HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander set the tone for the Astros, striking out seven of the first nine batters he faced Sunday afternoon. His seven strong innings continued his late-season dominance and push for perhaps another Cy Young Award.The Astros needed every bit of Verlander's excellence, along with clutch hits from
HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander set the tone for the Astros, striking out seven of the first nine batters he faced Sunday afternoon. His seven strong innings continued his late-season dominance and push for perhaps another Cy Young Award.
The Astros needed every bit of Verlander's excellence, along with clutch hits from Tyler White, Josh Reddick and Jose Altuve against Arizona ace Zack Greinke, to hold off a late D-backs charge in a 5-4 victory at Minute Maid Park for their 12th win in their last 14 games. Houston pushed its lead in the American League West to 4 1/2 games over Oakland, which lost to Tampa Bay.
"Certainly in the last couple of months, this was his best start," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "He's had some pretty good ones as an Astro, but when he comes up and sets that kind of tone and gets those kinds of swing and misses and the strikeouts, it's a pretty special day for us. It was going to be a close game. Both pitchers did a good job of living up to the hype of a good pitching matchup, and our guys broke through at the end.
"This was a really good series for us to dial it in against a really good team. I know they've scuffled lately, but they've been in the mix the entire year. We needed to play well to win the series, and we did."
Verlander struck out 11 batters and allowed only three hits, including a game-tying, two-out homer in the sixth inning to David Peralta, to improve to 16-9. It marked the eighth time in his 32 starts this year that Verlander has struck out at least 11 in a game.
Everything clicked for Verlander, whose fastball was excellent. He was pleased with his slider and curveball, too.
"I want to try to maintain that feeling moving forward," Verlander said. "This would be the right time to get hot."
Verlander reached a couple of milestones Sunday, beginning with his 11th career season of at least 200 innings. He joined Mark Buehrle (14) and Greg Maddux (12) as the only pitchers with as many such seasons in the Wild Card era (since 1994). He also tied a career high with 269 strikeouts for a single season, which he set in 2009 with the Tigers.
"That's something I've always taken pride in even when I was hurt," Verlander said. "The ability to go out there and chew up some innings and help save the bullpen is something I could help us get wins in other games besides just my own."
White's two-out RBI double to right field off Greinke (14-10) in the sixth put the Astros ahead, and Reddick led off the seventh with his second homer in two games to push the lead to 3-1. Altuve added an RBI single later in the inning.
"I think what makes [Greinke] so good is that he nibbles," Reddick said. "He doesn't leave too many pitches over the plate, and when he does, you can't miss them. I think we did a great job of that early, not letting him get too far ahead of us, so I think we came out and ambushed really well on his fastball before he got to his offspeed stuff. That set the tone for us."
Martin Maldonado produced an RBI single in the eighth that wound up driving in the winning run because Arizona scored three in the ninth inning, capped by a two-run homer by Daniel Descalso off closer Roberto Osuna to put a scare into the Astros. But Osuna struck out Ketel Marte to end the game for his 18th save.
Alex Bregman extended his on-base streak to 42 games with a walk and a hit by pitch. That's the longest streak for the Astros since Jeff Bagwell reached in 44 consecutive games in 1998.
HE SAID IT
"He had one ill-advised pitch to Peralta that changed his day a little bit, but all in all, he was in complete control of the game from hitter No. 1." -- Hinch, on Verlander
Rookie lefty Framber Valdez (3-1, 2.66 ERA) will make his fifth career start (sixth appearance) when the Astros open a three-game series against the Mariners at 7:10 p.m. CT on Monday at Minute Maid Park. The Mariners, who swept four games from the Astros last month in Houston, will start lefty Wade LeBlanc (8-4, 3.56 ERA).
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.