HOUSTON -- On a night the Astros set a club record by striking out 24 batters, including a career-high 15 in seven innings by ace Justin Verlander, the Brewers made the most of their contact by slugging four homers, including a two-run shot by Mike Moustakas in the 14th inning for a 6-3 win on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park.
Moustakas crushed the first pitch he saw from lefty reliever Cionel Perez -- the Astros’ seventh pitcher of the game -- to break a 3-3 tie and score Christian Yelich, who led off the inning with a single. The Astros managed only five hits in 14 innings.
“You go back to opportunities missed or you go back to things they did well, but the bottom line is I’m proud of my guys for just kind of sticking through this,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “You battle and do all that and it’s a tough game. It’s a pretty remarkable game on the front end of it, and a pretty quiet game on the back end. They came up with a couple of big swings.”
The 24 strikeouts surpassed by one the club record set against the Cubs in Chicago on May 31, 2003. Houston relievers Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna followed Verlander’s brilliance by striking out two apiece in their innings. Josh James struck out the side in the 11th before leaving with lat tightness, and Perez fanned two, recording the record-breaking strikeout in the 14th by getting Travis Shaw looking. The first 23 strikeouts were swinging.
“I think it would feel a lot better if we won,” Verlander said. “Yeah, cool, great. But we didn’t win the baseball game.”
Verlander allowed only four baserunners in seven innings, including solo homers by Ryan Braun (first inning), Yasmani Grandal (second inning) and Eric Thames (seventh inning). Despite the gem, Pressly took over a 3-3 game in the eighth and Verlander was denied his 10th win for the second start in a row.
“It’s bittersweet,” Verlander said. “Early in the game, I’m trying to find my mechanics and find my feel and a couple of bad pitches left the yard. The last one … I’ll take my chances with that one. I felt it was a pretty good pitch. Baseball in 2019, it’s a homer. With the stuff I had today, three runs was more than I should have given up.”
Verlander struck out eight of the final 10 batters he faced. He whiffed Orlando Arcia to end the fifth, blew away Lorenzo Cain, Yelich and Braun in the sixth and began the seventh by striking out Moustakas and Grandal. Thames’ homer to left to tie the game interrupted a streak of six strikeouts in a row, before Verlander fanned Shaw to end his outing.
“He's one of the best pitchers in baseball,” Moustakas said. “When I face him, it's always a battle. He continuously adjusts. He's been throwing his slider a lot more, which is a devastating pitch to go along with six other pitches that he throws that are devastating. He did a phenomenal job tonight.”
Here are the key numbers from Verlander’s performance:
• Pitching on the 12th anniversary of his first no-hitter (against the Brewers in Detroit), Verlander set an Astros record for strikeouts at Minute Maid Park and tied the ballpark record set by Yu Darvish, who struck out 15 for the Rangers on Aug. 12, 2013.
• Verlander's 15 swinging strikeouts marked the fifth time in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008) a pitcher has had at least that many, joining Max Scherzer (twice), Carlos Carrasco and Danny Duffy. Verlander threw 75 of 100 pitches for strikes and got 29 swings and misses, including 17 on his slider.
• Verlander became the second Astros pitcher to record as many as 15 strikeouts without walking a batter, joining Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. Johnson struck out 16 batters with no walks on Aug. 28, 1998. It’s the 15th time since 1908 a pitcher has achieved that feat. Red Sox ace Chris Sale did it earlier this year. Before that, it hadn’t happened since 2012.
• Verlander is the first pitcher since 1908 to have at least 15 strikeouts and at least three homers allowed in a game. The previous record for most strikeouts allowed while allowing at least three homers in that span was 14 (five times) and the previous record for most homers allowed while striking out at least 15 in that span was two homers (15 times).