Justin Verlander received praise from his Houston Astros teammates after leading the team to a 4-2 victory over the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS on Wednesday night.
Verlander allowed just one run on three hits and one walk while striking out 11 across six innings, shutting down a Yanks offense that ranked second in runs scored during the MLB regular season.
"I think you saw what a real Hall of Fame pitcher's made of tonight," starter Lance McCullers Jr. told ESPN's Marly Rivera. "He had a tough start in the DS. You don't have to beat around the bush; it wasn't a great start. I know he wanted to do better. ... You saw him work all week. He felt like he had some adjustments to make, and he made the adjustments. ... In a series where there's only one off day, him being able to give us six amazing innings, speaks volumes for who he is as a pitcher and a competitor."
Catcher Martin Maldonado added: "This is exactly what I expected from him. That is why he is a Hall of Famer."
Despite being one of the generation's best pitchers, Verlander hasn't always enjoyed the same level of success in the playoffs. His postseason ERA (3.55) is more than three-tenths of a run above his regular-season mark (3.24), and he struggled in his ALDS start, giving up six runs in four innings as part of an 8-7 win over the Seattle Mariners.
If the Astros move past the Yankees to reach the World Series, one of the key storylines will be the 39-year-old ace's past performance in the Fall Classic: 0-6 with a 5.68 ERA across seven starts.
That said, what New York dealt with Wednesday night is closer to what's expected from Verlander. A wicked mix of pitches working off the baseline of an overpowering fastball that can make him unhittable at times.
The Yanks' only run came on a solo homer by Harrison Bader in the second inning. They didn't get any runners on base over the Astros starter's final three frames of work.
"He gave us exactly the kind of performance we needed, and I feel that I say that all the time about Verlander," second baseman José Altuve told Rivera. "This was a huge win for us, alongside our bullpen, which has been exceptional all season. He set the tone and allowed us to win the first game, which is very important in a tough series like this one, and against a great team like the Yankees."
Houston manager Dusty Baker praised the pitcher's mental approach after he got out of a third-inning jam with back-to-back strikeouts of Josh Donaldson and Matt Carpenter.
"He's not only physically strong, which you can see, but he's mentally strong," Baker said. "This guy, he has mental toughness. When he's down and out and it looks like you got him in trouble, I mean, this guy, he can dial it up."
The strong performance gives the Astros an early edge in the battle of the American League's top two clubs during the regular season.
Houston will send Framber Valdez to the mound in Game 2 on Thursday in search of a commanding 2-0 lead. New York is set to counter with Luis Severino.
First pitch at Minute Maid Park is scheduled for 7:37 p.m. ET on TBS.