NORFOLK, Va. - Like a devastating slider one pitch after throwing a triple-digit fastball, there's been a significant change of pace for Justin Verlander since the Houston Astros ace last pitched for Tony Guzzo.
Verlander is now an American League MVP (2011), Cy Young award winner (2011) and six-time All-Star. He's also engaged to supermodel Kate Upton. However Guzzo, who coached the recently-named American League Championship Series MVP at Old Dominion from 2002 to 2004, says on the pitcher's mound - 13 years have been kind to Verlander and his golden right arm.
"He's the most competitive person I've ever known," Guzzo, now a special assistant to ODU head baseball coach Chris Finwood, told News 3 Monday. "He didn't want to lose at anything he ever did."
Guzzo guided the Monarchs for 10 seasons from 1995 to 2004. During his tenure, Old Dominion won two CAA regular season titles (1996, 2000), two CAA Tournament titles (1995, 1996) and earned three NCAA Regional appearances (1995, 1996, 2000).
Verlander pitched in 46 games for the Monarchs from 2002 to 2004, starting all 46. He won 21 career games and is the all-time strikeout king in ODU, the Colonial Athletic Association and the Commonwealth of Virginia history with 427 in only 335.2 innings of work for an average of 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
"He'll always be one of ours," Guzzo added. "(Justin's younger brother) Ben played here, his parents have been great to us since we recruited him. The whole family still associates themselves with Old Dominion and they're happy and proud when we are successful, too."
Selected second overall in the 2004 Major League Baseball draft, Verlander has compiled a professional resume as impressive as any right-handed pitcher of this generation. Guzzo has watched his former pupil pitch his way to eye-popping statistics and elite honors, yet he's never seen Verlander as good as he was in last weekend's American League Championship Series.
"I'm still impressed with it every time I see it," Guzzo said. "I'm not shocked by it. I'm anticipating it and hoping it will happen. But nobody can give their best performance every time. However, Justin gave two of them back to back. I texted him after game two (nine innings pitched, 13 strikeouts, one walk) that I thought it was the best game I've ever seen him pitch."
Verlander, voted ALCS MVP after allowing one earned run in 16 innings pitched in two games vs. the Yankees, was acquired by Houston from Detroit in a deadline deal August 31st. Wednesday, he's expected to start game two of the World Series vs. the Dodgers - his third career trip to the Fall Classic (2006, 2012).