(Reuters) - Justin Verlander will try to lift the Houston Astros once again when he takes the mound on Wednesday, aiming to stop his team from falling into a precarious 2-0 World Series deficit against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Verlander has been a picture of durability since joining the Astros at the end of August. But he faces his toughest task yet as he tries to extend one of the more impressive runs in postseason history.
Thankfully for the Astros, the six-time All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner as the American League’s best pitcher has seemingly always managed to find another gear when it comes to Major League Baseball’s postseason.
“The mental focus is just another level. It’s something that would be easy to say, ‘Why don’t you just do that every game?’ It’s unsustainable throughout the course of the regular season,” said Verlander. “If you were that mentally focused, you’d just burn out. It’s just another level.”
He will need to be at his best at Dodger Stadium, though, if he hopes to flip the script a day after Clayton Kershaw shut down the potent Astros with a signature pitching performance that gave Los Angeles a 3-1 win in the opener to the best-of-seven games series.
Verlander certainly has the postseason pedigree. Dating back to 2011, he is 10-3 with a 2.40 earned run average, 113 strikeouts and 26 walks in 16 postseason outings.
The longtime Detroit Tigers pitcher, who joined Houston in hopes of winning an elusive World Series ring, was also named the MVP of the AL Championship Series on Saturday after allowing just one earned run in 16 innings versus the New York Yankees.
Verlander, 34, said when the stakes are at their highest in October he generally gets so deep into a zone that he manages to tune out everything around him.
“There are times throughout the course of the game where I lose track of where we’re at in the game and don’t really know what’s going on,” said Verlander.
“It’s just my sole focus even between innings is thinking about what I can do to execute and thinking about what pitches I should throw and what I’ve seen and what my instincts are telling me. You’re just that much more focused on the task at hand.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Hugh Lawson