Watching Justin Verlander pitch this season has gone from intriguing to sensational.
The former Detroit Tigers ace had another strong year for the Tigers before being traded at the last second (almost literally) of the waiver deadline to the Houston Astros.
Since joining Houston, Verlander has been nearly unhittable — and the Astros have been unstoppable on their way to the American League pennant.
On the eve of the World Series, Verlander has gone 9-0 for the Astros, including the regular season and postseason, with an ERA in the neighborhood of 1.00. His performance has been simply phenomenal.
Tiger fans have seen parallels to 30 years ago when a pitcher came to Detroit and went 9-0. Late in the 1987 season the Tigers traded for veteran Doyle Alexander to bolster their chance to win their division and make the playoffs.
It would turn out to be the best trade the Tigers ever made — at least for the short term. Alexander would have 11 regular-season starts in ’87 for the Tigers and go 9-0 leading the Tigers to the division title — by just one game. Detroit needed every win of Alexander’s to get there.
His first start for the Tigers was on the road in Kansas City on August 15 and it definitely didn’t look like they were getting a pitcher to ride to the postseason. Alexander got a no-decision after allowing four earned runs in seven innings. The Tigers ended up winning 8-4 with Eric King getting the win in relief.
But things were about to change. Alexander would win his next eight starts — not eight decisions, but eight starts.
Here is a closer look at them:
On August 20, he made his home debut against the Minnesota Twins — a team that would go on to win the World Series that season. He pitched one of the best games of his career, eight shutout innings against the world champions to get his first win in a Tiger uniform. He struck out four and walked two.
On August 25, he faced the Twins again, this time in Minnesota. Alexander allowed four earned runs in 7 1/3 innings as the Tigers held on for a 5-4 win thanks to two-hit, two-RBI performances from Chet Lemon and Kirk Gibson.
On August 30, Alexander faced the Texas Rangers at Tiger Stadium. This one was even better than his first win as he pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout with no walks and six strikeouts. The Tigers won 7-0 behind a home run from Alan Trammell.
On September 4, Alexander again faced an opponent back-to-back, facing the Rangers. He allowed one run in seven innings and the Tigers easily won 11-2 as Trammell and Darrell Evans homered.
On September 9, the Tigers faced Baltimore and Alexander pitched another complete-game shutout with six strikeouts and one walk. Lou Whitaker homered and the Tigers won 6-0.
On September 14, Alexander continued his hot streak by allowing no runs in seven innings of a 3-0 win against Roger Clemens and the Boston Red Sox at Tiger Stadium.
On September 19, Alexander gave up two runs in 8 1/3 innings. He struck out six but had five walks. Lemon and Evans homered and the Tigers won 5-2.
On September 23, Alexander threw another complete-game shutout, this time at Fenway Park. He allowed two hits and a walk, striking out three.
That ended Alexander’s eight-start win streak, but he had two more starts in the season.
On September 27, Alexander pitched well enough to win, even past nine innings. He allowed one earned run (two runs total) in 10 2/3 innings with four strikeouts and four walks. The Tigers eventually won 3-2 in 13 innings as Gibson singled in Jim Walewander with the winning run.
On October 2, Alexander got his final win in his final regular-season start with the Tigers, one they needed badly in the final series with the Toronto Blue Jays, the team they were battling down to the wire for the division. Alexander allowed three runs in seven innings at Tiger Stadium, striking out five and walking four in a 4-3 win. Trammell and Scott Lusader homered for Detroit.
He finished the regular season 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA. Seems like a pretty good parallel to Verlander.
However the parallel ends in the postseason. While Verlander has continued his dominance in the postseason, Alexander struggled in the playoffs and the Tigers came up short in the ALCS against Minnesota.
Alexander had two starts in that series against the Twins. In the first, he allowed six earned runs in 7 1/3 innings. He didn’t walk anyone but gave up two home runs to Gary Gaetti.
In the second start, Alexander was even worse, allowing four earned runs on six hits in just 1 2/3 innings.
So after a 1.53 ERA in the regular season for Detroit, going 9-0, he went 0-2 in the ALCS with an ERA of an even 10.0. The Tigers lost in five and wouldn’t return to the postseason for nearly 20 years.
Alexander was a great trade because the Tigers needed every win he got to get to the postseason. It is too bad that dominance didn’t continue into the playoffs.
Verlander’s did, and he might just lead Houston to a championship.