For a while, Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander looked poised to spin a jewel against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 1 of the World Series. He didn’t allow a baserunner in the first three innings on Friday-evening, but that all changed in the fourth, even when he was put ahead 5-0.
Verlander allowed a one-out single to Rhys Hoskins and got the second out of the frame. At that point, the Phillies did what seems like they’ve been doing all October: string two hits together. Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos singled, then Alec Bohm doubled two. Rookie Bryson Stott made a 10-pitch walk before Verlander escaped further damage by causing a Jean Segura popout.
Astros’ lead was 5-3 going into the fifth, but Verlander again struggled. This is how his frame went: double, walk, pop out, double, ground out, strikeout. After all that, the score was tied and Verlander and the Astros had gained a five-point lead. Verlander, who probably should have been retired early in the fifth, finished with five frames and earned five on six hits with five strikeouts and two walks. Hours later, the Astros hung their heads and took a 6-5 loss in the 10th.
Verlander is a future Hall of Famer who could win his third Cy Young this year in this 39-year campaign. But he struggled badly in the World Series his entire career. Verlander entered Game 1 with a record of 0-6 and a 5.68 ERA in seven World Series starts. After Friday, those numbers should be updated, and it turns out Verlander has made an unfortunate history:
Yes, Verlander’s updated World Series ERA of 6.07 is the worst ever among those pitchers with at least 30 World Series innings. As bad as Verlander was in Game 1 on Friday, it’s probably not the worst start to the World Series of his career. In Game 1 against the Giants in 2012, he gave up five runs in four innings; and in Game 1 against the Cardinals in 2006, he gave up six runs in five innings. As you probably guessed, Game 1s were particularly unkind to Verlander:
As for his last Game 1 flop, he’s turning 40 and he’s coming off the Tommy John operation. The regular season and playoffs combined, he’s now played 190 innings in 2022. Maybe that’s catching up with him, or maybe it’s just one of those baseball quirks that happens from time to time. Very likely Verlander will start again in this World Series and thus stand a chance of partial redemption. But for now, his repeated struggles when the stakes are highest is at odds with the brilliant rest of his career.