Ejection interrupts Verlander's dominance
Astros ace gets tossed in sixth, ending streak of double-digit K's
HOUSTON -- By the time the fifth inning ended Tuesday night, Justin Verlander had only four punchouts and knew his double-digit strikeout streak was coming to an end. The Astros had jumped on the Rays to take a nine-run lead in the return of Charlie Morton to Minute Maid Park, and Verlander’s goal was to simply finish the sixth unscathed.
Verlander, who entered his 28th start of the season with an Astros-record seven consecutive games of at least 10 strikeouts, was ejected by home-plate umpire Pat Hoberg in the sixth inning of the 15-1 win -- Houston’s fifth in a row -- for expressing his displeasure with a strike call on the pitch before Tommy Pham hit a double.
“I didn’t really think it was warranted,” Verlander said. “As an umpire, I think Pat needs to understand this is an emotional game, and sometimes when things don’t go your way, you let the umpire know it. I thought I did it in about as respectful a way as I could where my emotions were at. As the play was developing, I told him I thought it was a strike. He told me it was a ball. That went on back and forth for a little bit, and I turned my back and expressed one more time I didn’t think it was outside.
“I probably could have had better language when I said that, but in my history with umpires, I think turning my back to the situation, I’m trying to just vent at this point. I never called him a name. I never said anything egregious toward him. I just expressed my displeasure with the call on the field, and unfortunately he made the decision to run me.”
Verlander thought he had struck out Pham looking on a 2-2 pitch, but it was called a ball. Pham hit the next pitch into the right-center-field gap, and a frustrated Verlander voiced his displeasure. He was ejected with his back turned to Hoberg. Brad Peacock took over.
“I think [Hoberg] let [Verlander] have his say, and then he went a little further than he wanted to let him, and he doesn’t have to let him go any further,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “At the end of the day, it’s a disagreement between J.V. and the umpire, and the umpire has a right to do that if he feels he overstepped the lines. I’ll always go out there and support J.V., but it is what it is.”
Verlander said it was a little bit of an overreaction on both sides, but he wasn’t trying to be an antagonist.
“I tried to do my best not to show those guys up,” he said. “I know they have a very hard job, but he had rung [Jose] Altuve up on a very similar pitch early in the game.”
Verlander (16-5) was dealing, holding the Rays to four hits in 5 1/3 scoreless innings. He struck out the side in the second inning but would get only one more punchout. He was the first pitcher to post seven consecutive games with at least 10 strikeouts since Chris Sale had eight in 2017.
“We knew coming in we had our hands full today,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
Verlander has a 2.04 ERA in his past nine starts and hasn’t walked a batter in 24 innings. He has won at least 16 games in nine seasons, which is the most among active pitchers and tied for the 11th most in the expansion era.
“I came in expecting a pitchers’ duel,” Verlander said. “I know Charlie’s been excellent this year, and I’ve got to give credit to our guys. They gave him some great at-bats throughout the day, really grinded to get some pitches to hit and didn’t miss when they did. This was the last thing I expected with Charlie on the mound.”
The Astros played a tribute video for Morton prior to the game, culminating with Morton recording the final out of the 2017 World Series. They proceeded to pound him for six runs and seven hits in four innings.
“We obviously have a lot of background with him as a teammate, and we knew a little bit about how he was going to pitch,” Hinch said. “He pitched a little differently than even we would have expected a little bit. You have to find a pitch to hit. I thought we challenged him early. I think we stayed with him. We had a couple of big hits. … We just continued to put pressure on him with really good at-bats.”
Yuli Gurriel hit a two-run double on a two-strike breaking ball and Robinson Chirinos added a two-run homer in the fourth, and rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez hit the first of his two homers, a two-run shot, in the fifth. Houston scored five times in the sixth to take a 14-0 lead.
Alvarez became the second player in history to record four multihomer games in his first 60 career games. His 40 extra-base hits in 60 games are second only to Joe DiMaggio (46 extra-base hits in 1936), and he’s one homer away from tying Carlos Correa’s team rookie record of 22.
“Correa mentioned it to me and we talked about it a little bit and it would be nice, but just trying to do my job,” Alvarez said.