Is where he’d thought he’d end up?
Taking the mound at Dodger Stadium with the world (series) in his right hand, with a new team and a new city upon his shoulders, and, now, starting two days after the most prolific display of offense ever seen in a World Series game?
In those final seconds of August 31, when Justin Verlander finally waived his no-trade clause—after twelve and half seasons with the Detroit Tigers—and agreed to join the Houston Astros, maybe it was.
For AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow, at least, it has all gone exactly to plan since Houston acquired Verlander, and now will see their best laid plans come to fruition—to have #35 on the mound in this game.
After Houston took control of the American League West in April and May, there was concern when Luhnow didn’t make a glamorous move at the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. Stories abound now, romanticized or not, about the consensus in the Astros clubhouse that they were one starting pitcher away from really contending.
Then, in the final day before the league’s August 31st deadline, Luhnow struck a deal with Al Avila of the Tigers, and then Luhnow, Avila, and the MLB offices had to wait, famously, until the final seconds for Verlander to approve the trade.
Since coming to Houston, Verlander has continued a dominating run that began in July, nine starts before he was traded.
He has not lost in an Astros uniform, and has commanded almost every game he’s started, including going 4-0 so far in 5 starts this postseason, with a complete game 2-1 win in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Yankees.
In Game 2 of this World Series, which will be remembered for the events of the eighth inning on, Verlander allowed just 2 hits, a solo HR to Joc Pederson and a 2-R HR to Corey Seager.
Now, in Game 6, Verlander will go one more time for Houston, with Rich Hill going for L.A. With the Dodgers facing elimination, Hill and co. are seeking survival, while the Astros—behind Verlander—are going for the kill.
It won’t be easy. Verlander is facing a Dodgers lineup that just went for twelve runs, and a World Series spotlight that has gotten the better of many pitchers before him.
But for any man pursuing a career as a Starting Pitcher, this spotlight is the holy grail.
His own personal achievements will always determine his place amongst his peers, but only with just the right circumstance will he find himself taking the mound on Halloween with a 3-2 series lead.
There’s a saying that comes to mind here about real life defying people’s wildest dreams
The thing is, Justin Verlander’s wildest dreams are likely exactly what he had to think of when he finally agreed to leave the Tigers, where he’d played since 2005, or his entire career, but who were already rebuilding around him.
Now, in the same season, in Game 6 of the World Series, the Astros–his new team–can hand Justin Verlander the ball, and he can hand them back a championship.
And in his wildest dreams, you’d better believe that getting the ball in a game like this is exactly where Justin Verlander thought he’d be.
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