Justin Verlander is a future Hall of Famer. In the past ten years, no one has pulled off playoff heroics quite like JV. Whether it’s his seven 10 K performances in the postseason (no one else has more than five), his six playoff starts going 8+ IP, his 9.93 postseason K/9, or his 3.10 postseason ERA, JV has enjoyed incredible postseason success, particularly against the American League (just imagine taking those aforementioned numbers and factoring out his messy start against the Giants in the 2012 World Series). In honor of this playoff success on this night in which he struck out 13 Yankees in a complete game victory, let’s reflect on JV’s finest moments of the postseason.
2006 ALDS Game 2: DET @ NYY (5.1 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, Tigers Win 4-3)
Justin Verlander’s first playoff start came as the #2 starter for the Cinderella story 2006 Detroit Tigers. Coming into their series against the big bad New York Yankees, manager Joe Torre and co. practically dismissed the Tigers, with Torre referring to Tigers game 1 starter Nate Robertson as “Chris Robertson” during an interview. In game 1, the Yankees took easy care of the Tigers in an 8-4 victory. Now it was time for game 2: JV, the 2006 Rookie of the Year, was finally going to make his playoff debut, this one against Mike Mussina.
JV’s first inning of postseason action wasn’t pretty. Johnny Damon led the bottom of the 1st off with a pop single. Verlander quickly got Jeter out, but then walked Bobby Abreu. Two one, one out, Gary Sheffield up… a perfect time for JV’s first postseason strikeout. Two away. Jason Giambi was next up, and he too drew a walk. That’s right: in his first postseason inning, JV loads the bases, bringing ARod to the plate. What does JV do? Strike him out looking. Bam. Inning over.
The following inning, a Craig Monroe ground-rule double and a Marcus “Country Strong” Thames single makes the score 1-0 Tigers. This would keep things quiet until the 4th inning. JV, again, gets ARod out, but then gives up a single to Hideki Matsui and a walk to Jorge Posada. Shortly after… a Johnny Damon home run. 3-1 Yankees. With the crowd going absolutely insane, Johnny Damon returns from the dugout for a curtain call. In the 4th inning. It’s over, no?
No. The Yankees don’t score the rest of the game, and Verlander’s nerves settle down and JV gets six more outs before exiting the game. Meanwhile, a Granderson sac fly, a Carlos Guillen home run, and a Granderson triple put the Tigers over the top. JV doesn’t receive the win in game 1 but gives the Tigers enough to win. The Tigers would win the next two games, winning the series in 4. While not Verlander’s finest moment, this game wasn’t Verlander’s last time facing the Yankees in October. Not even close.
2011 ALDS Game 3: NYY @ DET (W, 8 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 11 K, Tigers Win 5-4)
Five years had passed since the Tigers last made the postseason, but their first series back found them matched up against the Yankees once more. With the series tied 1-1, the Yankees and Tigers both sent out their aces: CC Sabathia vs. the 2011 MVP, Must-See JV himself. JV posted an 8.4 rWAR in the regular season, and he was not the rookie he was the last time the Yankees met the Tigers in the postseason.
Unfortunately, Curtis Granderson is on the opposing team this time around. If you remember from game 2 of the 2006 ALDS, Grandy hit a game-winning triple. Well, Granderson starts this one off in a similar fashion, making the game 1-0 with a triple following a Jeter lead-off single. Not an ideal start for the AL’s MVP. Even worse, A-Rod, despite making yet another out against JV, brings in Grandy on a groundout. After one inning, it’s already 2-0 Yankees.
Justin Verlander is an ace’s ace. How many times have we seen a starter get hit early in the playoffs this season and exit their start extremely early? That’s where JV is different from the rest. Verlander can get outs after giving up a couple of runs. He is an ace in every sense of the word. After an ugly first inning, JV posted five scoreless innings, while the Tigers posted four runs, making the score 4-3 going into the 7th.
The 7th comes around, and Verlander gets two quick outs: Teixeira goes down swinging, and Swisher fouls out. Unfortunately, more trouble pops up. Posada walks, then Verlander hits Russell Martin. (Fun Fact: This is JV’s only career postseason HBP.) After that, fellow postseason master Brett Gardner doubles, tying the game up, 4-4. Verlander strikes out Jeter to end the inning, however. Inning over. In the bottom of the 7th, Delmon Young hits a solo home run, putting the Tigers up for good, 5-4. JV comes out to retire three more, finishing an 8-inning performance getting Teixeira to pop out. The Tigers go up 2-1 and take the series in 5 (on the back of Don Kelly’s only postseason homer, baby!).
2012 ALDS Game 1: OAK @ DET (W, 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 11 K, Tigers Win 3-1)
This is where JV really begins to dominate the American League. The series begins with Tigers Killer Coco Crisp leading off the game with a home run. 1-0 Athletics. Once again, though, JV settles in and isn’t frazzled by one bad pitch. He proceeds to pitch seven straight scoreless, only giving up three hits throughout, while the Tigers claw back with three runs against Jarrod Parker. The highlight of the game came in the top of the 6th. Invigorated after an Alex Avila solo home run, Justin Verlander proceeded to strike out the side, getting Brandon Moss swinging, and Josh Reddick and Josh Donaldson looking. JV didn’t come out for the 8th or 9th due to his pitch count sitting at 121, but a dominant performance put the Tigers up 1-0. Verlander vs. Parker part 2 would happen just five days later.
2012 ALDS Game 5: DET @ OAK (W, 9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, Tigers Win 6-0)
Thanks to a blown save in Game 4 by Jose “Papa Grande” Valverde, the Tigers entered a do-or-die game against the A’s in a hostile environment. The game was a rematch of game 1, once again featuring Jarrod Parker and JV. Unfortunately for the A’s, JV was ready. This time around, he starts the game off by striking out Coco Crisp swinging. Can’t give up a leadoff HR when you’re too busy throwing a complete game shut-out, can you? And that’s what JV did: completely shut down the Athletics. While Austin Jackson wreaked havoc all night, scoring two runs and knocking in two more, Justin Verlander dominated the Athletics, in their house, in a win or go home situation. JV gave up one XBH all game, a double to future teammate Yoenis Cespedes while striking out Stephen Drew four times, Seth Smith, Josh Reddick, and Derek Norris twice, and Coco Crisp once. Five 1-2-3 innings and four other solid innings later, the Tigers won the series, going on to yet another series against the Yankees.
And that’s not even the only time JV’s done that to the Athletics. Absolutely filthy.
2012 ALCS Game 3: NYY @ DET (W, 8.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, Tigers Win 2-1)
“Oh no.” – The Yankees, probably, seeing they have to face JV in the playoffs after going down 2-0 in the 2012 ALCS. This time, JV wasn’t messing around. He also somehow threw 132 pitches in 8.1 IP while only allowing three baserunners. That’s a lot of large counts. Regardless, Verlander was dominant all game long. He began the game by quickly taking care of Brett Gardner, Ichiro, and Mark Teixeria. He proceeded to settle in from there, especially getting on a roll after Delmon Young launched a home run off of Phil Hughes in the bottom of the 4th. From there, Verlander pitched back-to-back 1-2-3 innings, then continued to cruise. In the top of the 9th, Eduardo Nunez got to him, however, hitting a line drive home run to make it a 3-1 game. Verlander would then get out Brett Gardner then make way for temporary Tigers closer Phil Coke himself (for more on Phil Coke, go here or here). The Tigers would go on to sweep the Yankees.
2013 ALDS Game 2: DET @ OAK (ND, 7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, Tigers Lose 1-0)
The greatest Tigers team of the 2010s, while simultaneously the most disappointed, sent Verlander out for game 2 in an ALDS rematch against the Oakland Athletics. A sure win, no? Well… maybe if JV had a chance to bat. The Tigers never scored a single run off of Sonny Gray, while Grant Balfour successfully nailed down the save in the 9th. That one run that the A’s scored, however, was not Verlander’s. Verlander did everything he could, going 7 shutout innings while allowing only five baserunners and striking out double-digits again. A no decision for Verlander, but he’d find revenge soon.
2013 ALDS Game 5: DET @ OAK (W, 8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 K, Tigers Win 3-0)
This is the game that made Oakland Athletics fans see Justin Verlander in their nightmares. For a second straight year, the Tigers and Athletics met for a do-or-die game in the ALDS. For a second straight year, the Athletics had home-field advantage. For a second straight year, the Tigers had Justin Verlander. Verlander would throw 5.1 IP perfect innings to start the game, 6.2 IP of no-hit ball to start the game, and 8 IP total of 2 H ball while punching out double digits again again. Wow. The Tigers would win, moving on to their extremely disappointing ALCS. It’s hard to choose which of JV’s do-or-die performances against Oakland is better. That said, one thing is pretty clear: they were the two greatest starts of his postseason career and the two starts that made Justin Verlander the man to take in a do-or-die game.
2013 ALCS Game 3: BOS @ DET (L, 8 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K, Tigers Lose 1-0)
We are now a year removed from the 2012 World Series, and the Tigers are determined to win a World Series. The Giants swept the Tigers in 2012 despite the dominance of the Tigers against the Yankees: unfortunately for Detroit, when you sweep the ALCS and sit for a week afterward, you’re typically set up to fail (also see: 2006). At this point in time, the Tigers needed to win now, because the band was about to break up. Unfortunately for Detroit, it’s hard to overcome the emotions of “Boston Strong.” It’s also hard to overcome blowing a 5-2 lead in Game 2 of the ALCS. Big Papi’s biggest moment brought the Tigers dominance to a holt in Game 2. The Tigers had taken one game in Boston already and that game could’ve (should’ve) been a second. Now, the Tigers were back in Detroit, and they needed to win to regain momentum. A 2-1 lead with two games in Detroit to go would be hard for even the extremely clutch Boston Strong Red Sox to overcome.
Enter Justin Verlander. JV had posted a line of 15 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 21 K up to this point in the 2013 Playoffs, and he was about to boost those numbers to 23 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 30 K.
That one extra ER would prove decisive for Boston. One solo home run off the bat of Tigers killer Mike Napoli put the Red Sox over the top in game 3. Verlander absolutely dominated the rest of the game, but the Tigers could not get a run out of Lackey, Breslow, Tazawa, or Uehara. The bats went silent when they needed to score the most. No run support for JV in one of his finest moments, and the only moment that most remember now is the Napoli home run. Verlander would pitch only one more postseason game in a Tigers uniform.
2017 ALDS Game 1: BOS @ HOU (W, 6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, Astros Win 8-2)
Flash forward to this year. Following a massively disappointing first half of the season for the Detroit Tigers, a nursing home of former megastars such as Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Jordan Zimmermann, the Tigers dealt away all their remaining stars at the Trade Deadline and before the August waiver deadline… the most painful of all for Tigers fans, Justin Verlander. As the story goes, JV accepted a trade to Houston with only two seconds left before the deadline. Houston knew what they were receiving, but it’s hard to think they expected Verlander to be this dominant. In his five regular-season starts with Houston, Verlander posted a 1.06 ERA, allowing 0.5 H/9, a 0.65 WHIP, and an ERA+ of 376 (!!!). He’d finish the 2017 regular season with a 6.4 rWAR, despite posting a 4.73 ERA in his first half.
With the regular season over, Game 1 had finally arrived, and JV was about to face the Red Sox once more. Even better, this was a matchup of two familiar rivals: Chris Sale vs. Justin Verlander. Of course, we all know what happens when JV faces Chris Sale: JV wins. JV has six team wins in JV-Sale matchups, while Sale has 0, zip, nada, zero, none. This would be no different. JV wasn’t incredible, per se: he allowed eight baserunners in 6 IP, only struck out 3, and allowed 2 ER. But still, you can’t blame JV for throwing strikes and getting outs when Chris Sale gives up 7 ER in 5 IP. For those keeping score at home, it’s JV 7, Chris Sale 0.
2017 ALDS Game 4: HOU @ BOS (W, 2.2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, Astros Win 5-4)
This is the sole appearance in this article to not be a start. Instead, Verlander relieved Charlie Morton in the 5th inning of Game 4 with a chance to clinch. JV would get the ball to the 8th inning, where Ken Giles would get the Astros a six-out save and a series win. So, why did I include this one?
JV 8, Chris Sale 0. (Even in relief, which is funny because Sale is a former reliever.)
2017 ALCS Game 2: NYY @ HOU (W, 9 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 13 K, Astros Win 1-0)
Last night was one of the most dominant postseason starts in baseball history. 94 strikes, the 2nd most in ML history. Six baserunners in a complete game effort. JV’s postseason career record for strikeouts (13). The most pitches JV has thrown since 2013 (124). JV was absolutely sensational last night, and 9th inning heroics from Correa and Altuve gave JV what the 2013 Tigers could not give him in the ALCS. The Astros are now up 2-0 and are a huge favorite to advance to the World Series. That’s what JV can give a team. (Oh, and to date, a team starting Justin Verlander has never lost a game against the Yankees in the postseason.)
There you have it. Over the past 11 years, Justin Verlander has asserted himself as one of the greatest postseason pitchers in baseball. He lacks his signature moment on baseball’s biggest stage, but that may be coming very, very soon. One thing’s clear: Justin Verlander in the postseason is Must-See JV. Go get a ring, Justin.