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Astros manager A.J. Hinch tells tale of last-minute Verlander acquisition

Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch holds the championship trophy after Game 7 of baseball's World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Astros won 5-1 to win the series 4-3. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
LISTEN: A.J. Hinch, Houston Astro's Manager

It took a lot of back-and-forth phone calls and up until the “last minute” for the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros to add ace Justin Verlander.

It’s safe to say that worked out.

Astros and former Arizona Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch spoke with Burns & Gambo Friday on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station and discussed how exactly the team managed to pull off the deal.

While some may think the idea of adding Verlander came to the Astros at the August trade deadline, it was actually in the works much earlier than that.

“We chased Verlander in July. We weren’t sure that he wanted to be traded because he had player rights; He could do whatever, he didn’t have to say yes,” Hinch said. “So in July nothing happened. Our players were upset, our staff was upset because we were so close to the playoffs, we felt like we were going to win the division.

“We had a double digit lead, but every team feels like they need a little help at the deadline.”

After seemingly striking out on Verlander, the team went through a range of emotions, Hinch said.

Fast forward to a day game at the end of August.

After starting the season 68-34, the Astros found themselves in a slump, losing 20 of their last 30 games heading into the matchup.

To make matters worse, instead of playing at home in Houston — the Astros had to relocate due to Hurricane Harvey — they played their rivals, the Texas Rangers, in Tampa Bay.

In the series finale between the two clubs, Hinch made an early exit.

He made the most of the extra time.

“I get ejected in the first inning, so I’m on the phone all day during that game with Jim Crane, our owner, and Jeff Luhnow,” Hinch said. “We’re going through the possibilities of the last day of the August deadline, we had a couple things in the works, and that was the first time that Jeff told me, our GM, said ‘I think we can get Verlander.’ And so the rest of the day I’m lobbying like crazy.”

But while the talks between the Detroit Tigers and Astros heightened, Hinch had another obstacle to overcome in Hurricane Harvey.

“We see the city underwater and the floods had made it difficult to navigate the city and they’re handing out different routes to your house because you can’t go the normal routes because the floods are going on,” he said.

After maneuvering around the flood-soaked areas in Houston, Hinch was finally able to make it back to his house when the phone started going off.

“The texts started coming in late at night. I’m sitting on the back patio with my wife Erin and we’re catching up on a lot of things and Jeff is calling and texting and Jim Crane is calling and texting and we finally got him in the last hour — last minute,” Hinch said.

The team’s morale was almost instantly boosted.

“As soon as that happened, our team created a big group text and the elation and the belief and the energy that you can get via text was palpable,” Hinch said. “You could feel it that our team really felt like we had not only a chance to close out the division a couple weeks later, but we had a chance to win the World Series.”

The team responded on the field too, winning six straight following the acquisition.

“The day he walked into that clubhouse and you see Verlander No. 35 — the locker’s up — it just resonated with our team that it raised the bar. He’s a future Hall of Famer and then his performance was through the roof.

“He became one of the best pitchers in baseball for that stretch of time and the story ends in a Game 7.”

Verlander made a big impact. He went 5-0 after the joining the team, giving up just four earned runs and striking out 43 batters in the process.

He added five more wins in the postseason, helping Houston capture its first World Series Championship in team history.

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