Nearly eight years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates began a three-game series on the road against the Detroit Tigers, winning 5-4 in 14 innings. In addition to being the longest game played at Comerica Park at 5 hours and 30 minutes, the extra time was also the only game where the starting pitchers faced off between Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.
The situation continues Wednesday as Cole’s Yankees visit Verlander’s Mets for the second of two Subway Series games at Citi Field, with two of the most powerful pitchers of the past decade facing each other. Standing on the mound will change that. 7-6 Yankees win on tuesday.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he hopes the matchup between the veteran aces will bring “a bit of excitement” to the rivalry between cities.
Cole and Verlander will always remain linked during two seasons of bullying major league hitters while anchoring the Houston Astros’ starting rotation. During Cole’s two seasons with the Astros in 2018 and 2019, both Houston aces combined for a 72-25 record with a 2.62 ERA and a staggering 1,192 strikeouts. In 2019, they led the Astros to their second American League title in three seasons, but lost seven games to the Washington Nationals in the World Series. Verlander won his second AL Cy Young Award that year, while Cole finished runner-up.
When we faced each other in 2015, the final heights we would reach as teammates weren’t guaranteed. At the time, Cole was a 24-year-old former No. 1 overall draft pick who put together his first All-Star season. Verlander was 32 and was having the worst year of his career. It was his third start of the season against the Pirates after missing the first two-and-a-half months with a back injury and missing the originally scheduled start.
They each pitched through seven innings that night, allowing two earned runs. Though solid, it wasn’t a standout performance in a game that was less than halfway through. But their matchup was not without drama. With two outs in the top of the fourth, when the team was trailing 3-0, Verlander hit a pitch for then-Pirates left fielder (now Mets teammate) Sterling Marte. Then, in the bottom of the fourth, with one out and no man out, Cole threw his first pitch up-and-in, hitting Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez.
Unsurprisingly, Verlander’s first pitch in the fifth inning hit Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez.
When asked if he thought Cole hit him on purpose, Martinez said at the time: “Yeah, everybody knows it.” “I mean, I don’t respect anyone on that team, including Cole and their coaching staff. They were fighting, but if they really think we did it on purpose, they’re playing the wrong sport.”
“That’s his opinion,” Cole said to Martinez, adding he didn’t know if Verlander hit Marte on purpose.
If there was still a strife between Cole and Verlander, it was long gone by the time the Pirates traded Cole to Houston in January 2018. Brent Strom, then-Astros pitching coach and now Astros pitching coach, told Cole that the Diamondbacks ditched the two-seamer that he threw low into the zone against Pittsburgh, and that the higher four-seamer was harder for hitters to catch up to. persuaded to change to Just a few months earlier, Verlander had made similar changes to his own arsenal after moving from Detroit to Houston. Verlander’s successful adjustment was all the evidence Cole needed to do the same.
“Justin said, ‘Sometimes it’s okay to be overly specific and not throw into the general area, but if you attack from zone to quadrant, you’ll at least get a foul ball and that’s good pressure. The pitch,” Cole told Sports Illustrated in 2019.
During their time together in Houston, the pitcher became a catching partner and their bond only grew.
After the 2019 World Series, Cole signed a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees (the most expensive contract ever for a pitcher), turning the superstar from teammate to rival. Verlander was under contract for two more seasons, but made just one start during that period. He injured his right forearm in Houston’s 2020 season opener and was subsequently diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. He underwent Tommy John surgery in late September of the same year and will miss the entire 2021 season before becoming a free agent and entering the 39-year-old season. The Astros signed him to a two-year, $50 million contract and opted out after his first season.
The deal proved to be a bargain for Houston. Verlander posted a career-high 18-4 record with a 1.75 ERA and was on his way to winning his third AL Cy Young Award and his second World Series title. He opted out of his contract and signed with the Mets for two years and $86,667,000.
When Cole and Verlander take the mound Wednesday, they’ll be in a similar situation to when they first met. With a 7-1 record and a 2.84 ERA, Cole is likely on the road to another All-Star selection and one of the frontrunners for the AL Cy Young Award. And just like in 2015, Verlander is still out of form after missing the start of the season with an injury.
Verlander, 40, has alternated between strong starts and fumbling. In three of his seven pitching appearances, he pitched at least six innings and allowed one run, but his overall numbers (2-3, 4.85 ERA) improved when the Mets signed him. Far from what I expected. But if recent patterns hold, the Mets could have a good night. Verlander allowed five runs (4 earned) in his last game against the Atlanta Braves, pitching three innings.
Either way, the Yankees know how hard Verlander is to hit. Verlander is 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 39 innings and two-thirds innings in his last six starts with them. The same is true for Mets hitters facing Cole, but his head-to-head record against Cole (2-2, 6.75 ERA) was mixed. He has only faced the Mets once since joining the Yankees, and in 2021 he pitched 3 1/3 innings and gave up 4 runs.
Regardless of recent results, there will be high expectations for this matchup.
“In the case of Justin, as you know, he’s already in the Hall of Fame, but Gerrit is the guy who feels like he’s in the middle of his Hall of Fame career,” Boone said. “So I’m sure it adds a little bit to that.”