HOUSTON — After capping off his magnificent comeback season with another stellar start Tuesday night, Justin Verlander was too busy looking ahead to overthink what he’s already accomplished.
“I wouldn’t be who I am or in this position now if I was just happy with where I’m finishing the regular season. … I’m already trying to prepare for the playoffs and prepare for that,” did he declare. . “But at the same time I see the numbers, I know how good they are and I appreciate it.”
Verlander struck out 10 hitless in five innings, and the Houston bullpen kept the Philadelphia Phillies hitless until the ninth inning in a 10-0 victory.
Verlander, who threw three hits in his career, walked one before being retired after 77 pitches. The AL West champion Astros led the NL Phillies 8-0 at the time.
“It’s great to have him on the mound,” manager Dusty Baker said. “The team is excited, the fans are excited, I think baseball is excited when he’s on the mound on a national stage like that. He’s a pitcher.”
Rookie Hunter Brown tossed 2⅓ innings without a hit, and Hector Neris got the last two outs of the eighth inning. Will Smith came on for ninth, and Garrett Stubbs picked center field to break the no-hitter offer, prompting a handful of boos from the crowd.
“About the fifth inning, you start thinking about it,” Baker said of the possibility of a no-hitter. “You start counting the number of outs. … Everybody in our bullpen, the guys that came in, they wanted to be in it.”
Verlander added, “It didn’t work out. It wasn’t our night.”
Jeremy Peña, Kyle Tucker and Martín Maldonado homered as the Astros pounced on Ranger Suárez (10-7) for six runs in two innings to build a huge lead early in their 1,000th victory at Minute Maid Park, which opened its doors in 2000.
Verlander (18-4) earned his 18th American League lead, and his 1.75 MLB lead is the lowest for a qualified pitcher in the AL, excluding the season shortened by the pandemic, as Pedro Martinez posted an ERA of 1.74 in 2000.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner’s ERA is also the lowest of his career, beating his ERA by 2.40 in 2011, when he won his first Cy Young and was also named AL MVP in Detroit.
Verlander, who also won the Cy Young in 2019, is one of the strongest candidates to win the award for a third time this season after returning to form after an almost two-year absence following Tommy John’s surgery.
“For me, maybe it’s not what was supposed to happen, but what I expected,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly how good the season would be, but I thought I would be me when I was healthy, which is usually good enough.”
Verlander, 39, was dominant early on Tuesday, whipping up eight straight batters at one point to set a career high and tie a franchise record.
That eight-strike streak started when he asked Darick Hall to finish first. He then retired the team in the second and third innings before pulling out Bryce Harper to start the fourth. The streak ended when Alec Bohm retired after that. Verlander didn’t allow a baserunner until Brandon Marsh walked in to start the fifth.
But he got back on track, pulling out Bryson Stott and Nick Maton before Matt Vierling launched into a forced out to end the inning. Verlander received a standing ovation as he made his way to the dugout and he tilted his cap to the crowd just before leaving the field.
He would have thrown a little longer on Tuesday, but got the top of one of his fingers bled when he “slammed” it on his glove. Verlander said it was something he had already dealt with and it wasn’t serious, but he saw no reason to push it at this stage of the season.
Harper and Marsh played on Tuesday, but the Phillies fielded a roster missing several of their regular starters after clinching their first playoff spot since 2011 a night earlier.
Jose Altuve hit a first brace before Peña struck in the middle of the field to make it 2-0. Yordan Alvarez then doubled the wall into left field and Alex Bregman walked.
Tucker then hit a seat ball to right field to extend the lead to 5-0.
Maldonado took it 6-0 when he opened up Houston’s second with his shot to left center.
Tucker has 30 homers, 107 RBIs and 25 stolen bases this season to join Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell as the only players in franchise history with at least 30 homers, 25 interceptions and 100 RBIs in a season; Bagwell did it twice, in 1997 and 1999.
Suárez allowed seven hits and six runs, with a career-high three homers in three innings.
Christian Vazquez and Mauricio Dubon each hit an RBI single in the sixth inning to make it 8-0.
NO-HITTERS THIS SEASON
There have been three no-hitters this season, including two combined no-hitters.
Los Angeles Angels rookie Reid Detmers kept the Tampa Bay Rays hitless in May. The New York Mets had a combined no-hitter against the Phillies and the Astros combined for a no-hitter against the New York Yankees.
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