JV leads Astros to record Opening Day win

July 25th, 2020

HOUSTON -- Astros starter was only a few pitches into his 12th Opening Day start on Friday night when he realized he needed to abandon the game plan he had established with catcher and try a different approach.

The young and aggressive Mariners came out swinging -- two of the first three hitters he faced swung at first-pitch fastballs -- and there was no way Verlander was about to let them tee off on his heater. Verlander turned to his offspeed pitches more, especially the slider, and got some key outs with his changeup as he benefited from an offensive outburst in an 8-2 win at Minute Maid Park.

“They swung at the first pitch of the game and really didn’t stop swinging from there,” said Verlander, who improved to 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his last eight Opening Day starts. “I needed to execute my pitches, and the boys did the rest.”

The Astros haven’t lost an Opening Day game since they moved to the American League in 2013, winning a club-record eighth opener in a row. Verlander, the 2019 AL Cy Young winner, allowed two runs and three hits and struck out seven in six innings to notch his 226th career win.

“You can come up with the best game plan in the world and you can abort it three pitches in, which is basically what I did,” he said. “I was able to adjust quickly and have success.”

Verlander, who gave up solo homers to Kyle Lewis in the second and Kyle Seager in the fourth, both on fastballs, trailed 2-1 in the fifth before the Astros broke it open with five runs, capped by a three-run homer by Michael Brantley that made it 6-2.

“I think the most important thing was we kind of extended our lead right there,” Brantley said. “Having a big inning, it let everybody breathe and relax and go out there and play baseball.”

Verlander’s final three strikeouts on the night came on his slider, and he finished with 73 pitches. That was around the target for his first start of the season, and with a big lead there was no reason to push it. When his night was over, Verlander smiled at his teammates as he went to the clubhouse tunnel of a quiet ballpark that was void of fans because of the coronavirus.

Considering he had groin surgery in March that at the time was going to put him in doubt for Opening Day, he was pleased with how the night went.

“It definitely feels like I’ve come a long way since May or April ... or March,” he said. “It’s crazy to think of how much stuff has changed since then. I had the groin surgery, healing the lat [injury in spring]. A lot of work to get here. It does feel nice, but every year has its different ups and downs and different obstacles to deal with. I wouldn’t say this one is that much better than [any other Opening Day win], but this one will stick out forever when I’m done with baseball because of everything that’s gone on in the world right now.”

The lack of crowd noise was especially noticeable when Brantley socked his game-breaking homer. He rounded the bases to only the clapping of his teammates and some music blaring from the Minute Maid Park speakers.

“It was tough,” Brantley said. “I’m not going to lie. In big situations, I love it when the crowd is standing up and cheering. I love the nervous energy, those butterflies I get. At times, it makes you feel human again. I thrive off that. Not having fans, we miss them and hope to get them back soon.”