Verlander finally gets his due

Justin Verlander is officially great. To Detroit baseball fans, the former Tigers pitcher was always seen that way, but on Wednesday night, he clinched the one thing that has been lacking on his career resume — a World Series title.

In the world of sports, that’s typically how an athlete is judged. How many titles have you won?

There’s been so many athletes or coaches whose achievements are discounted simply because they never won a World Series or a Super Bowl or a national championship and frankly, it’s pretty ridiculous.

However, that isn’t the case for Verlander anymore. He already has pitched two no-hitters; won American League MVP, AL Cy Young and AL Rookie of the Year awards; and made six All-Star Game appearances.

That already makes him a Baseball Hall of Fame candidate, but there were some that said until he wins a championship, he doesn’t have a chance. Well, now he finally does.

At this time last season, I was a nervous wreck. My beloved Chicago Cubs were trying to end their 108-year title drought and I was figuratively living and dying with each pitch during the World Series.

I’m pretty sure my wife thought I was going to have a stroke during Game 7 considering how tense I was the entire night.

However, this year I was able to breathe easy and simply enjoyed watching some quality baseball. I wasn’t sure who to cheer for as Houston was the sentimental favorite due to the damage from Hurricane Harvey over the summer, but I also have a friend in Los Angeles who has been hoping for a championship for years.

However, with each game, you veteran Michiganders started to influence me. It seemed like almost all the Yooper baseball fans were pulling for Verlander, not because they were Astros fans, but because of what he meant to the Tigers, Detroit and the state in general.

Verlander wasn’t even supposed to be in the playoffs. It seemed as if he was going to stay with the hapless Tigers as the summer wore on and that he would have to suffer along with them for quite awhile.

However, what was literally a last-minute deal sent him to Houston and set up conflicted feelings across the state.

It was blatantly clear that Tigers fans wanted him to stay as he was the face of the franchise, even more so than Miguel Cabrera.

He was the first player casual fans would think of when they’d think about Detroit and from what I could tell up here, people wanted to keep it that way.

Unfortunately for fans of the Tigers’ orange and blue, Verlander went to a significantly better team with that color scheme, which is appropriate when you think about it.

It’s like when Peyton Manning went from the Indianapolis Colts to the Denver Broncos (horses, get it?).

Verlander looked strong each game in the playoffs as he picked up the AL Championship Series MVP after earning two wins and having a sparkling 0.56 earned-run average.

He was showing the Astros as well as Tigers fans why he is so important for a pitching rotation. He gets the job done in big games and he looked solid again in Game 2 of the World Series, even though he ended up with a no-decision.

When Game 6 rolled around Tuesday, it was Verlander’s time to shine again. Partly it was due to it being his turn in the rotation, but I think it was mostly because of what he can do.

Houston was on the cusp of its first title and the Astros wanted their ace to get it for them. Verlander was sharp, but he got little run support and the Dodgers ended up forcing Wednesday’s deciding Game 7.

I was hoping Verlander would get a chance to redeem himself and get a chance to win again in that final game.

Maybe it would come down to extra innings and he’d come out of the bullpen to get the final outs. Or maybe Houston could grab an early lead and he’d come in the ninth inning to close things out.

Well, the latter partly happened and analysts all over Twitter were wondering if Verlander would make an appearance after the shaky Astros bullpen lived up to its reputation.

In the end, though, Houston’s other pitchers stabilized enough and instead of winning it himself on the mound, he watched it from the bench.

I doubt it mattered to him, though, as he was all smiles holding the World Series trophy.

It’s nice to see someone who worked so hard for so long finally achieve his goal, even if it’s not for your favorite team.

I felt the same way when Manning won Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos and when longtime Minnesota Timberwolves player Kevin Garnett got his title with the Boston Celtics.

You wish that it would’ve been different, but in the end, you’re just happy that they finished on top. From what I saw on social media after the game Wednesday, many Tigers fans felt the same way.

Verlander may not have won his elusive championship with Detroit, but he’ll always be a Tiger in Michigan. Now the rest of baseball can see him as Tigers fans do.

A pitcher who is truly great.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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