August 31, 2017...a day that our city will never forget.
You know the story. We all lived through the hell that Hurricane Harvey put on the city that we all love. Justin Verlander sat at home in Detroit with a major decision to make. Stay in the only city his baseball career had known, or take a chance on a city and a team that needed him more than he ever might know. Two years and one day after he made that last second decision to take the chance he did, Verlander reminded himself and this city of how smart a decision it was to take a chance of coming to place he did not know.
In his 68th career regular season start in an Astros uniform on Sunday, he further cemented his legacy in the game and in this city, twirling a gem of a lifetime in a career that will one day end with his plaque in Cooperstown, New York among the greatest to ever touch a big league field. A career that has touched so many people, possibly none more than those here in Houston.
This was not the first time he flirted with a gem like this since he arrived in Houston. He had taken no-hitters deep into ballgames multiple times since landing here, finally accomplishing the special feat again in Toronto, the same place he threw his second career no-hitter back in 2011. As special as those first two were and as special as his entire career has been, the third no-hitter might be his finest performance of them all.
His run in Houston is storybook type of stuff. From his undefeated run down the stretch in the month of September in 2017, to his putting the team on his back in the 2017 ALCS against the Yankees, to delivering the city and himself a first World Series title. He followed up that magical 2017 run falling just short of his second career Cy Young Award, finishing second to the Rays Blake Snell, in a season that the team fell just short of returning to the fall classic, losing to the Red Sox in the 2018 ALCS. Before the 2019 season began, he and the club gave the city the gift of securing an even longer run for himself in an Astros uniform, locking him up through the 2021 season with a two year, 66 million dollar contract extension to put away any thought that 2019 could be his last in a Houston uniform.
This past weekend has been a wild one in our city. As the Houston Texans dominated the news cycle on Saturday with their mind blowing decision to trade former first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to the Seahawks for virtually nothing, while landing the left tackle they so desperately needed in Laremy Tunsil in a trade with the Dolphins that also brought wide receiver Kenny Stills to Houston, mortgaging what might be far too many vital future assets to keep Deshaun Watson from taking too many sacks this season. While the on the fly makeover was beyond needed, it was another day where we found ourselves wondering if they can ever figure out how to ever get over the top and achieve something the Astros have already done...something that they very likely could achieve again this year.
After all of that, Sunday a came. A day that I spent an hour on the air venting and wondering out loud about the future of the football team with all of you. Pushed aside before yesterdays 12:07 Houston time first pitch, was another Justin Verlander day for the Astros. Something that has been so calming to all of us. Something that human nature has brought upon us, just another day where we expected another dominant Verlander outing and another win for the ball club. Little did we know that just a few hours after the first pitch of the game was thrown, Verlander and the Astros would calm all the noise in Houston, reminding us where our time and energy and passion should really be when it comes to Houston sports.
We have had a fun little game over the last couple of years of wondering out loud which Astros pitcher would be the one to throw a no-hitter for a team that has been littered with guys that have no-hit type of stuff every single time they take the mound. Aaron Sanchez, Will Harris, Joe Biagini and Chris Devenski surprised us all by beating out the likes of JV or Gerrit Cole by throwing a combined no-no at Minute Maid Park against the Seattle Mariners just a month ago. Verlander finally gave us what we all have been lusting for on Sunday in Toronto, becoming just the sixth pitcher in Major League Baseball history to throw three of more no-hitters in a career.
Just sit and stare at these numbers for a moment and remind yourself of just how special it has been to watch the "aging" Verlander do what he has done since arriving here two years ago.
Career Regular Season Stats with Astros:
Those are just the big picture numbers in his regular season starts in Houston. Just the WHIP number alone for JV in his time here in Houston is absurd. It's godly type of stuff. Think about this...in those 441 innings in an Astros uniform, the man has allowed just 287 hits and walked just 77!!! That is just dumb. It is even wilder when you think about the home run ball...he gives up a lot of them. 65 of the 287 hits he has given up in Houston have gone over the fence. But when you are a fly ball pitcher who is as elite as it gets at not allowing anyone to reach base against you, those solo shots will not kill you like you would expect they might.
We could go on and on and on with insane numbers that put just how absurdly good he has been into perspective. So we don't get stuck here all day, here are some that really will blow your mind. All of these stats strictly coming in his 68 regular season starts.
Starts with 6 or more innings pitched: 58
Starts with 7 or more innings pitched: 30
Starts with 8 or more innings pitched: 9
Starts with 5 or fewer innings pitched: 6 (Has gone less than 5 innings in just twice)
Starts with 0 earned runs allowed: 16
Starts with 1 or fewer earned runs allowed: 36
Starts with 2 or fewer earned runs allowed: 48
Starts with 3 or fewer earned runs allowed: 57
Starts with 4 or more earned runs allowed: 11 (Has not allowed more than 4 in any start in 2019 and just three times in his 68 career starts)
Starts with double digit strikeouts: 26
Starts with more strikeouts than innings pitched: 49
Starts with no walks allowed: 20
Starts with fewer hits allowed than innings pitched: 50
Just take a minute and soak in all of those numbers and think about all of the other stats that we could find that illustrate just how historic his run in Houston has been while not even including his postseason stats. It is just flat out dumb how amazing this man has been on the mound.
To put all of this into perspective with all of the incredible stats that he has accumulated, there is the human element to all of this that we can never quantify with numbers. From what he has brought to the winning culture that the Astros have built under Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch, to the example he has set for all the young players that have walked through that clubhouse door. In terms of work ethic, to a willingness and desire to want to learn more and achieve more than he possibly ever has before, while fighting off the ever winning battle that father time has always had on athletes. There is a case to be made that a mid-30's future hall of fame pitcher has been even better in his two years in Houston than he ever was in his thirteen years in Detroit.
When the rumors of Verlander and the Astros popped up early in the 2017 season, I was on the side of not loving the idea. I like so many baseball fans have bought in to the analytics movement across the sport that I love most. Verlander looked like an aging pitcher early in that 2017 season for Detroit. Playing for a team that was rapidly ticking towards a this is going to suck mode, his massive salary and production made him look like a pitcher that no team in this numbers driven world should be drooling for. As he worked his way through his early 2017 struggles, he showed that there very much was something left in the tank. Still, knowing how much a massive salary player like himself could fall apart at any given second at his age, I still leaned to the side of wanting the Astros to pass on targeting him as the July 31st deadline in 2017 loomed. The Astros, along with the rest of the league, did pass on him at that deadline. As the team and the city took a massive hit in the month of August that year, my line of thinking, like so many others, changed. When he said yes on that fateful night of August 31, none of us could have ever imagined just how special this run with him on our team would be. I have no problem admitting that my view on trading for him earlier that year was the most wrong I have probably ever been about the potential of a player landing in our city.
All of that leads back to that human element that nobody can put into numbers. You and I are not members of that team. While trading for him provided such a boost to our morale as fans, can you imagine how invigorating it must have been to be a player in that clubhouse to know that their concerns about their pitching at the time was answered in a slam dunk move by the ones in charge? We know what that boost meant to that 2017 team. We know what it has meant to the franchise in the last two years. That trade by itself won us all over, if we were not completely there before. They told us when the massive tear down started that it was going to hurt for a good while...and boy did it. But what they also constantly told us as fans was that when the time was right, there would not be restrictions on what they would do to bring the trophy to Houston. That trade really put a stamp on it after they made plenty of moves to take that next step the winter before. It set in motion the greatest era of a team that this city has ever witnessed. It cemented that they would continue to add unlike any Houston team possibly ever has before. Instead of just being content with that move, they upped the ante in the winter by landing Gerrit Cole. They went even harder for it all by making the move for Zack Greinke a short while ago.
What the outcome of this season will be is still unknown. We as fans have every reason to think that we will once again be celebrating a title when this season is done. Justin Verlander is not the only reason the Astros are who they are...but he is the definition of why they have made the leap to their current status in the game today. So here's to he or Gerrit Cole bringing home that Cy Young Award. Here's to another magical run ahead over the next two months.
One thing I know for sure...trading for Justin Verlander was the greatest move any team in this city has ever made before. Maybe when the day comes for his enshrinement into the Hall of Fame, he will wear that Astros cap on plaque. The Houston version of one of the greatest pitchers to ever do it, might be the greatest version of him that anyone has seen before.