NEW YORK -- For a few minutes, it looked as if Wednesday may have been the darkest of days for the Astros. Their powerful slugger, Yordan Alvarez, lay motionless on the Citi Field grass, and next to him was rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña, who was also shaken up after a nasty collision between the young stars in the eighth inning.
Alvarez and Peña both left the game to be evaluated for concussions, but the Astros weren’t deterred. Justin Verlander finished off the eighth without allowing a run and catcher Jason Castro turned the mood around in Houston's dugout when he belted a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth to send the Astros to a 2-0 win over the Mets.
“It was awesome,” Verlander said. “I said something to [Castro] after the game. We see how hard him and [fellow catcher Martín] Maldonado work and they don’t complain, even though they weren't having the offensive seasons they would like. Both those guys understand there’s ways to help the team. … To have him be the guy that stepped up today in a big spot, it’s awesome. I’m really happy for him.”
The win completed the Astros’ second two-game sweep in the past week over the Mets, who never had the lead in any of the four games. Houston finished off its six-game New York road trip by going 4-2 against the Yankees and Mets -- both of whom had the best records in their respective leagues -- while outscoring them by 15 (26-11) over the six games.
“I don’t think our guys were looking to measure up against anybody,” Verlander said. “I think we know how we’d do.”
Both losses on the road trip came on stinging walk-off defeats at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees scored four runs in the ninth to stun the Astros, 7-6, on Thursday, and then Aaron Judge hit a walk-off homer in the 10th to win Sunday’s game, 6-3. Wednesday’s victory against the Mets was Houston’s 10th in its last 13 games.
“This was a road trip probably unlike any other,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “There was a swing of emotions almost day to day. We blow a couple in the ninth and then we have a no-hitter and then today’s game. It was an emotional road trip and it ended up well. Boy, [when] we left home, we were hoping to go like 4-2, who knows? I always want 6-0 or the perfect road trip, but very rarely do you have it.”
A day after Astros starter Framber Valdez threw eight scoreless innings, Verlander matched him to pick up his Major League-leading 10th win. He gave up two hits and one walk while striking out six batters for his third start of the season of at least eight innings. Verlander retired 24 of 26 batters after Brandon Nimmo hit his first pitch of the game for a double.
“First-pitch ambush,” Verlander said. “After that, it really wasn’t that bad. I walked [Pete] Alonso in the first and it seemed like I was in a bit more trouble than I was in that inning. I didn’t feel like I was. I felt like I was still in control.”
Verlander’s biggest challenge came in the minutes following the Alvarez-Peña collision, which occurred as Peña caught a leadoff popup in the eighth off the bat of Dominic Smith and ran into his charging left fielder. Verlander was given as much time as he wanted to warm up after Alvarez and Peña left the game, but he needed only seven pitches to finish his sparkling 101-pitch outing.
“In the timeframe, I wasn’t really worried about what I was going to do to get loose,” he said. “I was worried about J.P. and Yordan. You get out there, and it didn’t look good. Thankfully, knock on wood, they seem to be feeling a little bit better with a little bit more time. That’s a good sign.”
Still, the game was tied headed to the ninth and Verlander appeared headed towards a no-decision before Castro turned on a slider from Drew Smith and lined it over the right-field wall. That was his first regular-season homer since Oct. 2, 2021, and perhaps the Astros’ biggest hit of the season so far.
“It felt great for me, but I was pretty pumped for J.V.,” Castro said. “We had a couple of opportunities there to try to get some runs across. Taijuan [Walker] threw a great game today and [Edwin] Díaz came in and did his thing. J.V. pitched so well today and really deserved that ‘W’. To be able to get a win like that for him was pretty big.”