershaw, Pedro Martínez, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer and Max Scherzer.

Hall of Famers all or future Hall of Famers, including Verlander.

Before Thursday, Verlander had started eight World Series games. He hadn’t won any. If the postseason is a crapshoot – and we’ve been hearing it for two decades – can the legacy of a player with 482 regular season starts really 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’ve got 2,000 wins and all they’re talking about is I haven’t won the World Series yet. You know? So what’s the difference? You know what I mean?

“Well, yes, it’s important. It’s important to people. It’s important to us.”

Of course it does. Kershaw, this generation’s biggest pitcher, fell behind so many times in October that after one particularly painful loss he said, “Everything people are saying about the postseason right now is true.”

That was in 2019. In 2020, the Dodgers finally won the World Series, Kershaw shone by winning his two World Series starts, and the demons were cast out.

On Thursday, 16 years after his World Series debut, Verlander recorded his first World Series win. And on Saturday, 20 years after refereeing his first World Series game, Baker might just be able to call himself a World Series winner.

The Astros won Game 5 of the World Series by a 3-2 score and lead the best-of-seven series by a 3-2 lead. The Astros’ Game 6 starter will be Framber Valdez, whose unbeaten postseason spans six innings of shutout against Philadelphia in Game 2.

Verlander said his teammates rewarded him as if he were a freshman who had won his first major league game.

“They put me in the car and rolled me in the shower and stuffed me with all kinds of stuff,” he said, “and it was one of the best feelings of my career.”

Verlander wasn’t particularly sharp. He gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Kyle Schwarber.

The Astros got past the bullpen in the second inning and again in the fourth.

The Phillies loaded bases in the second inning and put runners in goal position in the third. In the first three innings, Verlander walked four batters, more than any of his previous starts this season — 37 total, including the postseason.

To be honest, Baker would have been perfectly justified – maybe even smart – to pull Verlander out after four innings. The Phillies had the premium portion of their batting order due in fifth, and the Astros held onto a one-run lead.

Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander throws in the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander throws against the Philadelphia Phillies in the first inning in Game 5 of the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday in Philadelphia.

(Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

But five innings is the minimum it takes a starting pitcher to pick up a win, and Verlander escaped the fifth.

With Bryce Harper on second base making up the tie run, it took Verlander 10 pitches to pull Nick Castellanos back with a flyball.

When Harper reached the base, Verlander said he thought Baker could remove him.

Instead, Baker reminisced about his days playing for the Dodgers.

“I remember my teammate Tommy John always telling me that a good pitcher can get out of trouble twice, and a great pitcher can get out of trouble three times, and a mediocre pitcher maybe once,” Baker said.

“I could hear Tommy John talking to me during the game. Sometimes you call people you’ve played or talked to in the past to deal with the present.”

Baker insisted he didn’t let Verlander in the game so he could finish the fifth and qualify for the win. Baker was aware of this, however.

“It was in my heart,” he said.

Overall, Verlander needed 94 pitches to last five innings. The home run to first batter was 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 rest assured that there won’t be a zero under the W column in his World Series stats. He was excited.

“Now I can say I have one,” he said.

Verlander has hit more batters than any pitcher in postseason history, just ahead of Kershaw. He has given up more home runs than any pitcher in World Series history. His World Series Earned Run Average is 5.06.

Doesn’t matter. He is no longer without a win in the autumn classic. On Saturday, Baker was able to hold the championship trophy for the first time as a manager. The Astros are 27 outs from another piece of metal. Column: Verlander has Astros a win away from World Series title

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