By Sam Bush
Justin Verlander struck out 10 without allowing a hit in five innings, and Houston’s bullpen kept the Phillies hitless until the ninth inning in a 10-0 win.
Verlander, who has pitched three no-hitters in his career, walked one before being pulled after 77 pitches. The AL West champion Astros led the NL wild-card Phillies 8-0 at that point.
Jeremy Peña, Kyle Tucker and Martín Maldonado homered as the Astros jumped on Ranger Suárez (10-7) for six runs in two innings to build a huge lead early in their 1,000th win at Minute Maid Park, which opened in 2000.
Verlander (18-4) collected his American League-leading 18th win, and his MLB-leading 1.75 ERA is the lowest for a qualified pitcher in the AL, excluding the pandemic-shortened season, since Pedro Martinez posted a 1.74 ERA in 2000.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner’s ERA is also the lowest of his career, besting his 2.40 ERA in 2011, when he won his first Cy Young and was also named AL MVP while with Detroit.
Verlander, who also won the Cy Young in 2019, is a top candidate to win the award for a third time this season after returning to form following an almost two-year absence following Tommy John surgery.
“To me, this is maybe not what was supposed to happen, but what I expected to happen,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly how good the season would be, but I thought I would be me when I’m healthy — which is usually pretty good.”
The 39-year-old Verlander was dominant from the start Tuesday, fanning eight consecutive batters at one point to set a career-high and tie a franchise record.
That eight-strikeout streak started when he got Darick Hall to end the first. He then struck out the side in the second and third innings before striking out Bryce Harper to start the fourth.
The streak ended when Alec Bohm grounded out after that. Verlander didn’t allow a baserunner until Brandon Marsh walked to start the fifth.
But he got right back on track, retiring Bryson Stott and Nick Maton before Matt Vierling grounded into a force-out to end the inning.
Verlander received a nice ovation as he walked to the dugout and he tipped his cap to the crowd just before stepping off the field.
He would have pitched a little longer Tuesday, but caused the top of one of his fingers to bleed by “clicking it” on his glove. Verlander said it’s something he’s dealt with before and it wasn’t serious, but he didn’t see a reason to push it at this point in the season.
Harper and Marsh played Tuesday, but the Phillies fielded a lineup missing many of their regular starters after clinching their first playoff berth since 2011 a night earlier. Philadelphia will travel to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals in a wild-card series starting Friday.
Jose Altuve hit a leadoff double before Peña homered to center field to make it 2-0. Yordan Alvarez then doubled off the wall in left field and Alex Bregman walked.
Tucker then smacked a ball to the seats in right field to extend the lead to 5-0.
Maldonado pushed it to 6-0 when he opened Houston’s second with his shot to left-center.
Tucker has 30 homers, 107 RBI 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 steals and 100 RBI in a season. Bagwell twice, in 1997 and 1999.
Suárez allowed seven hits and six runs, with a career-high three homers in three innings.