HOUSTON -- A Mariners team that had been no-hit twice already this season avoided that fate against Justin Verlander on Saturday, but it couldn’t slow the soaring Astros as Houston continued its Minute Maid Park dominance with a 2-1 victory.
Verlander, coming off his third career no-hitter last Sunday against the Blue Jays, allowed a run on four hits in seven innings as he improved to 18-5 with a 2.52 ERA. Johnny Vander Meer remains the only Major League pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters, which he accomplished with the Reds in 1938.
The Mariners are 1-15 against Houston this season and 0-9 at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros will look to close out a four-game series sweep on Sunday afternoon with standout Gerrit Cole facing Felix Hernandez.
Rookie left fielder Shed Long singled off Verlander leading off the third and scored on Dee Gordon's triple, ending Verlander’s 16-inning scoreless streak that spanned three starts.
Gordon went 3-for-3 with a stolen base from the No. 9 spot in the order as he hiked his average to a team-leading .286. Gordon has hit .480 (12-for-25) over his past six games.
“Coming off a no-hitter, [Verlander] pitched well,” Gordon said. “We weren’t able to get the ‘W,’ but we played hard and kept the game close. We had them on the ropes a few times, we just couldn’t do it."
The Mariners had runners on second and third with one out in the eighth after Verlander departed, as Tim Lopes doubled and Gordon singled and stole second against reliever Josh James. But James struck out Dylan Moore and Mallex Smith to stifle that threat, and the Astros closed things out to improve to 93-50, tied with the Yankees for the best record in MLB.
The Astros’ 15 wins against Seattle are tied for their most against any team in a season in franchise history, having also gone 15-3 against the Giants in 1985.
“They’re one of the best teams in baseball, and we play them so much, we understand what we’re up against each time,” Gordon said.
Kikuchi keeps things close
Left-hander Yusei Kikuchi outdueled Verlander for five innings before giving up a 399-foot leadoff homer to Alex Bregman in the sixth that tied the game at 1. That was the lone run allowed by the Mariners' rookie, who was pulled after giving up a subsequent single to Yordan Alvarez.
“Yusei threw the ball great against a quality opponent,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s made some really nice adjustments. He’s relaxed. I like where he’s at. I’ve said all along this was going to be a learning year. We’ve seen some really good outings, we’ve seen him struggle a little bit. But I like where he’s headed right now.”
The home run was the 34th allowed by Kikuchi this season, which breaks the MLB record for a rookie set by the Blue Jays’ Jerry Garvin in 1977. Garvin pitched 244 2/3 innings that season, while Kikuchi is at 149 1/3.
The 28-year-old Kikuchi pitched well, however, while holding the Astros to five hits with two walks and five strikeouts, and his record remains at 6-9 with a 5.24 ERA. He’d gone 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in his first two starts against Houston.
“I got hit around here in two games, so I just wanted to stop that momentum and go out there and pitch,” Kikuchi said through an interpreter. “It’s not really the opposing pitcher. I was thinking more of the high-powered lineup, so I just wanted to keep the runs low.”
Houston pushed across the go-ahead run against reliever Austin Adams in the seventh, when Kyle Tucker doubled and later scored on Josh Reddick’s sacrifice fly.