For a moment, it looked as if Johnny Vander Meer’s immortal record might actually be in jeopardy, as Justin Verlander took the hill and fired two perfect frames to begin Saturday night’s contest with the Mariners. The consecutive no-hitter dream came to an end on a leadoff single in the third by Shed Long, but nonetheless it was another banner night for the star righty.
Verlander was actually pitching behind for much of the night, as Long came around to score on a one out triple by Dee Gordon, and the Astros failed to muster any early offense against a resurgent Yusei Kikuchi. The future hall of famer was steadfast following a shaky third, erasing a one out walk in the fourth by inducing a double play ball from Daniel Vogelbach before striking out the side in order on 13 pitches in the fifth.
The bottom of the fifth saw the Astros create a scoring opportunity when Jose Altuve managed a two out double, but Michael Brantley lined out on a .370 xBA ball that was clocked at 95.4 off the bat to end the inning. Verlander again faced the minimum in the top of the sixth, as Robinson Chirinos caught Dee Gordon stealing with one out and Mallex Smith grounded on to Aledmys Diaz at first to end Seattle’s side of the frame.
At this point, Justin Verlander was still on the hook for a potential loss, but Alex Bregman did away with that possibility, at least for the moment, with a leadoff homer on a 1-0 slider from Kikuchi, who was then lifted from the game after allowing a single to Yordan Alvarez.
Austin Adams came on in relief of Kikuchi and made quick work of the rest of the inning, and Verlander came out for one more inning in the seventh. There was a bit of drama as slugging catcher Omar Narvaez managed a one out double to left, but that would be the last baserunner allowed by Verlander as the next two batters in the inning, Daniel Vogelbach and Tom Murphy, both grounded out to the left side of the infield.
There was a bit of drama in the bottom of the inning as Kyle Tucker came on as a pinch hitter and hit a ball that made contact with the scoreboard before going over the wall in left, which was eventually ruled a double. After advancing on a wild pitch from Adams, Tucker then scored the go-ahead run on a sac fly from Josh Reddick, putting hte Astros ahead 2-1.
Josh James came on for the eighth, and got into a bit of trouble after a one out double from Tim Lopes. Dee Gordon beat out an infield single to third, and a wide throw from Abraham Toro allowed Lopes to advance to third. From there, however, James buckled down and delivered two consecutive strikeouts to get out of the jam. The Astros went down in order in the bottom, and A.J. Hinch entrusted Will Harris with the ninth. Harris was on point, setting down the Mariners in order, getting Vogelbach swinging to end it.
The win was the Astros 93rd of the year against 50 losses, putting them dead even with the Yankees and a game ahead of the Dodgers, who sit at 92-51, in the chase for postseason home field advantage. Their division lead over Oakland now sits at 10.0 games. Having taken three straight contests from the M’s, the Astros will send ace Gerrit Cole to the hill to face off against Felix Hernandez as they seek a four game sweep.