ANAHEIM -- Maybe at some point when he’s long since retired, Justin Verlander will grab a baseball record book and start flipping through the pages. Maybe then he’ll have a better understanding of his place in history and the names of the greatest players in the game whose glory he now shares.
That stuff is hard to wrap your mind around when you’re still chasing milestones, memories and wins. Verlander’s tremendous regular season came to an end Saturday night when became the 18th pitcher in baseball history to reach 3,000 strikeouts, as well as hitting 300 strikeouts in a season, in the Astros’ 6-3 win at Angel Stadium.
• Box score
Verlander put the finishing touches on his Cy Young-caliber season by striking out 12 batters in six innings to win his 21st game of the season and send the Astros to their 106th win and clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
“I think it’s one of those things you keep your head down and keep pitching,” Verlander said. “I am thankful to be able to reach 3,000 -- incredibly thankful. It was never an end goal for me. I think, really, it’s just a huge step along the way. Obviously -- knock on wood -- I’m not near the end of my career, so just stay on the gas and keep trying to pitch as long as I can and see what happens.”
After not striking out a batter the first inning, Verlander posted 11 in the following four innings, reaching 3,000 with his fourth-inning punchout of Kole Calhoun, who reached first base on a wild pitch and scored on Andrelton Simmons’ homer in the next at-bat. Verlander started the year with an outside shot at 3,000.
“Getting to that number meant a lot to me tonight,” he said. “I knew I was six away, but I only struck out five last time I faced them, so these guys have been really tough against me all season long. I almost honestly kind of wrote off 300. I thought it was going to be a lot to ask for, based on how these guys don’t strike out much and how they had battled me all season long. Next thing you know, I got 3,000 and I was like, ‘All right, whew.’”
Robinson Chirinos, who caught every one of Verlander’s 34 starts this season, hugged him after the 3,000th strikeout and told him he was sorry he didn’t catch the slider that Cole swung through and went for a wild pitch.
“He was like 'Don't worry about it,’” Chirinos said. “I lost that pitch because Calhoun is so on top of the plate, so the ball was coming into him and it hit my foot and went the other way. I was laughing that it happened in the worst moment. Something to remember. Good thing [Verlander] got to 3,000."
In the sixth inning, Verlander struck out Calhoun again for his 12th whiff of the game and 300th of his season -- a career high. He joined Gerrit Cole (316 strikeouts) as the only set of teammates to strike out 300 in a season since Randy Johnson (334) and Curt Schilling (316) for the 2002 D-backs.
• Pitchers with 300 K's in a season
“When 3,000 was getting close, he found ways to get a lot of strikeouts,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “When 300 got close for the season, he beared down even more. Big night for him. Great night for our team."
When Verlander struck out Cole for No. 3,000, Verlander (21-6) soaked up the moment, which included a nice ovation from the crowd. He tipped his hat a couple of times as he stood behind the mound while the Angel Stadium scoreboard flashed a message acknowledging the feat. His teammates awaited with hugs in the dugout.
“I honestly haven’t had a moment to really have it set in,” he said. “My teammates gave me a good speech after and everybody gave me a great hug. Hopefully this is one of those moments that we look at and it’s just one of the special moments of the season that was extremely special.”
As he walked off the field at the end of the sixth, Verlander waved to the crowd again and blew a kiss to wife Kate Upton, who was sitting in the first row behind home plate cheering on her husband. He gave a quick speech in the clubhouse postgame before rushing out to meet reporters.
“I probably showed a little bit more emotion for the 300th than I did the 3,000th, because I really didn’t expect to get there in this game,” he said. “Very thankful to be able to have a good game like this and get both accomplishments. It hasn’t set in yet.”
Verlander is the second pitcher to get 3,000 strikeouts for a career and 300 for a season in the same game. Johnson did it on Sept. 10, 2000. Of the 18 previous pitchers to reach 3,000 strikeouts, only three aren’t in the Hall of Fame: Roger Clemens (4,672), Schilling (3,116) and CC Sabathia (3,093), who’s still active. Only Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Verlander (3,006) have 3,000 strikeouts and three no-hitters.
• MLB's 3,000-strikeout club
The 36-year-old Verlander went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA and 0.80 WHIP, .172 opponents’ batting average in 223 innings this year, striking out 300 and walking only 42. It’s the kind of monster season that could earn him his second Cy Young Award, but Cole has made it a two-horse race.
“He certainly didn’t hurt his case,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “I know that. Looking at [him] and Cole, you are kind of splitting hairs. They both had outstanding seasons. He looked pretty sharp tonight other than the two home runs he gave up tonight. He looked pretty good tonight. I’ve seen plenty of him. I'd rather not see him pitch against us often.”
Simmons’ homer on the pitch following the 3,000th strikeout put the Angels ahead, 3-0, but José Altuve hit a two-run homer in the fifth and Josh Reddick added a three-run blast later in the inning to put Houston ahead and ensure the playoffs come through Minute Maid Park.
“Obviously helping your team win is a big, big step, but getting to help JV to that milestone with the win was obviously another big step,” Reddick said.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.