There was a time when Justin Verlander’s departure from a game after six innings would have felt like something of a failure. After all, Verlander, 39, has thrown 200 or more innings in a season 12 times in his career and completed at least seven innings in 251 of his regular-season starts. That leads all active pitchers since 2006, when he was named American League rookie of the year.

But after what happened in 2021, when the MLB postseason turned into a parade of relief pitchers, Verlander’s gutsy start in the Houston Astros’ 4-2 win over the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series on Wednesday was something to behold. Verlander ran up his pitch count early but then settled down to push his team to victory.

"I think as the game’s going along, you just gain more confidence as you start making better pitches,” Verlander said. "Once I started being able to execute my pitches the way I wanted, I feel like my confidence just kind of built upon that.”