THE CITY OF NEW YORK — The veteran right-handed pitcher Justin Verlander made his latest debut Saturday for the Houston Astros, the team he helped win the World Series with last October. He looked a lot like the old Justin Verlander.
Verlander, who is 40, didn’t have his best stuff against the New York Yankees, but he still went seven innings and gave up only two runs on seven hits while striking out four batters. In the end, Verlander’s first start was ruined by the Yankees’ 3-1 win.
“The first few innings were a battle,” Verlander said. “I wasn’t in one place. I was able to control it, make better pitches, and keep us in the game.”
Verlander said his routine was a little off after being traded from the New York Mets on Tuesday, but he didn’t have to learn anything new when he returned to the Astros. From 2017 until last season, he pitched for them and won two Cy Young Awards and a championship.
This week, he was met with a “let’s do it again” attitude in the clubhouse because the Astros are trying to become the first team to repeat as champions since the Yankees in 1998 and 2000.
Manager Dusty Baker said, “Even without his good stuff, he kept us in the game and saved our bullpen.” “That is a lot. When he was here before, things were the same. We can do a full bullpen session the day before he pitches and the day after he does.”
The Yankees hit eight balls off of Verlander that left the field at 100 mph or faster, the most since Statcast started keeping track in 2015. This makes it even more impressive that he stayed in the game for as long as he did. He almost didn’t make it through all seven innings. Baker came to check on him with two outs, and Aaron Judge came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh.
Baker said, “I wanted to understand who he was and how he felt.”
Verlander won the quick debate because he stayed in the game. He then said that it helps to know the manager in those situations.
Verlander said with a smile, “I’m sure it does.” “I would hope that most managers would let me… That was a big part of the game, and the batter was one of the best in the world. I told him, “I’m fine.”
Judge grounded out to end the inning, and Houston’s offense was limited to a solo home run by Jose Altuve in the third. It was the 200th of his career, making him one of only three Astros to hit 200 home runs and steal 200 bases. The other two are Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.
Altuve said, “I think two hundred is a good number.”
When Verlander returned, he and his longtime teammates picked up right where they left. The only difference was that the last time he pitched for Houston, he won Game 5 of the World Series in 2022. The result on Saturday was different, but having him back on the mound felt the same.
Altuve said, “It’s like he never left.”