By: Will Burchfield
About two months after the fact, it’s hard to believe Justin Verlander had to think twice about accepting a trade to the Astros.
He’s back in the World Series, with an ALCS MVP Award under his belt, and the 34-year-old is having the time of his life.
“I don’t think I could have any more fun. It’s been incredible,” Verlander told MLB Network.
Since joining the Astros on Sept. 1 — or, more accurately, just seconds before midnight on Aug. 31 — Verlander has been arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA down the stretch, and has only upped his game in October.
He’s 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA in the playoffs. In the ALCS versus the Yankees, he went 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 16 innings.
Even he can’t believe the ride.
“No, really, I can’t. I think this is one of those things that won’t really settle in until the season’s over. But what a ride it’s been, man, it’s been special to join these guys,” Verlander said.
In moving from the Tigers to the Astros, Verlander went from an over-the-hill team to one just hitting its stride. He said he’s especially enjoyed pitching in front of a defense that includes slick fielders like shortstop Carlos Correa, second baseman Jose Altuve and center fielder George Springer.
“These guys, on and off the field, in the locker room they made me feel welcome and accepted right away. On the field, having these guys play behind me when I’m pitching just gives me even more confidence, man. It’s a fun group to play with,” he said.
It wasn’t long ago that Verlander was considered past his prime. But he put together a Cy Young Award-worthy season in 2016 and the run he’s enjoyed in the second half of 2017 has been one for the ages.
“I think it’s just health. … I don’t like to make excuses, but really I just had to get healthy again,” Verlander said. “That’s what I believed in my heart the whole time when I was hurting. But once I got back it took a lot of hard work. It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t just sitting on my couch waiting to get healthy, I took a very proactive approach.
“When it comes down to it, being able to execute pitches and having good life on my fastball and all the things that you need to have success, it comes from feeling good, and I put a lot of hard work into that.”
Verlander will start Game 2 versus Dodgers lefty Rich Hill on Wednesday night.