The year was 1988, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the National League Championship Series against the highly favored New York Mets. The Mets had beaten them 10 out of 11 times that season already, so it was all but impossible for the Dodgers to steal four wins in a best-of-seven series. But the impossible happened: the Dodgers took the series to Game Seven and won, with superstar Orel Hershiser tossing a complete game shutout to push Los Angeles to the World Series.
It’s worth noting that the shutout was the fourth game that Hershiser pitched in the series. Hershiser started Game 1, throwing eight and one-third innings and allowing only two earned runs; he started Game 3, hurling seven innings and giving up only one earned run; and he closed out Game 4, entering the game to make the final out and record the save. Hershiser finished the NL Championship Series with a 1.09 ERA, phenomenal by any standard in any era of baseball.
Hershiser’s incredible performance continued beyond the NLCS. He took his momentum into the World Series against the Oakland A’s, pitching a complete game shutout in Game 2 and another complete game in the decisive Game 5 in which he allowed only two earned runs. Hershiser didn’t just pitch well, he was the example of greatness that his team looked at whenever they needed motivation to succeed.
Now, 24 years later, the magic is back, and it has taken the form of a pitcher on the Detroit Tigers named Justin Verlander. You may know Verlander as the guy who won the American League MVP and Cy Young awards last season, becoming the first to do so since Roger Clemens in 1986. But you should know him as the pitcher who has brought his 88-win Tigers one game away from the World Series with complete mastery on the pitching mound.
Verlander has pitched in three games so far this postseason, and his numbers are remarkable: 24 and one-third total innings, two earned runs (0.74 ERA), 10 hits, 25 strikeouts and most importantly, three wins.
He has reached the pinnacle of pitching greatness, and it’s because of him that the Tigers have seemingly danced through the playoffs so far. Hitters fear him on the mound, and teammates play with more confidence knowing a win is almost guaranteed.
Only time will tell if Verlander can bring the World Series back to the AL in Detroit, but based on what we’ve seen so far, the chances seem to be in his favor.
I know it’s a little late for a World Series prediction, but at this point, I’m fully confident that neither team in the NL can beat Verlander and the Tigers in a seven-game series.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 18 print edition. Evan Kendall is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.
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