He had pitched on short rest twice before, but both appearances came in unusual circumstances. During Game 4 of the 2017 A.L.D.S. against the Boston Red Sox, Verlander pitched two and two-thirds innings in relief to help the Astros clinch that series. In 2011, he started Game 1 of a division series for the Detroit Tigers against the Yankees, but that game was rained out in the second inning. Verlander threw only 25 pitches that night, so he started again in Game 3, on only two days of rest, and won with eight strong innings.
He has never been asked to pitch on short rest in the regular season.
“Closest we came was out of the bullpen a couple years ago in Boston,” he said after the Astros lost Game 3 on Monday. “The thought process is, five-game series are pretty crazy and we’ve got to win.”
But the Rays wasted no time in wrecking the Astros’ plan. They scored three runs in the first inning and, just as important, forced Verlander to labor. He lasted only three and two-thirds innings and threw 84 pitches. Two of the four runs he surrendered came on solo home runs by Tommy Pham and Willy Adames.
Verlander said he did not know if the short rest had made the difference, but he struggled with control of his pitches, particularly the slider.
“I felt like the velocity was there,” he said, “but the control wasn’t and the slider wasn’t.”
Verlander threw 32 pitches in the first inning, and only two balls were hit hard. But the unrelenting Rays kept fouling off pitches and forced Verlander into long counts. Pham homered on a line drive to left field, and much of the crowd of 32,178 at Tropicana Field erupted. When Verlander walked the fan favorite Ji-Man Choi, the noise level grew deafening.
If the Rays win Game 5, this will have been Verlander’s last game of the season. If the Astros win, Verlander will most likely start Game 2 of the A.L.C.S.