Looking at Justin Verlander's top Astros moments, from his arrival in Houston to his no-hitter

ByMatt Guillermo KTRK logo
Saturday, August 12, 2023
Learn more about the Cy-Young award winner who's joined the Astros

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A happy JV Day to you and yours, Houston.

Justin Verlander's triumphant return to the mound inside Minute Maid Park on Friday will help kick off Astros Hall of Fame weekend, when Bill Brown and Billy Doran get inducted into illustrious company.

JV starting, especially with his return to the Astros now 11 days old, can be seen as no coincidence. Verlander is a shoe-in to make the 'Stros hall and Cooperstown after he hangs up.

And the fact that he's making his 500th career MLB start Friday is more resume-padding. He'll become just the 49th player in baseball history to reach the milestone.

So, as JV resumes his Astros career, which stretches six seasons and 103 starts, ABC13 Sports is looking at the most memorable moments of his time in Houston.

His arrival

Astros acquire ace pitcher Justin Verlander from Tigers

Aug. 1, 2023, wasn't the first time that Verlander waived a no-trade clause in his contract to come out to Houston.

Cast your mind back to Aug. 31, 2017, when a trade deadline that no longer exists in baseball played into the Astros acquiring JV's services.

In brief, Verlander signed off on a waiver as his former team, the Detroit Tigers, had a deal in place with the 'Stros, memorably 40 minutes before the waiver-trade deadline at midnight.

During his introductory news conference, the former American League MVP admitted to experiencing some emotion, especially with leaving a team he's known for the first 13 years of his career.

"I'm really happy with the choice I made," he said. "As time went on and as the emotional side subsided, the excitement started to come in. The next morning I woke up and I'm like, 'All right, I'm going to a playoff atmosphere.'"

Indeed, it was a different set of circumstances for a pitcher who made two World Series trips but won no rings to show for it. The 'Stros boasted an 80-53 record when JV came aboard.

But beyond the acquisition, Verlander arrived in a storm-ravaged Houston area, with ordinary people trying to make sense of their lives in Hurricane Harvey's wake.

JV certainly stepped up for his new compatriots. He pledged a $100,000 donation and his playoff share that season to Harvey relief.

As for his Sept. 5, 2017, debut, Verlander struck out seven batters and allowed just a solo home run in a win in Seattle.

Impression made.

JV barks at new teammates

Emotional, superstitious Verlander wills Astros into win

Verlander officially spent just one month in Houston before the 2017 postseason. He won all five games that he started since the trade, so he was really endearing himself to the clubhouse.

By the time the 'Stros made their second-ever World Series, Verlander also collected playoff wins, with arguably his most memorable performance in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series, which saw him strike out 13 New York Yankees and allow one run in a complete-game masterpiece en route to the ALCS MVP.

But what 'Stros fan might not forget is Game 2 of the World Series in Los Angeles. So far in his career, JV hadn't been the best in the world championship round, and his six innings against the Dodgers on Oct. 25, 2017, was no different.

He was pulled after giving up a two-run homer, putting Houston in a hole. In brief, a balance of timely hits, including home runs from Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer, were key to a 7-6 comeback victory.

What may have been the driving force for the home-run onslaught was JV, who emerged from the clubhouse to dugout in the eighth inning, yelling at his teammates.

The moment was captured on the game telecast, and Verlander explained he was giving a fired-up pep talk with outs slipping away in the game.

"It's so easy in this game to get down. It's so easy to say, 'Man, we're probably not going to win this game,'" Verlander said after the game. "I just wanted to remind these guys how great they are."

He continued, "I guess that was just my message: Stay positive. Remember how good you are, and play the game. Two runs are nothing, and it seemed like two runs was the Grand Canyon. I just wanted to remind these guys that two runs is nothing."

In the grand scheme, it was a small moment but significant enough. Houston and Verlander won their first World Series championship, 4-3.

Yes-yes to the no-no

ABC13's Tom Abrahams and Bob Slovak discuss Verlander's no-hitter

By Sept. 1, 2019, Verlander had a full Astros season under his belt and was winding down to another one, which would bear fruit for him in the upcoming offseason.

The date is significant because that was when JV fanned 14 batters across 120 pitches against Toronto to attain a complete-game no-hitter - his first with the 'Stros and the third of his career.

"Where's (expletive) Toro?" JV was remembered saying, looking for former Astros infielder Abraham Toro, who made the final out of the historic game.

It was no surprise that he would throw the no-no. Given the way his season shaped up, he finished with 21 victories, which was baseball's best that season.

For that, he was rewarded with his second AL Cy Young Award, which was the first for him in Houston.

No one could see another Cy Young coming to Verlander, and you would be forgiven to think that way given the adversity he faced over the following two seasons.

His meaningful third AL Cy Young Award

Ask any pro baseball player who has had Tommy John surgery, and they'll tell you that their approach to playing changes vastly after it.

Some superstars have had it and arguably come back down to earth, losing some semblance of their former form.

For Verlander, it wasn't just Tommy John surgery for him. It was Tommy John surgery while closing in on his 40s.

JV required the surgery to fix the elbow in his pitching arm after starting on opening day of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Not only did the Astros lose him for that ALCS run, but they were without him for the entire World Series run the following year, which is all indicative of the lengthy recovery time needed.

And, so, questions emerged about whether JV would make it back to his superstar form. That was coupled with Verlander signing a one-year deal in free agency with the Astros for 2022 at a lower amount than what his MLB service commands. It was a fearful time for 'Stros fans.

But by the time the regular season ended, those fears were a buried memory.

Verlander pitched in 2022 like the surgery actually made him better than what prior experiences would suggest. He finished with an AL-best 18-4 record on the season, including throwing double-digit strikeouts in four of those victories.

JV ran away with his third AL Cy Young Award by unanimous choice.

And for added measure, but certainly not less significant, JV earned his first World Series winning decision that postseason en route to his second championship with the 'Stros.

Bonus: Kate Upton

Take a peek into Justin Verlander and Kate Upton's relationship

Justin Verlander not only blessed Houston with his dominant pitching arm and thirst for victory. He also brought to town one of the most memorable honorary Houstonians to date.

Kate Upton's life before her husband became an Astro was one of high public visibility. After all, you can't grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and not go unrecognized.

For Upton during JV's time in Houston, though, milestones were reached.

For example, Verlander was already settled in as an Astro when they got married in November 2017, nuptials which they had to skip the championship parade for. The couple welcomed their daughter the following fall.

More over, Upton has taken to her H-Town surroundings, through and through.

There was the one time she took Yankee fans to task over their claims that JV "hurts puppies."

She also ripped a call during the 2019 World Series that went against the 'Stros.

And Kate and Justin are staunch patrons of Houston's local businesses.

If that isn't enough, Upton has served as the team's unofficial fashion influencer. Astros old-school sweater, anyone?

The outfits of Kate Upton during Astros games

Special thanks to the Houston Astros Nation Facebook group for suggestions on this story.