Yankees Thoughts: The Ghost of Justin Verlander

After taking three straight games over the weekend against Justin Verlander’s former team, the Yankees destroyed Verlander his current team on Tuesday, winning 10-3. The Yankees are now 5-0 against the Astros on the season with two games remaining between the two.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. When the 2009 Yankees pounded Pedro Martinez for seven runs in 10 innings in Games 2 and 6 of the World Series, it didn’t feel right. Yes, standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium twice in the series and taking two of the Phillies’ four losses in the six games was technically Martinez, but it wasn’t the Martinez I had grown accustomed to watching pitch against the Yankees as a Red Sox starting in 1998 and then as a Met seven years later. Martinez was there in name only.

That was the feeling I had on Tuesday night watching the Yankees beat up Justin Verlander at Yankee Stadium. Verlander has been a rival since 2006 and has nearly always pitched well against the Yankees, including being on the winning side of six postseason series against them (2006, 2011, 2012, 2017, 2019, 2022) and never once on the losing side of a postseason against them. But the pitcher standing on the Stadium mound on Tuesday may have been Verlander, but only in name.

2. “They had a good approach and I wasn’t very good,” Verlander said. “If I’m being really honest with myself, the last couple of games, particularly the walks, showed me I was a little off.”

The first walk off Verlander came from Aaron Judge in the bottom of the first. After Anthony Volpe lined out on the first pitch Verlander threw, Juan Soto followed with single and Judge drew a five-pitch walk. Then Alex Verdugo put together a seven-pitch at-bat, and on that seventh pitch, he hit a three-run home run to right field. Just like that, the Yankees had a 3-1 lead.

3. “I think these guys told me today that I got some work to do,” Verlander said. “I’ve got to be more deceptive.

Verlander threw 97 pitches and recorded just 15 outs, allowing 11 baserunners. Of his 97 pitches, the Yankees only swung and missed at five of them. Last season, Verlander faced the Yankees twice as a Met and twice as an Astro. In those four starts, the Yankees swung and missed an average of 10 times per game. When Verlander struck out 11 Yankees in Game 1 of the 2022 ALCS, he got 17 swinging strikes.

4. On Tuesday, Verlander had a hard time fooling anyone. The Yankees were taking his breaking pitches off the plate and he couldn’t blow his patented high fastball by anyone, as it was either put in play or fouled back, even at 96 mph. David Cone remarked on YES that Verlander “didn’t know where to go” to get strikes and outs.

“I would like to have a tick or two more veto on my fastball,” Verlander said, “which is something I’ve been expecting because I wasn’t able to long toss really at all.”

5. The Yankees’ early 3-1 lead was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish and a lead that was never in jeopardy, thanks to the offense’s ability to tack on a run in the third, two runs in the fourth, a run in the fifth and sixth and two more in the seventh. The Yankees put 20 baserunners on in the game and scored half of them, including three home runs off Verlander (Verdugo, Volpe and Giancarlo Stanton). The lead was also never in jeopardy because of Luis Gil’s dominant performance.

6. After retiring Jose Altuve to begin the game, Gil allowed a long home run to Kyle Tucker. In the moment, I figured Gil would be wild, give up some long balls, the offense would be stifled by Verlander and the Yankees would help wake up the Astros and save their season. The Tucker home run ended up not only being the only run that Gil allowed, but the only hit he allowed.

7. It was the second straight start Gil gave the Yankees at least six innings after pitching 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Orioles last Wednesday. In just one of seven starts this season has he allowed more than three earned runs, now boasting a 2.92 ERA and 1.135 WHIP.

“He’s just got a lot of weapons, he’s hard to hit,” Aaron Boone said. “It wasn’t perfect by any means for him tonight.”

Gil did add his league-leading walk total with four, and against a better team that’s a recipe for disaster, but against the last-place Astros, it wasn’t.

8. It feels weird to talk about the Astros in such a degrading manner. After seven straight ALCS appearances and four World Series appearances over that time with two championships, at some point the clock would strike midnight on their dominance, but I didn’t see it coming this season. It was the Yankees who put them in an 0-4 record hole to begin the season and it’s the Yankees who are now 5-0 against them on the year with still two games to go. The Yankees 5-0 against the Astros? It’s a record that seems impossible, and yet it’s fact.

9. I’m not ready to pronounce the Astros’ season over, not even with their 12-23 record and negative-27 run differential. Despite their horrific position, they are still only seven games back in the loss column in a weak AL West and still hold an astounding 35.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. They have the same amount of losses as the Angels, three more losses than the A’s and the only team with a worse winning percentage than them in the AL is the White Sox. Despite all of that, I’m still not ready to call their season over. Their last seven seasons, especially 2017, 2019 and 2022 have scarred me.

10. Carlos Rodon, Marcus Stroman and the offense could help push the 2024 Astros closer to the brink and to the point of no return on Wednesday and Thursday. Taking five in a row against the Astros and five of seven in the season series is already more than enough, but taking another or both over the next two days would go a long way to ruining the rest of the Astros’ season. With two games left in this series and two games left against the Astros for the season, the Yankees can continue to do their part in ending a dynastic Astros run they helped start.