HOUSTON -- Just when you thought you were running out of adjectives to describe Justin Verlander’s dominance this season, Rays manager Kevin Cash came up with something fresh after the 36-year-old shut his team down Friday afternoon.
“We got Verlander-ed,” Cash said.
The ageless Verlander, coming off one of the best seasons of his career, dazzled in his 2019 playoff debut, throwing seven scoreless innings while striking out eight batters and allowing only one hit as the Astros grabbed Game 1 of the American League Division Series with a 6-2 win over Tampa Bay at Minute Maid Park. In the process, Verlander notched his 14th career postseason win to tie Hall of Famer Tom Glavine for third most all-time.
Verlander and Rays starter Tyler Glasnow were locked in a pitchers' duel through four innings before the Astros scored four runs in the fifth on a two-run homer by José Altuve and an error on second baseman Brandon Lowe, who dropped a two-out popup to allow a pair of runs to score.
Once Verlander got the lead, the Rays were finished.
“He's got an incredible instinct for the moment,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “He leaves some gas in his gas tank at the end of his outings. He never wavers off his game plan until he has to. Like a good sprinter, like at the finish line, he's going to win. He's going to win the race at the end of his outings.”
In the history of best-of-five postseason series, Game 1 winners have gone on to take the series 95 of 132 times (72 percent). In the Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams winning Game 1 at home took the series 31 of 40 times (78 percent).
“I think we’ve got a lot of work left to do, but it was a great start,” he said. “Verlander came out and did a great job. Altuve had a big swing to get us on the board and break the ice. I think it’s going to be a fun series, and we’ve got a lot of work cut out for us.”
“Unbelievable,” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said. “[Altuve] told me before the game, he’s like, ‘Hey, I’ve hit a homer the first game of the last two postseasons. So I’m gonna make it three today,’ and he did. When he tells me, I believe him. It doesn’t surprise me.“
Altuve and Verlander, a pair of former AL MVP Award winners, were texting each other Thursday night about how hungry the 107-win Astros were to start the playoffs.
“This team has no quit,” Verlander said. “These guys are hungry. They always are, no matter how many games we win or how good everybody says this team is. Inside the locker room, these guys grind, and we work and we prepare ourselves to win baseball games. It's fun to watch. Everybody can kill you.”
Verlander, who reached 300 season strikeouts and 3,000 career strikeouts in his final start of the regular season Saturday in Anaheim, moved into sole possession of third place on the all-time postseason strikeout list with 175, passing Roger Clemens. He trails only Andy Pettitte (183) and John Smoltz (199).
Verlander became the first pitcher to throw at least seven scoreless innings with no more than one hit allowed in the playoffs since Bronson Arroyo of the Reds in Game 2 of the 2012 National League Division Series against the Giants. What’s more, it was Verlander’s ninth career postseason start with at least seven innings and no more than one run allowed, which is tied for second most all-time with Smoltz and Curt Schilling. Only Glavine (11) has more.
Verlander also notched his eighth career Division Series win, which is a record (surpassing Smoltz and Pettitte).
“You can define aces in a lot of different ways,” Hinch said. “He's a star. Like, he's a Hall of Fame pitcher. So we're going to look back and be very proud that we crossed paths with him.”
Verlander was buoyed by double plays in the first and sixth innings started by Bregman -- who also made a nice defensive play in the third, when he snagged a Kevin Kiermaier grounder, turned and whirled a throw to first for an out. Bregman reached base three times and scored twice.
Verlander sent down eight of the final nine Rays hitters he faced, including six by strikeout, and finished with 100 pitches thrown. The only run Verlander has allowed in 19 1/3 innings over three starts against Tampa Bay this year was a leadoff homer to Austin Meadows on Opening Day.
“It's so hard to take him out of games like that, because he punches out a side,” Hinch said. “I wanted to take him out no matter what. But watching him finish like that, he has a good sense for when the finish line is coming. Both he and Gerrit are two of the best I've ever seen in baseball doing it.”