Justin Verlander has been put in just about every situation on the mound and come out of them all as one of the game’s best pitchers.
Even so, his accomplishments do not protect him from the nerves he was already starting to feel Thursday ahead of his scheduled start Friday in Game 5 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium.
“I don’t know what stuff I’m going to have [Friday],” Verlander said before his teammates blew out the Yankees 8-3 in Game 4 of the ALCS on Thursday night. “It’s kind of the fear of the unknown. That’s the anxiousness of it. Rolling into [Friday], I’m already starting to get a little anxious and nervous now. [Friday] morning will be the same, which is why routine helps. But then you start throwing and it kind of calms you a little bit. You’re like, ‘OK, arm feels good. OK, I’m hitting my spots. OK, let’s check all the boxes, and then let’s go find out what we’ve got.’ ”
What Verlander had in Game 2 against the Yankees was 6 ²/₃ innings, allowing just two runs — on a two-run home run from Aaron Judge — in a no-decision. The Astros wound up winning in 11 innings on Carlos Correa’s walk-off homer.
For the Yankees to move on to the World Series, they will have to beat Verlander and Gerrit Cole, one of whom most likely will be the 2019 AL Cy Young Award winner. They failed to do so the first time around against the two stud pitchers, despite having their fair amount of chances.
“I think it is important for the team to be able to have that confidence in both Cole and I,” Verlander said. “It feels good. It’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes. If anything, I mean, there’s nothing taken for granted in this game. No matter how good Cole has been in the second half, no matter how well I’ve pitched in certain situations before, each game is a new opportunity for that not to happen.”
Verlander was originally scheduled to start a potential Game 6 on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, but Wednesday’s rainout allowed manager A.J. Hinch to bump him to Game 5 on Friday, when he will be pitching on regular rest.
The 36-year-old had taken a peek at the weather forecast after his start on Sunday and saw the rain expected for Wednesday, so he changed his schedule accordingly, knowing he could start Friday.
“I was prepared to go on regular rest,” he said. “The day after [Game 2], because the forecast looked so bad, I started doing my normal routine. It might have actually thrown me off had I not.”