LOS ANGELES - Justin Verlander is a World Series champion.
Verlander, the ace right-hander who skyrocketed to baseball stardom over 12 seasons in a Detroit Tigers uniform, racking up every personal accolade in the process, finally achieved the sport’s ultimate goal on Wednesday night.
He did it in a way he had not envisioned throughout his career: Pitching for the Astros, who traded for him two months ago, counting on him to lead them to the promised land.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Verlander said. “The experience is everything I dreamed it would be. But I didn’t take a second of this for granted because having been here twice and falling short, I know how hard it is to win the World Series.”
The win marked the Astros’ first World Series championship and put an exclamation point on Verlander’s acquisition, as the Tigers’ price of three highly regarded prospects just minutes before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline proved worthwhile.
Though he stood firm about his desire to win a title in Detroit, the team’s decision to enter a rebuilding phase this season dwindled those chances from slim to none.
“It’s kind of hard obviously now to look back and think that it was such a hard decision, but there’s so much history in Detroit for me,” he said. “The main reason I left was so I could win a World Series and have a chance to win a World Series again. And here we are.”
Verlander came close on two other occasions: The Tigers lost in the World Series in both 2006 and 2012. His World Series moment came a night after taking the loss in Game 6, when he threw six solid innings.
Astros pitcher Justin Verlander speaks in a noisy, celebratory clubhouse after winning the 2017 World Series on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Video by Anthony Fenech/DFP)
He was a key cog in the Tigers' most successful stretch of baseball in which they advanced to the postseason seven times, including four consecutive American League Central division titles in 2011-14.
In Detroit, Verlander became one of the most adored home-grown players in the city’s athletic history and will go down as the best right-handed pitcher in franchise history.
He authored the best single-season pitching performance in 2011, winning the AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young and threw two no-hitters. He was a six-time All-Star and soon after winning the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year award, distinguished himself as the face of the franchise.
"If it was truly a baseball decision, it’s a no brainer," he said. "It's an easy decision, but the way that that city has treated me since I got there and how I felt so connected to them is what made the decision so difficult."
Verlander is known for his fire fastball and workhorse mentality on the mound, throwing 200-plus innings in all but two of his 12 seasons, and for his ability to rise to the occasion in big games. His career statistics will garner a strong opportunity for induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame one day and team retirement of his No. 35.
Astros pitcher and former Tigers ace Justin Verlander fields questions after Houston won the World Series on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Video by Anthony Fenech/DFP)
His desire to pitch in those big games and win that World Series championship weighed heavily in accepting a trade to Houston and leave the only franchise for which he ever played. It was not an easy decision, but on Wednesday night, finally a champion, it proved to be the right one.
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© 2017 Detroit Free Press