HOUSTON -- Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, a spot in the 2017 World Series will be on the line. The Houston Astros beat the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS on Friday night to force the decisive Game 7. Winner moves on to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Loser goes home.
The Astros were led in Game 6 by, of course, the great Justin Verlander. He wasn't quite as sharp in Game 6 as he was in Game 2, but by Verlander's standards, that means he merely threw seven shutout innings rather than strike out 13 in nine innings. Verlander was dominant again in Game 6.
Verlander's performance in Game 6 helped extend Houston's season at least one more game. And, immediately after Game 6, Verlander was asked about being available in relief in Game 7.
"I don't know," Verlander said with a laugh. "We'll have this conversation tomorrow."
Starting one day then coming out of the bullpen the next would not be unprecedented. Rare, but not unprecedented. Most notably, Randy Johnson threw seven innings and 104 pitches in Game 6 of the 2001 World Series, coincidentally against the Yankees. He then came out of the bullpen in Game 7 the next day to throw 1 1/3 innings and 17 pitches to earn the win.
Furthermore, Jake Arrieta was prepared to pitch in relief in Game 7 of the World Series last year after throwing 5 2/3 innings and 102 pitches in Game 6 the previous day. When Mike Montgomery got Michael Martinez to ground out to end Game 7, Arrieta was warming up in the bullpen. He was the next man in had the game continued.
Verlander has the same Terminator mentality as Johnson and Arrieta, and he's also a physical freak like Johnson in that he never seems to tire or wear down. It isn't unreasonable to think Verlander could be a Game 7 option one day after starting Game 6, even if he can only go an inning. One inning of Verlander seems to be preferable to some of the other relief options the 'Stros have right now.
For manager A.J. Hinch, the master plan is score a boatload of runs in Game 7 and don't even think about using Verlander (or Dallas Keuchel) in relief in Game 7. Things rarely go according to plan though, and with Houston's bullpen looking sketchy overall, it'll be awfully tempting to use Verlander in relief given how well he's pitched these last few weeks, as long as he's up for it physically.
"You're going to see a game played tomorrow with everybody available, obviously," said Hinch about his Game 7 bullpen. "Probably not Verlander, but he's superhuman, so we'll see how he shows up tomorrow."