By Edwin Perez
With a playoff berth ensured, the Astros will be looking to make it back to the World Series for the fourth time in the last six years. But in order to do so, they will need to rely on their pitching. Houston’s staff has been downright nasty this season, leading the American League in ERA (2.91), opponents’ average (.211) and WHIP (1.09).
Verlander, who missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2020, has been dominant all season, posting a 1.78 ERA in his 25 starts. The pitcher was back on his “A” game, as he fanned nine and allowed just one free pass.
“That was great by Justin tonight,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “To not be out there for almost three weeks, he was sharp. He was sharp with his slider and fastball, but not the curveball, which is what we expected.”
The 17-year veteran continued to do what he has done all season: Make hitters miss. Verlander kept A’s hitters guessing as he generated 12 swings and misses.
The starter’s strikeouts on Friday brought his career tally to 3,176, which leapfrogged him past Max Scherzer and to 13th all-time.
“My stuff was pretty good,” Verlander said. “I can tell there’s a little rust, but that was to be expected. It was probably less than I anticipated, so all in all it was a good day.”
Verlander showed little to no rust. Friday’s start was about building the pitcher back to where he was before being sidelined, and it seemed he is close to that, as he finished the night throwing 79 pitches, 51 of them for strikes.
“Being off for  days, we had a ballpark target of 85ish pitches,” Verlander said. “Everybody was at the same opinion that it was wise at that point of the game to pull the chute, especially where we are at the season. Just got to get ready for the next one.”
Nights like Friday show why he is a likely Hall of Famer.
“In terms of what Verlander did, obviously, no rust being off on the IL,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “He exploited our holes and did a nice job of executing his pitches. There’s a reason why he has over 3,000 strikeouts. He’s one of the best at his crafts.”