(Reuters) - Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander has fallen short of his lofty standards on baseball’s biggest stage but can change that narrative when he pitches in a potential World Series clincher on Tuesday.
Verlander allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks over six innings in a Game 2 loss last Wednesday that gave the Washington Nationals a 2-0 lead in Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven championship series.
The Astros have since roared back, taking the next three games in Washington, giving Houston two chances at home to secure their second championship in three seasons. It will be Verlander who tries to seal the deal in Game 6 while seeking his first career win in a World Series.
“That would obviously be a moment that would be - that I would cherish in my career if that were able to happen,” Verlander said on Sunday ahead of Houston’s Game 5 win.
The right-handed veteran has been everything the Astros had hoped for when they acquired him from the Detroit Tigers in 2017. But despite being a picture of durability in the regular season, he has come up short when it matters most.
On the same night last week when Verlander became MLB’s all-time leader in postseason strikeouts, the 36-year-old also added his name to the record books as the first pitcher to lose his first five World Series decisions.
Getting that first win will be all the more difficult given Verlander, part of Houston’s 2017 World Series championship pitching staff, will be up against batters who have already faced his pitches in this series and should have a better feel for them.
“It becomes more difficult,” Verlander said of facing an opponent twice in one series. “Once they’ve seen you three, four at-bats, it’s a little bit easier for them to make adjustments, and having seen your off-speed stuff and tracked it.
“You just need to execute a little bit better.”
The Nationals also will be desperately trying to stave off elimination and force a Game 7 as they aim for the first World Series title in franchise history.
Verlander, an eight-time All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner as the American League’s best pitcher, has all the confidence of his teammates going into the Game 6 clash.
Gerrit Cole, who was dominant on the mound for the Astros during a 7-1 win on Sunday, said it will be business as usual for Verlander when the series resumes in Houston.
“He’s ready for this moment,” said Cole. “We’ve been communicating back and forth throughout the whole series on how we were going to make an adjustment to what we were seeing and how we were going to attack.
“He’s going to set the tone for us,” Cole said. “Hopefully we can back him up with some runs, and play some great D (defense).”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Bill Berkrot