HOUSTON, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 16: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Minute Maid Park on September 16, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
After suffering a calf injury on August 28th and taking a trip to the 15-day IL, Justin Verlander made his return to the mound on Friday night against the A’s. He looked healthy as ever and, with some big homers behind him, helped the Astros grab a 5-0 victory over the A’s.
The win clinches a playoff berth for the Astros, who will join the postseason for the sixth straight year dating back to 2017.
Verlander comes out firing, Alvarez blasts his 34th, 35th, and 36th homers
Verlander wasted no time showing he’s still performing at a high level, getting through a 1-2-3 first inning, including two strikeouts. Yordan Alvarez gave him a lead in the bottom half of the frame, blasting a two-out solo homer, putting Houston ahead 1-0.
Alvarez stepped back into the box in the same situation in the bottom of the third, with two outs and no one on, and that at-bat ended up with the same result, another solo shot to double the lead at 2-0. Verlander, meanwhile, was dealing on the mound.
He went five innings without allowing a hit, putting just two on base on a walk and a hit-by-pitch while striking out nine, lowering his ERA to 1.78 in the process. Coming back from the IL, his night would end there. His final line: 5.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 79 P.
Houston’s offense gave Verlander’s chance at a win a significant boost in the bottom of the fifth. Jeremy Pena joined the home run parade with a solo homer of his own, followed immediately by Alvarez, who once again teed off on Adrian Martinez, getting his third solo home run in as many at-bats, this one 464 feet to extend the lead to 4-0 with the back-to-back dingers.
Houston’s bullpen closes it out to secure a playoff berth
Phil Maton took over for Verlander in the top of the sixth, with Oakland getting their first hit of the night on his first pitch. He would erase it, inducing a one-out double play to end the frame, then after a leadoff double by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the inning, Martin Maldonado pushed the lead to five runs on an RBI single.
Maton returned for another inning of work in the top of the seventh, again dealing with some traffic but getting out of it with three-straight strikeouts. Ryne Stanek followed with a scoreless top of the eighth, then Bryan Abreu wrapped things up in the ninth.
News and notes
Verlander moves up the all-time list: With two outs in the top of the fourth, Verlander recorded the 3,174th strikeout of his career, overtaking Max Scherzer for 13th on the all-time list and gaining the top spot amongst active pitchers.
Chipping away at another division title: With the win on Friday night, the Astros’ magic number to win the AL West reduces to five. It can go down to four should the Mariners lose their game Friday night against the Angels.
Going for 7 in a row: The Astros will look to win their seventh game in a row and secure a sixth straight series victory on Saturday at 6:10 PM. Jose Urquidy (13-6, 3.75 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston, going opposite Cole Irvin (8-11, 3.73 ERA) for the A’s.