The Houston Astros have won their second world championship in franchise history and their first under the leadership of manager Dusty Baker. A sentimental favorite at 73 to finally lift the Commissioner’s Trophy, Baker is universally loved even though the Astros are a constant target of vitriol due to the 2017 sign-stealing scandal. Man of deep class and dignity, the baseball club by Baker has been the personification of excellence all season as he has provided authenticity to their vast successes.

In addition to Baker’s three-decade journey to World Series glory as a manager, right-handed pitcher Justin Verlander has miraculously recovered from a career-threatening injury at 37 and is the prohibitive favorite to win his third Cy Young World Award. ‘American League. After eight unsuccessful starts in four World Series (2006, 2012, 2017, 2019), Verlander has finally won his first ball game in the Fall Classic. In the fifth game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Verlander conceded an earned run on four hits, four bases on balls and six strikeouts in five innings as the Astros had won by a score of 3-2. On his ninth start, Verlander became the fourth oldest starting pitcher to earn a World Series win at 39 years and 256 days.

Verlander was grinding the first three innings of Game Five as the Phillies batters were climbing to the top of his 4-stitch fastball. Verlander eventually incorporated sliders and curveballs into his repertoire with positive results. According to data collected by Baseball Savant, Verlander threw 94 throws in Game Five with 53 4-stitch fastballs. He pitched 27 sliders that produced 14 swings with seven misses from batters. 13 curves helped Verlander reduce the aggression shown by the Phillies.

Both he and Baker had to exorcise the demons from previous World Series failures. Baker showed tremendous confidence in Verlander as he relied more on gut instinct than on a spreadsheet at a pivotal moment in game five. After a disappointing performance in Game One that produced five points earned in five innings, Verlander used the time between starts wisely explaining why he was out of sync and how bad habits were affecting his mechanics. In addition to solving these issues in multiple bullpen sessions, Verlander also focused on execution, timing and timing.

In the bottom of the fifth inning with two outs and designated hitter Bryce Harper on second base, Verlander fought right fielder Nick Castellanos in a 10-batting shot. As the Astros were maintaining a 2-1 lead, Baker could easily have gone to the bullpen in a high leverage situation as Verlander had already thrown 84 throws on 22 difficult plate appearances. Instead, he trusted the ace in him and Verlander rewarded Baker with a fly on left fielder Yordan Alvarez on an 89.6mph slider. FOX cameras caught a hug between manager and pitcher moments later on the bench, which speaks volumes about Baker’s confidence in Verlander. The shoes worn by the 39-year-old pitcher in Game Five were presented to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and museum president Josh Rawitch as a donated artifact.

Currently, Verlander sits in second place (16) on the all-time post-season win list just behind left-handed pitcher Andy Pettitte (19). While Verlander’s 1-6 record and 5.63 average earned in nine World Series starts lack prestige, the future Hall of Famer makes up for the shortcoming in other ways. According to Tyler Kepner of The New York Times

and featured in a tweet, Verlander is one of only three pitchers who have won more Cy Young Awards, pitched more no-hitter and won more world championships. The other two: left handed pitcher Sandy Koufax and right handed pitcher Tim Lincecum. Verlander is a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner (2011, 2019) who pitched three no-hitter and is a two-time world champion (2017, 2022).

One of 19 pitchers in baseball’s 3,000 strikeout club, Verlander is one of four pitchers who has eliminated at least 3,000 batters by winning multiple Cy Young Awards and world championships according to data collected by Baseball-Reference. The other three: Steve Carlton, Roger Clemens and Bob Gibson. He is also the only pitcher with at least 3,000 strikeouts complemented by two Cy Young Awards, two world championships and three no-hitter. He recently won the 2022 Players Choice Awards for American League Outstanding Pitcher and Comeback Player. Expect to see Verlander add a third American League Cy Young Award to his resume when the winner is announced on November on the MLB network.

In multiple interviews this post-season, Verlander used the word “present” when asked to reflect on what has happened since his September 2020 surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He lives in the present and savors every moment. Life experiences also allowed Verlander to grow as a person and become a better husband and father to his wife, model Kate Upton, and their four-year-old daughter, Genevieve. He worked hard to build relationships through effective means of communication and listening. Intensity and a burning desire for perfection are always present in Verlander, but he did a much better job of incorporating joy into interactions with teammates and coaches.

Verlander just completed a one-year $ 25 million contract with the Astros according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. The contract also includes a conditional 2023 player option for $ 25 million if Verlander eclipsed 130 innings pitched during the 2022 season. He easily passed the requirement with 175 innings pitched on 28 starts. Given the market established by right-handed pitcher Max Scherzer last offseason with his $ 130 million three-year contract with an average annual value of $ 43.33 million, he seeks Verlander to withdraw from his contract and pursue a similar free agency deal. The 38-year-old Scherzer’s contract with the Mets also includes an opt-out clause at the end of the 2023 season, no trade protection and annual performance bonuses.

Justin Verlander is far from over when it comes to ending his extraordinary career. In addition to throwing at an elite level, Verlander’s family still feels tremendous joy in seeing him compete at a time when most pro athletes are focused on transitioning to new stages in their lives. He also knows how desirable he is as a resource for several ball clubs on a highly profitable, short-term basis. Verlander will pay close attention to his health, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him chasing longevity in baseball like the Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan he pitched until the age of 46. 300 wins would be an ambitious milestone to reach given his 244 career victory status, but we’ve all learned to never underestimate Verlander’s determination.

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