HOUSTON -- The Astros brought in Justin Verlander to pitch in big situations, and the veteran right-hander delivered in his signature way on Sunday afternoon.• Dress for October: Shop for official AL West champs gearVerlander, making his Minute Maid Park debut in an Astros uniform, struck out 10 batters and
HOUSTON -- The Astros brought in Justin Verlander to pitch in big situations, and the veteran right-hander delivered in his signature way on Sunday afternoon.
• Dress for October: Shop for official AL West champs gear
Verlander, making his Minute Maid Park debut in an Astros uniform, struck out 10 batters and allowed one run and three hits in seven dominant innings to lead Houston to a resounding 7-1 win over the Mariners to clinch its first American League West division championship.
"Did you expect anything less?" Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "The story is almost too good to be true. We trade for him for this exact reason, to come up in big moments. He was locked in from the very beginning. There's nobody better to have on the mound and nobody better to celebrate with."
Verlander (13-8) improved to 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts with the Astros, who acquired the 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player on Aug. 31. After the Astros were done celebrating on the field, Verlander took a moment to soak it all in.
"That's what I've learned over the years," he said. "It happened so quickly, you can forget about it so quickly. I took a minute to walk around the field and take it all in, look at the stadium. To be here, I feel like I need to do a little bit better job taking advantage of it. These guys are my new friends, my new family. This is what it's all about."
Verlander also made a point to thank Astros owner Jim Crane for being open to trading for him.
"We're glad to have him and he's glad to be here," Crane said. "He's given a shot in the arm to a team that was already good and now it's a little better. He brings a lot of pride in his work and work ethic, and everybody respects him."
Through six innings, the only hits Verlander had allowed came on a solo homer by Ben Gamel in the third, a soft single by Nelson Cruz in the fourth and a leadoff single in the seventh by Robinson Cano, which was promptly erased on a double play.
Verlander struck out the side in the fifth inning in the middle of a stretch in which he recorded six consecutive outs by strikeout.
"He's a game changer," catcher Brian McCann said. "He changes the whole dynamic of our team."
It wasn't the first time Verlander has been on the mound for a clincher. On Sept. 24, 2006, he led Detroit to an 11-4 win over the Royals to clinch a playoff spot in his rookie season, allowing two runs and six hits in five innings. Eight years later to the day, he threw eight innings and gave up one run and seven hits to lead the Tigers to a 6-1 win over the White Sox to clinch a playoff spot.
But Verlander is still searching for his first World Series ring.
"I've been a part of some pretty good ballclubs that won the American League and didn't win it all," Verlander said. "I'll say it's the best club I've ever been on if we win the World Series."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.