HOUSTON -- Sometimes, this is what you get with a Justin Verlander start. You get a flirtation with magic. You get dominance. You get something you might just remember.
This is why it’s an event every time he steps on a Major League mound. This is also why Cooperstown beckons.
Verlander flirted with his third career no-hitter for 6 1/3 innings in the Astros’ 5-1 win over the White Sox on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
Those 6 1/3 innings included 11 of his season-high 12 strikeouts, seven of them on the swings and misses generated by a wicked slider. And then it ended suddenly with White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu slamming a Verlander fastball over the center-field wall in the top of the seventh.
Verlander, who yielded just that one hit in eight innings, stepped off the mound to gather himself as Abreu circled the bases and a warm ovation washed over the right-hander. Had he finished it, he would have become just the fourth pitcher to craft three no-hitters, joining a list that includes Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan (seven), Sandy Koufax (four) and Bob Feller (three).
“He was really in control of the game obviously,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “Incredible night for a guy who is fun to watch pitch. He was completely dominant.”
For the 33-16 Astros, it was their 15th victory in 17 games, a stretch of baseball that included their second 10-game winning streak of the season and extended their lead in the American League West from a half-game to 8 1/2 games.
Verlander was so dominant that Statcast tracked 28 swinging strikes, the most he has had in any game in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008). Before Tuesday, he’d never had more than 24 in 365 regular-season games.
“You saw it tonight,” Verlander said. “One pitch in the wrong spot, and everything goes away. Pretty early on, I knew I had good stuff. The slider was the pitch tonight. When you’re attacking the zone, guys gotta swing. That’s the game. I want to stay on the offensive, not the defensive.”
As the drama began to build for Verlander’s run at a third no-hitter, he made a point of searching the seats behind home plate for Ryan, a boyhood idol. Ryan indeed was at the game, but watching from upstairs.
The two of them had chatted briefly on Monday, with Ryan encouraging him to throw more changeups, a pitch he said was important in the second half of his career.
“There’s a pretty elite group of guys that have three [no-hitters],” Verlander said. “Seven is a whole different ballpark. I know that list gets really small with three, and it would have been cool to have him here if I could have gotten it. But I screwed it up.”
Verlander and White Sox right-hander Dylan Covey were locked in a brief scoreless duel until Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel homered in the fourth inning. The Astros broke the game open an inning later by scoring four times, an inning in which they worked White Sox pitching for four walks and got a two-strike, two-run double from Michael Brantley.
“We hold each other to a high standard,” Brantley said. “It’s a brotherhood in here and next-man-up mentality.”
The Astros played again without second baseman Jose Altuve, who is on the injured list with a left hamstring strain, and outfielder George Springer, sidelined by a sore back. Still, it seems not to matter.
“We’re not at full force yet,” Hinch said. “We’ve been bragging about the depth of this roster for the entire year. It’s being tested. We’re not picky on who is the star of the game.”