The Incredible Justin Verlander | Houston Press
On Tuesday night, Justin Verlander was able to tip his cap to the crowd for the ninth time in a Major League Baseball All Star game. It was just the last night to recognize one of MLB’s great modern careers and, more importantly, one of the most sensational comebacks from a catastrophic injury in sports history.
This time two years ago, the COVID-shortened 2020 season was about a week away from starting, which meant that, unbeknownst to Verlander, he was about a week away from his injury-torpedoed 2020 AND 2021 seasons. in the elbow that would force him to undergo surgery at Tommy John at the age of 37. Verlander kicked off a start in 2020, a win over the Seattle Mariners. And that was it.
The next day, reports surfaced of Verlander suffering from a tightness in his forearm, which evolved into code for “Oh shit, this looks like Tommy John surgery coming up!” It was indeed the case, and for all of 2020 and 2021 it was widely believed that, if Verlander was indeed going to pitch again, he had thrown his last pitch as Astro. There were even rumors that Astro players didn’t want Verlander to throw out a ceremonial first pitch before a 2021 World Series game because he hadn’t been on the team all season.
So when Verlander decided to re-sign with the Astros on a one-year, $25 million contract (with a second-year player option for $25 million, if Verlander pitches 130 innings in 2022, which he is obliged to do), it came to many as surprising good news. At least we would witness the plot of this 39-year-old comeback, because whether Verlander casts well or badly, it was going to be a huge story, either way.
It turns out that Verlander is having one of the best seasons, if not THE best season, of his career. Consider this unprecedented portfolio of numbers during the All Star break:
Justin Verlander from @astros is the first pitcher in MLB history to enter the All-Star break with:
– 12+ wins
– .800+ percent gain
– ERA under 2.00
– opp BA under .200
– WHIP under 0.90
– 5.00+ K/BB ratio
— Statistics by STATS (@StatsBySTATS) July 16, 2022
Verlander, nearly two years from the start of competitive baseball games at the start of the season, is doing things that have never been done in a sport whose creation predates the Industrial Revolution. I guess if we’re accurate since these numbers are based on there being an All Star break the first All Star game was in 1933 so at the very least Verlander is doing things that haven’t been made for almost a century.
At $25 million, Verlander went from a risky curiosity when he signed the deal to one of baseball’s biggest deals. Who deserves the credit for this? Well, former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, the man who sealed the deal to initially bring Verlander here in 2017, doled out the credit in a tweet on Saturday night:
—Jeff Luhnow (@jluhnow) July 17, 2022
And if we need a refresher on actual trading in 2017, I think Cody Welling puts it in its most colorful context here:
Justin Verlander. Age 39. 12-3, 1.89 MPM. 55-18 since the trade. The Tigers received a P that pitched 14 minor league games, a second C with a .182 career average with Tommy John and a career minor league outfielder. One of the worst trades in baseball history
— Cody Welling (@CodyWelling) July 17, 2022
There’s a lot of greatness floating around the Astros these days. Yordan Alvarez might be the best hitter on the planet. Jeremy Pena was a revelation replacing Carlos Correa at shortstop. Jose Altuve is an All Star, again. There is no shortage of promising young pitchers. But the biggest midterm story of this team, and perhaps the best story in baseball, is Justin Verlander’s take on greatness, greatness on a whole new level.