Justin Verlander gives the Houston Astros a surprise ace for the playoffs.
Houston Astros owner Jim Crane brings intensity and a relentless work ethic to the franchise. (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan.)
The Astros' supersized expectations have Jeff Luhnow experiencing life differently.
Jose Altuve gives Jim Crane's Astros plenty of hope.
Charlise Castro & George Springer
Justin Verlander got delivered to the Houston Astros at one minute till midnight, in the last minute the deal could have been done. Call him the Midnight Ace — and everything the Astros needed. The team with the best record in the American League — and one that was still nowhere near as playoff frightening as the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox or arguably even the New York Yankees — is now a legitimate World Series threat.
Weighed against all the devastation and heartbreak Houston is going through with Harvey, sports feel awfully small right now. But this absolute, last-minute-of-August deadline deal, sure feels like a gift to Houston (or at least, Houston baseball fans) from Astros owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow. Maybe, the Astros finally would have pulled the trigger, and given up some of their prized prospects for Verlander (and taken on $40 million more in salary), even if the city hadn’t been decimated.
But there’s no question wanting to do something special for Houston has taken on added urgency for everyone pulling together in this town over this horrific last week.
Verlander’s certainly special from a baseball perspective. Of course, the $4 million that Jim Crane is donating to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts means much more from a real world perspective. Of course, it’s so much more important.
But for baseball, Verlander is still special. The man who is engaged to supermodel Kate Upton can still bring it on the mound. At age 34, Verlander may not be quite the dominant king he was during his 2011 American League MVP season. But no one else in American League outside of Red Sox ace Chris Sale is right now either.
Verlander can be dominant enough to give this potent Astros offense something to believe in. That’s what this late Thursday night trade means. Houston now has a pitcher it can line up against Corey Kluber or Luis Severino, and feel reasonably good about the matchup. That’s playoffs huge.
Verlander flirted with a no hitter earlier this month — and it’s easy to imagine him (and Upton) getting energized by his move from going-nowhere Detroit to a playoff-guaranteed Houston. There are reports that Verlander wavered on whether to accept the deal to the Astros (he could have nixed it). But he did accept.
Maybe in the end, Justin Verlander realized Houston baseball fans needed something like him right now. This doesn’t heal the city — or put anyone’s life back together. But it’s nice for a smile. The Midnight Ace is here. Just in time. Just when he’s needed most.