Justin Verlander is one of 50 pitchers to reach 499 starts and next week he will become among the select among group to reach 500.
Chances are, he might be the only who made his 499th start pitching for a new team that was his old team with his employer of seven months paying off a significant portion of yearly contract.
The convoluted scenario played out Saturday when he Verlander made his third straight start in New York for two teams, something that may become more difficult with the new balanced schedule.
Verlander returning to the Astros was not expected back in December when the Mets played their part in free agent press conference week by introducing him, Japanese import Kodai Senga and the re-signed Brandon Nimmo. Often, the anticipated scenarios do not unfold as expected — which is how Verlander found himself facing the Yankees for the second time in 12 days and occupying the same locker in the visiting clubhouse as he did for his penultimate start as a Met.
On July 25, Verlander pitched six scoreless innings after the Mets took 100 games to win for the 47th time about a month after billionaire owner Steve Cohen hinted at changes during a 23-minute press conference shortly before his team fell 10 games under .500. He stood in front of a crowd of questioners and swatted away any inquiries about him becoming a former Met, saying the following:
“I’m focused on being a Met. That’s why I signed here. I want to win here. It hasn’t gone according to plan just yet, but I didn’t sign a one-year deal. So there’s that.”
There was that.
Two days after Verlander made those remarks, David Robertson was dealt to the Marlins. A day later Max Scherzer was annoyed and requested a meeting which led to him being traded to Texas for the younger brother of Ronald Acuna Jr.
While this was going on Verlander was prepping for his 498th start and first crack at reaching 250 wins, something only 49 have achieved. There was more about the discussion of him waiving his no-trade clause and in one of those life comes at you quickly moments, he was the most prominent name moved at the trade deadline on Tuesday.
And in a funny coincidence, the Astros were scheduled to play the Yankees, the same team who missed a chance to get him at the August waiver deadline in 2017 that no longer exists.
After flying to Kansas City and back to New York, Verlander joined his new old team Thursday, addressed the uniqueness with a 16-minute press conference and then took the mound Saturday and than was partially paid by the Mets, who chipped in $35,520,753 and an additonal $17.5 million if Verlander exercises his 2025 option.
“It felt oddly familiar,” Verlander said to a larger media crowd populating the Houston clubhouse than the previous two games. “There’s like this moment of time I wasn’t here, and it was really only three months because I missed the first month with injury. It’s been very easy to think I’ve been here the whole time. I love these guys and being able to go out there and compete with them again. It’s a lot of fun.”
His first three pitches were strikes and a called strike three on the curveball. Then his knuckle bloodied before getting taped up.
It wound up not being a dominating outing but one certainly good enough. Verlander’s second Astros’ debut just happened to occur on a day when the Yankees struck out 16, their most in a game against their arch nemesis since 2014, three years before the rivalry emerged.
It was one of those bend don’t break type of outings Hall of Fame pitchers often produce when the stuff is not the greatest. There were nine hard-hit balls – five more than his final start as a Met on Sunday – but only two runs scored off him.
And with Verlander in the fold, it seems the Astros possess a good chance at overtaking Texas in the AL West after a slower than usual start.
“The culture we’ve established here over the last five, six years means a lot,” Verlander said. “Some of the guys who have helped establish that culture have come and gone, but it still resonates through to the young guys with the leadership we still have.”
The next time the Yankees see Verlander will could sometime next month on Labor Day weekend in Houston.
Until then the Yankees will take joy in doing just enough off someone they had not beaten in the regular season since 2015 when Alex Rodriguez homered off him for his 3,000th career hit.
“Verlander pitched really well,” Yankee second baseman Gleyber Torres said. “He’s a Hall of Famer. We always struggled to [hit) against him but today we tried to attack early and hit mistakes. We got a couple of opportunities and we took advantage.”