CHICAGO -- The much-anticipated showdown between American League Cy Young contenders Justin Verlander of the Astros and Dylan Cease of the White Sox didn’t quite live up to its hype, though Verlander was plenty good enough for Houston on Tuesday night.
The 39-year-old brushed off a rocky second inning and rolled into the seventh, when the White Sox scored a pair of runs to tie the game. For the second night in a row, the Astros were unable to protect a late two-run lead and wound up losing, 4-3, to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I mean, gosh, it was a tough day all around,” Verlander said. “It seems like every time they put the ball in play weakly, it was a hit, and they hit a couple hard, they were outs. Whatever. Keep working and keep doing my routine. These guys, both times I’ve faced them, have given me good at-bats, pretty much the entire lineup. Today was a challenge.”
Verlander held the White Sox to three runs and eight hits in seven innings and didn’t factor in the decision, keeping his ERA under 2.00 (1.95). He hasn’t loss since the White Sox beat him June 18 in Houston. In two starts against Chicago this year, he’s allowed seven earned runs and 17 hits in 10 2/3 innings (5.91 ERA) with a 1.69 WHIP. The Astros have lost both games.
“These guys have a good ballclub,” he said. “I know they haven’t put it all together this year. They’ve dealt with a lot of injuries. Last year they were a great ballclub, so really my game plan coming in was go deep in the game and keep it tight.”
The White Sox loaded the bases with one out in the second and had already taken a 1-0 lead when Verlander got nine-hole hitter Lenyn Sosa to pop out. He rolled from there, sending down 15 of the next 17 batters he faced.
“I felt great,” Verlander said. “It was nice to, after a tough second inning, to settle in and kind of go deep in the game. I guess it’s nice to take some semblance of positivity from something like this. They say go seven innings and save the bullpen a bit. We have a four-game series, so saving the bullpen hopefully helps us and we can win two more out of this.”
The Astros tagged Cease for three runs in five innings -- snapping his Major League-record streak of 14 consecutive starts giving up no more than one earned run -- and were leading 3-1 with Verlander rolling into the seventh. A one-out single by Josh Harrison and a walk to Seby Zavala set the stage for pinch-hitter Gavin Sheets, who lifted a two-run, game-tying double to right.
“I’d like to have it back, yeah,” Verlander said of the 1-2 slider. “If he swings and misses at it, I say sure, great. It was a good swing. It’s not easy to do to, come off the bench like that in a big spot. It wasn’t a horrible pitch. It was on the inner half, off the plate a little bit. I wouldn't want it to be up like that, but still usually guys pull that foul. A little frustrated, obviously.”
Sheets said, first and foremost, he wanted to get the ball in the air against Verlander.
“I didn’t want to hit something on the ground and get a double play,” he said. “I figured that was his main goal right there to get me on the ground. He went to the breaking ball and my main thought was get something in the air and get something in the strike zone.”
Verlander pitched well enough to pick up his 16th win of the season, but Houston’s offense went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and is 1-for-13 in those situations in the first two games of the series.
“Their bullpen has been tough on us the last couple of nights and stopped us from adding on,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.