The Yankees have clearly met their match in Justin Verlander, the future Hall of Famer they can’t seem to beat. Maybe they’ll get another shot to face him come October.
Verlander dominated the Bombers for the fourth time since he was traded to the Astros on Aug. 31, 2017, throwing 6.2 innings of one-run ball in Houston’s 5-1 victory Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
The 35-year-old power righty, though, saved his best for last, responding to boos from the home crowd with a tip of his cap as he walked off the mound — the ultimate boss move.
“The Yankees fans were having some fun with me, so I’ve gotta have a little fun back,” Verlander said.
Verlander proved to be the difference between the Bombers advancing to the World Series and coming up just short last season, earning ALCS MVP honors as a result.
And that’s continued in 2018, after he called out Chris “Mad Dog” Russo for saying “there’s no way you can’t think the Yankees are the team in beat in the American League” on MLB Network following their offseason acquisition of reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton.
“I can think of a reason,” Verlander replied on Twitter.
Verlander has since backed up his words, posting a 0.61 ERA in two starts against the Yankees, allowing just one run and striking out 19 in 14.2 innings while limiting the Bronx Bombers to a .157 batting average.
This after he posted a 0.56 ERA in two starts against them during the ALCS, allowing one run and striking out 21 in 16 innings.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the game, and you have to be ready for the fastball and adjust to everything else,” Didi Gregorius said. “The way he was pitching us today with his curveball-slider was trying to get us to chase. He only threw one or two changeups in there if I’m not mistaken.”
The most impressive part about Verlander’s 2018 dominance against Murderers’ Row 2.0: He hasn’t walked anyone. Verlander constantly pitched ahead in the count, not allowing the Bombers to “control the strike zone” as Aaron Boone has preached to them all year.
Verlander allowed just five hits — including Greg Bird’s solo homer leading off the seventh — and struck out five. He was still dialing it up to 97 mph with filthy movement when he threw a heater past hot-hitting rookie Gleyber Torres for strike three in his final frame of work.
Aaron Judge is 0-for-13 lifetime against Verlander with seven strikeouts (including the playoffs), while Stanton, who got the day off, is 1-for-8 lifetime with a homer and five strikeouts. Boone tried to mix up his lineup a bit to get to Verlander — putting Bird fourth, Torres fifth and Gregorius seventh — but to no avail.
“He uses all his pitches where he wants when he wants to,” Bird said. “And that makes for a long day. You’ve just got to grind it out and really capitalize when he makes mistakes. And kind of tip your cap to him.”
There’s obviously plenty of baseball left, so a lot can change between now and October. Still, the Bombers haven’t proven they can put any type of sustained rally together off Houtson’s ace. And it’s clear they’re going to have to play a near perfect game to beat him.
Verlander hasn’t shown he can be worn down early either, as evidenced by all the strikes he throws, not allowing many deep counts against him.
The goal will have to be as it was on May 1 — just hold out as long as possible until you can get to the bullpen. Then hope Ken Giles punches himself in the face again.
Giles, though, was able to record the final three outs on this day, securing another victory for Verlander, who is 7-2 with a 1.11 ERA for the defending champions this season.
The ace of the Astros is the man the Yankees can’t seem to beat.