Verlander Joins 3,000 Strikeout Club
Justin Verlander has been no stranger to milestones, accolades and achievements during his 15 seasons in the big leagues. He has won the Rookie of the Year Award, been named the American League MVP and won the American League Cy Young Award.
He’s an eight-time American League All-Star, has thrown three no-hitters and has won a World Series. On Saturday, he etched his name on another hallowed list in MLB history, becoming just the 18th pitcher to record 3,000 strikeouts.
Verlander entered the evening needing six strikeouts that milestone. After striking out the side in the second inning, the right-hander whiffed Kaleb Cowart and Brian Goodwin in the third inning to set the stage for the historic accomplishment. It came the following inning, when he got Kole Calhoun to chase on a 2-2 slider.
To say he’s among some pretty impressive company is a massive understatement. Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Steve Carlton, Bert Blyleven, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Walter Johnson, Phil Niekro, Fergie Jenkins, Pedro Martinez, Bob Gibson, CC Sabathia, John Smoltz and Verlander. That’s the entire list. If you’re counting at home, that’s 14 Hall of Famers, Roger Clemens -- who would be there if not for the PED allegations -- , Curt Schilling -- who is building momentum toward Cooperstown -- and CC Sabathia who’s still active himself.
Not that Verlander needed to add anything to his resume to ensure his place in the Hall of Fame, but he’s an absolute lock now.
If notching his 3,000th career strikeout wasn’t enough for a days work, Verlander was chasing after another achievement on Saturday as well. He entered the outing needing 12 strikeouts to reach 300 for the season. While Verlander had eclipsed the 200-strikeout plateau nine times in his career, his career-high had been the 290 that he punched out last season for the Astros.
The Calhoun strikeout that gave him 3,000 brought him to 294 for the season, but he still had work to do. After allowing a two-run homer to Andrelton Simmons after the Calhoun strikeout, and a single to Kevan Smith, Verlander sent the next five hitters down in order -- all on swinging third strikes.
Once again, needing just one strikeout to achieve a milestone, it was Kole Calhoun strolling to the dish with one out in the sixth inning. Calhoun foul tipped a 1-2 offering into the glove of Astros’ catcher Robinson Chirinos, giving Verlander an even 300 for the season.
The victory was an important one for the Astros -- their 106th of the season -- as it guarantees them home field advantage throughout the postseason.
It also could have been an important one for Verlander, who is likely doing battle against teammate Gerrit Cole for the American League Cy Young Award. With the victory on Saturday, Verlander now sits at 21-6 on the season -- two wins more than any other pitcher in baseball -- though Gerrit Cole will have his chance to win his 20th in Sunday’s regular season finale.
Aside from the gaudy win total, the 36-year-old hurler boasts a 2.58 ERA, a league-leading 0.80 WHIP and 300/42 K/BB ratio over 223 innings. Opponents are batting just .172 against him, the top mark in all of baseball. That’s not to say he’s a lock for that award though, as Cole has been equally as dominant. He heads into Sunday’s start with a very comparable 2.52 ERA (besting Verlander for the top mark in the American League), 0.89 WHIP (second only to JV) and a league-leading 316 strikeouts. Opponents are batting just .186 against him, the second best mark in baseball behind Verlander.
Best of luck to the Athletics or Rays. Whichever team survives the Wild Card Game will have to battle those two dominant right-handers in the first two games of the ALDS, before having to take on Zack Greinke in Game 3.
The Rookie Home Run King
Justin Verlander isn’t the only player who made history on Saturday night. Mets’ rookie first baseman Pete Alonso slugged his way into the record books as well, clobbering a solo homer off of Mike Foltynewicz in the third inning. It was his 53rd home run of the season, setting a new MLB record for most home runs in a rookie season -- surpassing the 52 that Aaron Judge hit for the Yankees in 2017.
The 24-year-old received a standing ovation from the home crowd at Citi Field and a curtain call as well. He was completely overcome with the emotion of the moment, tearing up as he took the field to begin the fourth inning. When asked about what was going through his head in that moment after the game, Alonso admitted, “Holy S, I can’t believe that happened”.
Overall, Alonso has put together one of the more remarkable rookie seasons in recent memory. He’s slashing .260/.359/.586 with a major league leading 53 homers and 120 RBI. It’s even more impressive when you recall that it was a surprise when Alonso broke camp with the big league club coming out of spring training, as the Mets opted to take their best players north rather than playing the service time manipulation game.
Under team control through the 2024 season, Alonso should be a force in the middle of the Mets’ lineup for many seasons to come.
Devastating Defeat for Brewers
After the Cardinals fell to the Cubs on Saturday afternoon -- their fourth consecutive loss -- the door was open for the Brewers to pull even with the Cardinals in the race for the division crown in the National League Central.
It had looked like that’s exactly what was going to happen, as the Brewers carried a 2-0 lead into the eighth inning on Saturday. The Rockies wouldn’t go quietly though, as Ian Desmond blasted a solo homer off of Drew Pomeranz in the eighth to pull to within one run.
The Brewers had an opportunity to add to their lead in the top half of the ninth inning, but Lorenzo Cain was cut down at the plate attempting to score from first base on a double by Ben Gamel. Cain collided with Rockies’ catcher Tony Wolters on the play, spraining his left ankle in the process which puts his availability for Sunday in question.
Not to worry though, the Brewers had lock-down closer Josh Hader coming in for the ninth inning with a one-run lead to protect. After retiring the first two hitters in the bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitter Sam Hilliard turned the postseason picture on its head by clubbing a game-tying solo home run.
After the Brewers failed to score in the top half of the 10th inning, Trevor Story greeted Matt Albers with a walk-off homer to lead off the home half of the 10th, much to the satisfaction of Cardinals’ fans everywhere.
So now, it will all come down to the final game of the regular season. The Cardinals, losers of four straight, will send ace Jack Flaherty to the hill against Derek Holland and the Cubs. Since the All-Star break, Flaherty is 6-2 with a minuscule 0.97 ERA and 0.74 WHIP across 92 ⅓ innings.
The Brewers will be sending Adrian Houser to the mound to take on Jeff Hoffman and the Rockies. That leaves Jordan Lyles as the next man up for the Brewers -- either in a potential Game 163 situation against the Cardinals, or in the National League Wild Card Game against the Nationals in Washington.
American League Quick Hits: Rays’ manager Kevin Cash announced that Charlie Morton will get the ball for the Rays in Wednesday’s Wild Card Game against the Athletics… Bo Bichette (concussion) has officially been shut down for the remainder of the 2019 season… Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was scratched from the Blue Jays’ lineup on Saturday due to right knee soreness. He’s considered day-to-day and could return for Sunday’s regular season finale… Yandy Diaz (foot) is expected to rejoin the Rays on Sunday after taking six at-bats in an instructional league game on Saturday… Luis Arraez suffered a right ankle sprain in a collision with teammate Willians Astudillo on Saturday… The MRI on James Paxton’s glute revealed only nerve irritation. He’s expected to be fine for the start of the ALDS… Harold Castro was held of the Tigers lineup for the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader after injuring his ankle in Game 1… Edwin Encarnacion (oblique) is unlikely to play in Sunday’s regular season finale… Xander Bogaerts swatted his 33rd home run in a losing effort against the Orioles… Jonathan Villar swiped his 40th base of the season in a win over the Red Sox… Jorge Soler blasted a pair of home runs in a losing effort against the Twins. His 47 home runs are tops in the American League, making him the first player in franchise history to lead the league in home runs… Nelson Cruz socked his 41st dinger of the season as the Twins were victorious in that one… Reynaldo Lopez fanned nine over eight-plus innings of one-run baseball in a win over the Tigers… Jordan Luplow homered twice in a losing effort against the Nationals… Yoan Moncada clubbed a pinch-hit home run as the White Sox dropped the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader to the Tigers… John Hicks smacked a pinch-hit, go-ahead, three-run homer in the ninth inning to propel the Tigers to that victory… Rougned Odor crushed a grand slam -- his 30th home run of the season -- and plated a career-high six runs as the Rangers crushed the Yankees… Danny Santana swiped two bases in that win, eclipsing the 20 HR / 20 SB plateau… Jose Altuve blasted his 31st home run as the Astros topped the Angels… Ramon Laureano clubbed a solo home run, powering the Athletics to victory over the Mariners… Brett Anderson hurled five shutout innings to earn a victory there while Jesus Luzardo fanned three over two scoreless innings to secure his second save… Mallex Smith swiped his league-leading 46th base in a losing effort there… Trent Thornton struck out eight over five shutout innings in a victory over the Rays.
National League Quick Hits: Justin Turner (back) was held out of the Dodgers’ lineup again on Saturday and he isn’t likely to play on Sunday either… The Pirates are exploring the idea of using Steven Brault as a two-way player next season… Scott Kingery will miss Sunday’s season finale and is set to visit an eye doctor on Monday to determine the cause of the blurred vision that caused him to leave Friday’s game… Nolan Arenado was held out of Saturday’s lineup -- and is unlikely to play on Sunday -- due to soreness in his side… Ryan Braun underwent an MRI on Saturday which confirmed that he’s dealing with a mild left calf strain. He’ll sit out again on Sunday, but is hopeful to be ready for the start of the postseason… Trevor Bauer (illness) was scratched from his scheduled start on Sunday. Tyler Mahle will start in his place… Gerardo Parra blasted a grand slam on Saturday, leading the Nationals past the Indians… Bryce Harper smacked his 35th home run of the season as the Phillies topped the Marlins… Hyun-Jin Ryu made his final statement for the National League Cy Young Award, striking out seven over seven shutout innings in a victory over the Giants… Max Muncy belted his 35th home run to lead the Dodgers’ offense in that win… Steven Matz fired six shutout innings in a victory over the Braves… Christian Walker homered twice and drove in a career-high five runs, leading the Diamondbacks past the Padres… Manny Machado walloped his 32nd homer in a loss to the D’Backs… Paul DeJong hit his 30th home run of the season in a loss to the Cubs… Ian Happ homered twice and drove in four runs as the Cubs topped the Cardinals again on Saturday… Cole Hamels struck out eight over four scoreless innings to close out his season… Jose Iglesias delivered a go-ahead RBI double in the 12th inning to lead the Reds past the Pirates.