On Friday night, in front of a sold-out Minute Maid Park, 39-year-old Justin Verlander will take the mound. To any long-standing Verlander fans, that feels surreal. Tommy John surgery and a shortened 2020 season forced Verlander into a two-year exile. No one knew what to expect in the spring when the former AL MVP embarked on his third act. You see, Verlander had been written off before; the Detroit Tigers traded Verlander in 2017. People within the organization felt Verlander was declining. The veteran dumbfounded the doubters as he won the 2019 Cy Young Award, set more personal records, and won a world championship. The right-hander had defied the Detroit doubters. But a two-year layoff? That felt like father time snapping his fingers. A Verlander comeback felt improbable. Yet here we are, with Justin Verlander back in the World Series. Here is how the timeless pitcher defied time in 2022.
A Regular Season for The Ages
The lockout forced Verlander to wait until the 10th of April to start his comeback. Verlander pitched five innings with seven strikeouts in a losing effort. Verlander finished April 2-2 with a 1.72 ERA. He continued to excel in the summer months as he twirled gem after gem. Verlander built an 18-4 record in the regular season, with a 1.75 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. Verlander stitched together a Cy Young Award-caliber season. The reason behind his success? He has relentless consistency with his fastball. Per Baseball Savant, Verlander averaged 94.3 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2008. In 2022, Verlander averaged 95 miles per hour on his fastball. The heater has yielded 50 strikeouts in 2022; in 2008, he had 54 strikeouts with the fastball. Despite a career-threatening surgery and being 39, Verlander is overpowering batters with his fastball. The future Hall of Famer has also been unharmed by the ban on sticky stuff since 2019. Insiders wondered whether spider-tack aided Verlander’s spin rates in 2019. Well, Verlander ranks in the 90th percentile for fastball spin rate.
The ex-Detroit Tiger uses his unerring fastball to set the table for his slider. With 31 inches of vertical drop, Verlander destroys hitters’ eye levels with this pitch. He can pound the outside corner with freakish accuracy. So far, in 2022, Verlander’s slider has induced 90 strikeouts. ‘Must See JV’ has two more pitches in his arsenal. The curveball and changeup are the other additions to the repertoire. The Virginia native is a true throwback. He is an old-school pitcher, defeating time and still dominating hitters. The Cy Young-elect possesses all the individual accolades and has a World Series ring. But can Verlander put a ribbon on this incredible season and make the World Series his?
One Last Stage to Conquer
For all of his greatness, Verlander’s World Series record is not great. Verlander is 0-6 with a 5.68 ERA. Big sluggers like Pablo Sandoval and Albert Pujols have caused trouble for Verlander. The Philadelphia Phillies lineup boasts power with a capital P. Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, and Rhys Hoskins have dynamite in their hands. It will not be easy for Verlander. The Philadelphia lineup may be the most dangerous Verlander has faced in a World Series. The Phillies are locked in and squaring up on the ball. Verlander will become just the 17th pitcher aged 39 or over to start a World Series game. After a shaky outing in the ALDS, Verlander ripped through the New York Yankees in Game One of the ALCS. Verlander struck out 11 hitters and clocked a fastball at 98.5 mph. Verlander will challenge the Phillies’ lineup with speed. The flame-throwing veteran will take the mound rested and fresh.
Great artists often take years to complete a masterpiece. Verlander spent two years in the wilderness and then got a chance to craft one more piece. The former second-overall pick is one more great series away from finishing an immaculate work of art. Verlander is a legend. If he can complete this season with an outstanding World Series, Verlander’s legacy will be as solid as the Commissioner’s Trophy. When the Detroit Tigers called Verlander up in 2005, Detroit knew he was destined for greatness. Verlander ticked greatness off a long time ago. On Friday, the legend stands at the feet of sporting immortality. Its time for this pitching Rembrandt to make the World Series his.