Justin Verlander forces Yankees to give up ALCS Game 1

Justin Verlander

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HOUSTON — On Wednesday, it was Justin Verlander, the Houston starting pitcher, who stood like a rock between the Yankees and a win in ALCS Game 1. And he succeded in stopping the Yankees, who lost the game 4-2 to the Astros.

Aaron Boone and his baseball maestros came to know yesterday that the Yankees’ journey to the World Series includes not just beating the Houston Astros, but also overcoming their ace pitchers. If the Yankees want to win their first American League championship since 2009, they have to find a way to defeat this year’s likely A.L. Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.

The 39-year-old pitcher could go down in history as one of the best starters ever after his performance against the Yankees. When he came back from Tommy John surgery, which put him out for almost two full seasons, he went 18-4 and had an earned run average of 1.75 over 175 innings. He has won 244 games in his career and struck out 3,198 batters. He has also won awards for Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, Two Cy Young Awards, and a World Series ring.

Verlander made 11 strikeouts in the ALCS Game 1. With this, he became the player with the highest playoff strikeouts (219). Also, it was the eighth time when he took out more than 10 batters in a game.

He told during the post-game press meet:

“I felt like they had the momentum early as an offense against me, but I felt like I was able to kind of bring it back on my side and just kind of keep the pressure on them once that happened. And thankfully our boys came through with some big hits and the bullpen did their job like they usually do. That’s how we win a lot of ball games.”

The Astros were able to set up their pitching staff in a smart way to face the Yankees because they had swept the Seattle Mariners in the previous round. By giving Game 1 of the best-of-seven A.L. Championship Series, which started on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park, to the right-handed Verlander, the Astros could use him again on regular rest for a possible Game 5.

Even if the Yankees lose both games that Verlander starts, they could still win the series. However, that makes their room for error much smaller in this matchup between the top two teams in the American League. The Yankees did well against Verlander the first time they played him, but they couldn’t beat him. In six innings, he only gave up one run and struck out 11. This made it possible for the Astros’ bats to go off in a 4-2 win.

Verlander got off to a slow start, but when he left the game, the score was 1-1 and the game was still tied. But in the bottom half of the sixth inning, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel and center fielder Chas McCormick each hit a solo home run off Yankees reliever Clarke Schmidt. In the next inning, Astros rookie shortstop Jeremy Pea hit a solo home run off right-handed pitcher Frankie Montas, who was making his first appearance since coming back from a shoulder injury he got last month.

Even though Verlander is great, the Astros, who are in the ALCS for the sixth straight year, don’t have a top-heavy rotation. They are second to the Los Angeles Dodgers in ERA.

After being challenged by Verlander in Game 1, the Yankees will face Valdez in Game 2 on Thursday. During the regular season, Valdez went 17-6 with an ERA of 2.82 over 201 1/3 innings. The Yankees will send out right-handed pitcher Luis Severino, who gave up three runs over five and a third innings in his only start against the Cleveland Guardians in the last playoff round.

On Wednesday, Jameson Taillon, the starting pitcher for the Yankees, did his best to keep the Astros from scoring. His only game in the previous round, which was also his first-ever postseason game and first-ever relief game, was a disaster. In Game 2, the Yankees lost to Cleveland 4–2 in extra innings. He came in to pitch the 10th inning and gave up two runs on three hits. Wednesday was his first start since October 4, and in four and third innings, he only let one run in.

But Verlander and the Astros were too strong for Taillon and the Yankees. Verlander had to deal with some bad command and tough plate appearances at first. He had to throw 55 balls to finish the first two innings. Harrison Bader, the Yankees’ rising star in center field, gave his team an early lead against Verlander.

In the postseason, Bader has hit four home runs for the Yankees in six games. His most recent one came off Verlander in the second inning.

That was all the Yankees could do against Verlander, whose control got so good that by the end of the game he was hitting the outside edges of the strike zone with ease. They also didn’t make the most of the situation when they had him trapped. With one out in the third inning, the Yankees had a good chance when Anthony Rizzo got a walk and Giancarlo Stanton had a double. But any chance of getting back in the game ended after Josh Donaldson and Matt Carpenter got out.

That was the start of a stretch where Verlander struck out six Yankees in a row. Verlander jumped off the mound and pumped his right fist when Carpenter was out again, this time while swinging.

Even after Verlander left, the strikeouts kept happening. Overall, 17 Yankees batters struck out, while only two Astros batters did.

Are the Yankees capable to counter Verlander in the future?

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