Inching Closer

Angels in the Infield

A commanding performance by Justin Verlander reduces the Astros' magic number to 5.

By Scott Vogel September 13, 2017

Verlander xritbd

Justin Verlander's fastballs have arrived like manna from heaven, and just in the nick of time. 

THERE WERE JUST TWO BRIEF MOMENTS of panic during Tuesday night’s game against the Angels, one at the very beginning, and one at the very end. The legend of Justin Verlander, which began when he first arrived in the Astros’ clubhouse a few weeks ago, and which only grew after a superb first start against the Mariners, seemed like it might fizzle during the very first inning in L.A., when Verlander gave up a double to the Angels’ leadoff hitter, second-baseman Brandon Phillips. But it was the last double that Verlander would give up, indeed the last hit of any kind Verlander would give up over the course of 8 superlative innings in which he walked just 1 and struck out 9. Indeed, L.A., would never seriously threaten the Astros again until the bottom of the ninth, when, with Ken Giles as closer, Brandon Phillips again stepped to the plate. On the strength of just a soft single to right, Phillips streaked past first base, beating out a throw by George Springer and avoiding a tag at second by Carlos Correa. Unfortunately for Phillips, such was his momentum that he streaked past second base, at which point Correa caught him off the bag.

‘Stros pitching being what it was, the team needed little help from its offense last evening. And it didn’t get much either, with Yuli Gurriel driving in the only run of the day. Still, game No. 144 came to a 1-0 finish, giving the Astros their 87th win of the season, reducing their magic number to 5 to clinch the American League West. From this we deduce that 1) Justin Verlander’s arrival as an Astro came at just the right moment, and 2) the team has found a formidable starter for game one of the American League Division Series.

THE ASTROS’ ALL-OR-NOTHING ANTICS during the present road trip have left fans all over the city befuddled. How, they wonder, could a team that swept the Mariners in Seattle go on to be swept themselves by the Athletics in Oakland? Meanwhile, prognosticators like FiveThirtyEight are currently giving the ‘Stros just a 12 percent chance of winning the World Series, versus 15 percent for the Washington Nationals, 17 percent for the L.A. Dodgers, and 26 percent for the streaking Cleveland Indians. Even if you put stock in such predictions, and we don’t (in baseball, unlike politics, past behavior is no reliable predictor of future performance), the only plausible takeaway is that the World Series is, well, anybody’s ballgame.

We’ll have much more to say on the subject of predictions tomorrow, by which time the ‘Stros will have hopefully notched their second victory against the Angels, and momentum will shift our way once again.  

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