Culture / Sporting Life

Justin Verlander Shares Tender Moment with Kate Upton After Shrugging Off Tabloid Tricks: Pitching Like a Boss, the Midnight Ace Just Refuses to Let the Astros Lose

BY // 10.15.17

Justin Verlander shows up to the postgame interview room looking like a Boss. He’s decked out in a designer blue suit that would be at home in the pages of GQ magazine, with an eye-catching orange tie that seems to catch the TV camera lights just right. Verlander looks like he’s just pulled off a hundred million dollar deal.

In a way, he has. And then some.

The 34-year-old who’s been a baseball star his entire adult life is willing a new team, and a new city, to wins that kids in Houston who are 12 right now will still talk about 20 years from now. Perhaps, he’s even on the way to willing the Astros to the first baseball championship in Houston history. In a few minutes, Verlander will step into the hallway where Kate Upton, his supermodel fiancee is waiting for him. Upton is dressed to the nines as well in a sparkling pink-sequined shirt and a long skirt. This power couple could be stepping out on Broadway.

Instead, they’re bringing Broadway to Houston. One magical moment at a time. These Houston Astros don’t need New York’s bright lights to put on an smash-hit show (but they’ll take them starting Monday night too).

“That’s the highlight of the season so far,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch says after this Saturday at Minute Maid Park, almost turning back into a fan himself for a minute.

That is a 2-1 Astros walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series with Jose Altuve just sliding in with the winning run. That is a 2-0 series lead over the most storied franchise in baseball. That is a game in which a 12-year-old Houston kid named Carson Riley almost goes Jeffrey Maier, reaching to try and snag a Carlos Correa long ball with his glove as Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge does the same and the ball just clears the yellow home run line.

Let's Rodeo Houston!

  • Bering's Gift's Rodeo 2024
  • Bering's Gift's Rodeo 2024
  • Bering's Gift's Rodeo 2024
  • Bering's Gift's Rodeo 2024

That is one of the most epic postseason games you’ll ever see. But mostly that is the Midnight Ace, the difference-making star (and Verlander is a star in every sense) the Astros acquired just one minute before it would have been too late, throwing a 124-pitch, 13-strikeout, complete-game masterpiece that turned Minute Maid Park into his personal rock concert.

When Verlander pops out of the dugout for the top of the ninth, the shrieks and roars from the fans can be heard all the way to Kemah. It’s almost like they cannot believe their eyes. In the midst of a postseason in which starting pitchers have been marginalized like never before (the New York Yankees pull their own ace Luis Severino after just four innings), Justin Verlander just refuses to let go of the game.

Or the Houston moment.

“I would have had to rip the ball from that man,” Hinch says.

Verlander says there is not even a discussion after the eighth inning on whether he will continue. Not after the way he snarls at Hinch after the manager asks him if he is all right after seven. “I probably wasn’t the nicest guy to him (at that moment),” Verlander says later, grinning.

When you’re one of last true playoff aces in baseball, no apologies are necessary. Verlander’s gem is the best game thrown by any pitcher on any team so far this postseason. It’s the first time a pitcher’s gone the distance in a playoff game since Madison Bumgarner did it in the 2016 National League Wildcard Game. It’s the kind of game that brings back memories of the greatest pitching performances in baseball playoff history, including Jack Morris’ 10-inning, no-run Game 7 gut-check that won the 1991 World Series for the Minnesota Twins.

“I was brought here to help this team win a championship.”

“That was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen,” Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel says of Verlander’s nine innings.

You could not be in Minute Maid on this Saturday afternoon and not be inspired or intimidated by Justin Verlander. The Midnight Ace’s Astro teammates feed off his energy — energy that sometimes seems to be bursting right out of his jersey. It’s no coincidence that after Verlander bounces off the mound, screaming and pumping his arms, to close the eighth inning, Carlos Correa pulls Jose Altuve aside for the kind of moment that’s only supposed to happen in sports movies.

” I tell Altuve, “We got to do this for the team, we got to come through right now in this inning,” Correa says, knowing the burden needs to rest on the Astros’ two best hitters. He’s like ‘OK, let’s do it.’ ”

So they do.

Altuve stares down Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, the 100 MPH fastball machine who helped the Chicago Cubs break baseball’s most historic curse last October, and laces a single over a jumping Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius‘ head. Then, Correa steps in — and doubles into the gap — starting the frantic final sequence in which Altuve speeds from first to home and only scores when Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez drops Gregorius’ low hop of a relay throw.

Maybe, it cannot end any other way. Verlander never lets the Astros even consider losing on this day.

“I was brought here to help this team win a championship,” Verlander says.

The New York Post’s Kate Upton Feud

Having a little fun with Houston, the New York Post trots out a four-year-old picture of Upton wearing a Yankees hat to try and claim that she’s really rooting for New York in this series. Yes, this is what the greatest city in the world has been reduced to — playing photo games. After all, they cannot hope to beat these Astros.

Not after the team that scored the most runs in the Majors this season wins back to back 2-1 games, moving two wins from only the second World Series in Houston history. That franchise with 27 world championships? It is just reeling. Pinstripes in tatters?

Supermodel Kate Upton made her first appearance in Houston to watch her man Justin Verlander work on the day he clinched the division title.

Upton doesn’t laugh off the pathetic photo ploy. She cheers it off — if anything visibly screaming even louder in the suite she watches her future husband’s starts from. Then again, this is a day to get caught up in the moment.

Astros owner Jim Crane even pops into the press conference room afterwards, a rarity, with his new wife Whitney Wheeler, just to hear Verlander’s postgame. It’s that kind of day at Minute Maid, really that kind of year with these Astros. Everyone wants to stick around and soak it up. No one wants the moment to end.

This Game 2 is packed with a truckload of them — all leading up to Altuve’s crazy flying dash home.

Fashionable Defense, Fashionable Upton

The Astros defense is becoming something of a national revelation. The afternoon after new dad Marwin Gonzalez cuts down a Yankees run at the plate with a 97 MPH strike from left field, Josh Reddick turns right field into New York’s zone of doom. First, Reddick sprints back, leaps and catches a Chase Headley bomb as he smacks into the wall.

It’s a play of skill, speed and guts. It also robs the Yankees of at least a double.

Later, Reddick helps nail Brett Gardner — still one of the speediest Yankees at age 34 — at third, after Gardner sends a ball screaming into the corner. You can’t blame Gardner. The shot seems to have triple written all over it. But Reddick has other ideas. He throws a perfect relay to Correa, who quickly fires it to Alex Bregman at third. Once Gardner keeps going past second, he’s in trouble.

The Yankees will underestimate an Astro — and pay for it. Again.

No one’s underestimating Verlander, certainly not the Yankees who must be cursing the Detroit Tigers all over again for trading their nemesis to Houston. A week before the trade, the Tigers and Yankees memorably brawled — with Verlander finding himself centerstage in that too.

Maybe, try not to upset this guy. He might do something historic against you — like strike out 13 in the tensest of playoff games. When even the talking about it for the cameras is over, Verlander heads into the hallway, right to a waiting Upton, who squeezes his hand, the excitement still palpable. They’re dressed to conquer the night.

But Verlander already has.

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