ANAHEIM -- Justin Verlander pounded his glove and shook his arms wildly -- his hands, balled up into fists.The right-hander had just induced a groundout from two-time American League MVP Michael Trout to end a serious threat -- runners on second and third -- to wrap up the eighth inning
ANAHEIM -- Justin Verlander pounded his glove and shook his arms wildly -- his hands, balled up into fists.
The right-hander had just induced a groundout from two-time American League MVP Michael Trout to end a serious threat -- runners on second and third -- to wrap up the eighth inning with his 99th pitch, but he wasn't done.
Verlander came back out for the ninth, an inning in which he notched his 2,500th career strikeout, his seventh of the game, then finished a dazzling five-hit shutout on Wednesday at Angel Stadium that carried the Astros to a 2-0 victory, a series win and a two-game lead on the Angels in the AL West. His ERA, at a pristine 1.05, is the lowest after the first 10 starts to begin a season since Ubaldo Jimenez put up a 0.88 mark for the Rockies in 2010, and it's the lowest in MLB by more than half a run.
"Here's the baseball game right here. Can you get out the best player in the world?" Verlander said of getting Trout to escape the eighth inning.
The pitch he made, up and in, was a mistake. Verlander meant to go up and away, but because it was Verlander's night, Trout check swung for a slow dribbler back to the mound. The batter before, Luis Valbuena, was no easy out either. Verlander threw a fastball that scraped the absolute edge of the strike zone for a called third strike, causing Valbuena to flip his bat in disgust as Angels manager Mike Scioscia came storming out of the dugout in protest.
No Astros reliever touched the bullpen mound throughout the bottom of the eighth. It was Verlander's game to win or lose, and he and his skipper were intent on him finishing the game.
"He was throwing the ball so well, and under complete control -- his breathing, his mannerisms, his conversation in the dugout, everything was screaming for him to finish the game, like he did," manager AJ Hinch said.
Verlander completed the ninth inning for his eighth career shutout, his first since 2015, but not without a little bit of sweat on his brow. After striking out Shohei Ohtani for a third time and getting Justin Upton to pop out, Verlander gave up a single to Jose Pujols and walked Andrelton Simmons to put the tying run on base for the second straight inning. The following batter, Zack Cozart, popped out to end the game on Verlander's season-high 118th pitch.
"As this game changes, I'm more and more of a throwback, and I want to be," Verlander said. "I want to be the guy who can go out there and throw 120 pitches, and that's something I talked to skipper about when I first got here. ... I think it's an asset for me to be able to go out there and throw 120 and sometimes take the strain off the bullpen guys."
Verlander came into the game intently focused on one hitter in particular, one he hadn't yet faced: Ohtani. Verlander devoured the two-way phenom's hitting highlights in the visiting clubhouse for at least 15 minutes, taking detailed notes and discussing strategy with coaches and players. The game plan they came up with saw Ohtani go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, the last of which gave Verlander 2,500.
"I'm hoping that he stays healthy so that strikeout is like, one day, when we look back, when I'm a grandfather on my deathbed, I'll be like, 'Yeah, my 2,500th strikeout was against that guy.'" Verlander said.
In the finale of a series dominated by sterling pitching performances, Verlander was able to deliver the best one. Aside from ERA, he leads MLB starting pitchers in a litany of other statistical categories, including WHIP (0.71) and innings pitched (68 2/3).
"Pretty much a clinic on how to pitch," Hinch said. "Just an epic performance by a really good pitcher. It's fun to win a series, especially against a team like this, even more sweet when one of your best carries you on his back."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Gattis provides all the offense:Garrett Richards and the Angels' bullpen were no slouches on the mound either, allowing only one mistake -- an Evan Gattis two-run homer in the second inning that gave Houston the only runs it would need.
Gattis was given the opportunity after Josh Reddick reached on a fielding error by Cozart with two outs. Two pitches later, Gattis roped his fourth home run of the season and his third in his last five games.
Verlander has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his 15 regular-season starts for the Astros, a club record for the longest streak to start a tenure with the franchise.
HE SAID IT
"I made a joke here in the clubhouse that my 2,500th strikeout came against a pitcher, but the best hitting pitcher I've ever seen. I think when it's all said and done, if that guy can stay healthy, he's a special talent. … Not only on the mound, but at the plate. He's doing something nobody's really done since Babe Ruth, so I think we can all appreciate that." -- Verlander, on fanning Ohtani for his 2,500th strikeout
Video: HOU@LAA: Verlander shrugs off signs, K's Ohtani
After an off-day on Thursday, the Astros will have Charlie Morton toe the rubber in their series opener against the Indians at 7:10 p.m. CT on Friday at Minute Maid Park. Morton is 5-0 and his 2.03 ERA ranks third in the American League. In his last start, Morton struck out a career-high 14 while holding the Rangers to one earned run over seven innings. Against the Tribe, he will face Mike Clevinger, who is 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA and 44 strikeouts.
Avery Yang is a reporter for MLB.com.