From now until the end of time, people will ask the same hoary, old rhetorical question. If you had to pick one pitcher -- one guy -- to start Game 7 for you, who would it be? It's shorthand for "Who's the best pitcher in baseball?", but the hypothetical situation adds a special kind of twist to it.
You'll hear that question for as long as you follow baseball, and for a good reason: It's a great question. Over the past couple of years, though, it's been a boring one. Justin Verlander. It kind of has to be Justin Verlander, right? With Roy Halladay going on the DL and looking carbon-based, and with Clayton Kershaw not pitching quite as well as last season, the only other pitcher who comes close is Felix Hernandez.
But the answer for me is and was invariably Verlander. Couldn't put my finger on it. Maybe it had to do with how he could hold his triple-digit velocity into the ninth inning. Maybe it was the part about him pitching better than everyone else. Not sure. Subconsciously, though, I think this had a lot to do with it: On August 17, 2010, Verlander pitched five innings against the Yankees in New York, allowing five hits, five walks, and five runs.
That was the last time Verlander threw fewer than six innings in a start.
That was 63 games ago.
You know that thing that sportswriters do when they write one-sentence paragraphs for effect?
It actually makes sense here.
Because 63 straight games with six innings or more.
You might have been aware of this streak. I'm guessing they show a graphic of it during every Verlander start. I've seen a few Verlander starts this year, though, and I've never seen it. The stat caught me off guard. We're talking about 63 straight games where Verlander didn't get yanked with two outs in the sixth, didn't get blown up in the second inning and just couldn't continue, didn't suffer through a didn't-have-it-tonight-skip kind of start. Not once.
The streak is over, though, and because of the most annoying reason possible. Justin Verlander pitched a complete game on Tuesday, and the streak still ended. The game was called off because of rain after the top of the sixth inning. Nature, as usual, ruins everything.
To be fair, there's a chance that Verlander could have snapped the streak himself. He was dinked and dunked quite a bit on Tuesday, and he also walked four. He gave up three earned runs in those five innings, and he threw 107 pitches. If a couple of runners reached in the bottom of the sixth, Verlander could have been pulled. The streak might have been undone by ineffective pitching after all.
But that's just conjecture. What we know is that Verlander's streak of 63 games was snapped by something out of his control. The next-longest current streak now belongs to Jordan Zimmermann at 21 games. Ryan Vogelsong is after that with 20, and after that is Ben Sheets at 17. Technically, Sheets' streak is longer, and it's almost as impressive in a medical-science kind of way. Vogelsong's is impressive too, considering he was pitching for, I don't know, the Ottawa Pelts two years ago. But nothing's quite as impressive as Verlander's stretch of durability and consistency.
Maybe we're just pampered little twerps these days, surprised that a pitcher can throw six innings without smoke coming out of his ears. Old Hoss Radbourn probably had a streak of 180 complete games, and that includes a two-month stretch where he lost 68 pounds after a bout with dropsy. But this streak isn't just rare for the new pitcher-coddlin' century. Play-by-play records only go back to 1918, but the longest streak since then was 73, by Bob Gibson. After that, the longest streak was 70, by Steve Carlton between 1979 and 1981.
From 1918 to 1966, the longest consecutive six-inning streak was 35. So Verlander isn't just a freak in the modern era. Verlander's just a freak. He's doing things that pitchers weren't coming close to in the '20s, '30s, '40s, or '50s. Six innings ore more every time out, for season after season, is almost impossible to fathom in any era.
So the answer to the hypothetical question up there didn't change. The answer just got a little more supporting evidence behind it. Verlander is the guy you pick for a Game 7, and the long man in the Tigers bullpen should feel free to go full Dock Ellis on the days Verlander is on the mound. The streak is over, but on something of a technicality or court-ordered injunction. I'll still pretend it's on. Ten more for the post-1918 record.