Sean Pendergast

Justin Verlander's Comeback in 2022 Is One for the Ages

Justin Verlander has been nothing short of sensational in his comeback season.
Justin Verlander has been nothing short of sensational in his comeback season. Photo by Jack Gorman
On Tuesday night, Justin Verlander got to tip his cap to the crowd for the ninth time in a Major League Baseball All Star game. It was just the latest night to recognize one of the great modern day MLB careers, and more importantly, one of the most sensational comebacks from a catastrophic injury in the history of the sport.

This time two years ago, the COVID-shortened 2020 season was a week or so away from beginning, which meant that, unbeknownst to Verlander, he was a week or so away from his 2020 AND 2021 seasons being torpedoed by an elbow injury that would force him to undergo Tommy John surgery at the age of 37. Verlander threw one start in 2020, a win over the Seattle Mariners. And that was that.

The next day, reports came out about Verlander suffering from tightness in his forearm, which has evolved into code for "Oh crap, this feels like Tommy John surgery coming!" That was indeed the case, and for all of 2020 and 2021, it was widely believed that, if Verlander was indeed going to pitch again, he had thrown his last pitch as an Astro. There were even rumors that the Astro players didn't want Verlander throwing out a ceremonial first pitch before a 2021 World Series game because he hadn't been around the team all season.

So when Verlander decided to re-up with the Astros on a one-year, $25 million deal (with a second year player option for $25 million, if Verlander throws 130 innings in 2022, which he is a lock to do), that came to many as some surprising, good news. If nothing else, we would get to witness the intrigue of this comeback at age 39, because whether Verlander pitched well or pitched poorly, this was going to be a huge story, either way.

As it turns out, Verlander is having one of the best seasons, if not THE best season, of his career. Ponder this unprecedented portfolio of numbers at the All Star break:
Verlander, nearly two years removed from pitching in competitive baseball games when the season started, is doing things that have never been done in a sport whose inception predates the Industrial Revolution. I guess if we're being accurate, since these numbers are predicated on the existence of an All Star break, the first All Star game was in 1933, so at the very least, Verlander is doing things that haven't been done in nearly a century.

At $25 million, Verlander has gone from a risky curiosity when he signed the deal to one of the biggest bargains in baseball. Who deserves the credit for this? Well, former Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, the man who made the deal to initially bring Verlander here in 2017, doled out the credit in a tweet on Saturday night:
And if we need a refresher on the actual trade in 2017, I think Cody Welling puts it in its most colorful context here:
There is a lot of greatness going around on the Astros these days. Yordan Alvarez might be the best hitter on the planet. Jeremy Pena has been a revelation replacing Carlos Correa at shortstop. Jose Altuve is an All Star, again. There is no shortage of promising young pitchers. But the greatest story on this team at the halfway point, and maybe the best story in baseball is the resumption of greatness, greatness at a whole new level, by Justin Verlander.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast