The Associated PressDETROIT (AP) — Justin Verlander knew this would be one of the most emotional games of his major league career.
He still wasn’t prepared.
In his return to Detroit, Verlander received three standing ovations while pitching the Houston Astros to a 3-2 victory over the Tigers on Monday night.
Verlander (15-9) made his major league debut with the Tigers in 2005 and ranks among the top 10 on several of the team’s career lists. He struck out 10 over seven innings in his first time on the Comerica Park mound since being traded to Houston in August 2017.
“Our hotel is right near my old house, so I got to spend some time in the neighborhood today,” he said. “I was trying to keep my routine as much as possible.”
That hope ended early, as the scoreboard played a tribute video as Verlander was walking in from the bullpen after his pregame warmups. He stopped, alone in shallow right-center field, and watched the entire show.
“It was almost normal until the tribute video, but that really got to me,” he said. “I had a lot of great memories in my 13 years here, and that brought it all back. I wanted to get to the dugout before it started, but once it started playing, I had to watch.”
Verlander received his first ovation at the end of the video, and another when he came out for the first inning. Each time, he tipped his cap and waved to the fans.
The longest cheer, though, came when he walked off the mound after the seventh, having thrown 104 pitches.
“The one after the seventh really meant the world to me,” he said. “The fans here were always great to be here, and they showed that again tonight. That was a really emotional moment.”
The crowd was announced at 19,711 — the Detroit Lions opened their season next door Monday night against the New York Jets.
“Tonight mattered a lot to him,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “It is important to him that he pitched here and succeeded here, so it was special for him to get back on that mound.”
The World Series champion Astros opened a three-game lead over Oakland atop the AL West despite a sloppy game that came after a Sunday night loss in Boston.
“I’m proud of our guys, because there was a lot going on today, and we didn’t play our best game, but we still found a way to pull out a win,” Hinch said.