ANAHEIM -- Zack Cozart's costly error cracked open the door for the Astros, and they never looked back, riding Justin Verlander's five-hit shutout to a 2-0 win over the Angels on Wednesday night at Angel Stadium despite an excellent start from Garrett Richards.Cozart backhanded a spinning cue-shot grounder off the
ANAHEIM -- Zack Cozart's costly error cracked open the door for the Astros, and they never looked back, riding Justin Verlander's five-hit shutout to a 2-0 win over the Angels on Wednesday night at Angel Stadium despite an excellent start from Garrett Richards.
Cozart backhanded a spinning cue-shot grounder off the bat of Josh Reddick with two outs in the second inning, but he bobbled the transfer and couldn't make the throw, extending the inning. Evan Gattis followed by hammering a fastball from Richards over the left-field fence for a two-run homer.
"I was going at it normal and just thought it was like a regular ground ball, and when it got close to me it kicked," Cozart said of Reddick's grounder. "That's what kind of threw my timing off. I was actually surprised I even caught it. It sucks to lose a game on a play like that. As a position player, making an error on defense to cost a game is probably the worst thing for me, personally."
Gattis' homer was the extent of the damage against Richards, who departed after allowing two unearned runs over seven innings, but Verlander made sure it was enough. With the win, the Astros secured a series victory over the Angels and moved two games ahead of their rivals for first place in the American League West.
The Angels' lineup was stifled by the 35-year-old Verlander, who leads the Majors in ERA (1.05), WHIP (0.71) and opponents' batting average (.204) this season. The Angels had hoped the 1-2 punch of Michael Trout and Shohei Ohtani would jolt their offense, but the duo went a combined 0-for-8 against Verlander.
"You know he's going to put up zeros," Richards said. "You just try to match him. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do that tonight. I kind of feel like I lost us the game."
The Angels didn't put runners in scoring position until the eighth, when Ian Kinsler singled and advanced to third on Kole Calhoun's ground-rule double to center field. Kinsler would have likely scored had Calhoun's drive not bounced over the fence and out of play, but the Angels were instead left with runners on second and third and one out. The double was Calhoun's first extra-base hit since Opening Day.
Manager Mike Scioscia sent up Luis Valbuena to pinch hit for Martin Maldonado, but Verlander struck him out by spotting a 97.5 mph fastball on the inside corner for a called third strike. That brought up Trout, who tried to check his swing on a first-pitch fastball but inadvertently made contact, resulting in a weak groundout to end the inning. Trout is now 2-for-27 (.074) against Verlander in his career and 1-for-18 (.056) over his last seven games.
"It's tough," Trout said. "My timing is a little late right now. Easy fix. It's obviously a big situation in the [eighth], but there's a lot of baseball left."
Verlander returned to the mound for the ninth and struck out Ohtani swinging for the third time, collecting his 2,500th career strikeout. After Justin Upton popped out in foul territory, Jose Pujols delivered a two-out single and Andrelton Simmons walked to put a pair of runners on for Cozart, but Verlander coaxed a popout on his 118th pitch to cap his masterful performance.
"When he smells the end of the game, it's when he really tunes it up," Scioscia said. "He pitched a great game tonight for them."
While Richards came away with the tough-luck loss, he's rebounded nicely since allowing nine runs over 1 2/3 innings in a disastrous start against the Yankees on April 28. In his three subsequent outings, Richards has posted a 1.42 ERA with two walks and 16 strikeouts over 19 innings, lowering his overall ERA to 3.47 on the season.
"I'm limiting the walks," Richards said. "I'm throwing more strikes. It's allowing me to get both my breaking balls in the zone and my sinker is sinking again. That's a plus."
The Angels will open a four-game series against the Rays on Thursday night at 7:07 p.m. PT at Angel Stadium, with left-hander Tyler Skaggs starting opposite Tampa Bay right-hander Chris Archer. Skaggs did not factor into the decision on Friday vs. the Twins after giving up two runs in six innings. The 26-year-old has pitched to a 2.28 ERA over his last four outings. Skaggs made his only career appearance against the Rays on May 15, 2014, when he yielded five runs over six innings.
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.