HOUSTON -- The dire moments are casually familiar for Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander, who many seasons ago assumed the responsibility bestowed upon a staff ace.
Verlander (2-0, 3.18 ERA this postseason) will make his second start of the American League Championship Series on Thursday at Minute Maid Park in Game 5 against the Boston Red Sox.
He is charged with logging another effective outing -- that is the baseline requirement. Of greater importance is his role relative to the Astros' hopes for repeating as World Series champions. With Houston trailing the best-of-seven series 3-1 and facing elimination, that responsibility is significant, but the series standing doesn't weigh on Verlander or alter his preparation for his start.
"I don't know," Verlander said. "I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don't think there's any difference whether it's 2-2 or 3-1."
In the Astros' 7-2 victory in Game 1, Verlander limited the Red Sox to two runs on two hits. But he issued four walks and uncorked a critical wild pitch that enabled Boston to tie the score at 2-all. Verlander labored a bit over his six innings, and while he recorded six strikeouts, he only managed seven swing-and-miss strikes over his 90 pitches. He was solid but unspectacular, and the second matchup against the Red Sox is a sure bet for another tough task.
"Especially these guys, a team that's really good at making adjustments, making adjustments quickly," said Verlander, who is 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA over four career postseason appearances against Boston. "There are definitely unique challenges. They know my strengths. They know my weaknesses. I know theirs.
"And the second time going against a lineup, you need to adjust. Or you don't. I don't know. That's kind of one of those times when I like to rely on my instincts when I'm out there and just feel my way through a game."
The Red Sox will counter with left-hander David Price (0-1, 9.95 ERA over two starts this postseason) in pursuit of their first AL pennant since 2013. Price remains winless over 11 career postseason starts (0-9, 6.16 ERA) having not factored into the decision in Game 2 after allowing four runs on five hits and four walks over 4 2/3 innings. However, with their 7-5 win, the Red Sox became the first team to claim victory in a postseason start made by Price.
Price warmed up in the bullpen during the eighth inning on Wednesday, poised to bail out closer Craig Kimbrel if need be. Kimbrel scuffled, allowing a run on two hits and three walks over two innings but held fast and sealed the 8-6 victory that gave Boston a commanding series lead.
"We know we're up 3-1," Boston manager Alex Cora said. "But they're a good team. They came back last year against the Yankees. They lost Game 6 of the World Series in Dodger Stadium and they won Game 7.
"It's not over. We know that. But to have a chance to finish (Thursday); that's always good. We're just going to show up (Thursday), get the information, play hard, and see what happens."