HOUSTON -- Entering a series in which they were slated to face the top three starters in the American League in terms of ERA, the Angels pulled out wins in games started by Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton. Besting Justin Verlander proved to be a more difficult challenge.Verlander allowed two
HOUSTON -- Entering a series in which they were slated to face the top three starters in the American League in terms of ERA, the Angels pulled out wins in games started by Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton. Besting Justin Verlander proved to be a more difficult challenge.
Verlander allowed two runs and four hits while striking out nine batters over seven innings to remain unbeaten with the Astros in the regular season in a 5-2 win over the Angels on Wednesday afternoon at MInute Maid Park.
"You don't ever want to be the guy starting on the last day of the series and your team is facing a sweep, but my job's to end it," Verlander said. "We are tough to sweep because of our pitching matchups, our 1-5, and our rotation. The old adage, 'You're only as good as the next day's starting pitcher,' and I think we like our chances every day."
Verlander (4-0) retired 20 of the first 21 batters he faced before Jose Pujols hit a line-drive homer into the left-field seats with two outs in the seventh to spoil the shutout bid. It was Pujols' 64th career homer against the Astros -- the most by an opponent against Houston, including the postseason. Verlander gave up another run -- a run-scoring double by Zack Cozart -- but finished the inning at 97 pitches.
"I feel like I say this every time he pitches, but what a great job of dominating and controlling the game," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "Even in the inning he wobbled a little bit, it never gets away from him."
Verlander improved to 9-0 with a 1.33 ERA in 11 regular-season starts with the Astros and has won 11 consecutive regular-season decisions, which is the longest active streak in the Major Leagues. He was locked into his mechanics early in the game and had terrific fastball command, executing pitches at what Hinch called an elite level.
"I felt fantastic," Verlander said. "I ran into a little bit of trouble there in the last inning. Pujols gave me a great at-bat, [Andrelton] Simmons hit a good pitch up the middle. I was letting it fly a little bit and got a little erratic there, but other than that, pretty much the rest of the game I was right where I wanted to be. I'm just trying to stay consistent at this point."
Angels starter Nick Tropeano, facing his former team, sent down the first 11 batters he faced before loading the bases on a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch in the fourth. Alex Bregman followed with a three-run double to put the Astros ahead, 3-0. Jose Altuve's first homer of the season, to lead off the sixth, gave Verlander a 4-0 lead.
"I got a fastball over the middle of the plate and was fortunate enough to put a good swing on it," Bregman said. "The guys did a great job getting on base in front of me. … When we get people on base we've got to lock it in and come through for the team."
Verlander's 1.36 ERA is his lowest through the first six starts of a season in his career.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Verlander got his two highest-spin four-seam fastball strikeouts Wednesday since Statcast™ began tracking the statistic in 2015 -- Kole Calhoun in the sixth (95.7-mph/2,806 rpm) and Michael Trout in the seventh (96.4-mph/2,771 rpm).
HE SAID IT
"That was spectacular. He came in and shut the door. He looked fantastic -- good life on his fastball, slider was disgusting, the one he threw [Justin Upton]. If that guy's on, it's trouble." -- Verlander, on closer Ken Giles, who retired Trout, Upton and Pujols in order in the ninth inning
Lefty Dallas Keuchel, coming off his first win of the season, gets the ball in Friday's 7:10 p.m. CT series opener against the A's at Minute Maid Park. He's 13-6 with a 2.42 ERA in his career in 29 games (25 starts) in April -- his best ERA of any month. Keuchel will face Sean Manaea, who threw a no-hitter in his last start.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.