Hou-lander: Astros' latest model chisels triumph
SEATTLE -- Justin Verlander proved to be just what the doctor ordered in his debut for the Astros on Tuesday night, with help from a welcome booster shot from fellow newcomer Cameron Maybin in a 3-1 win over the Mariners at Safeco Field.
Despite totaling just two hits, Houston won its sixth in a row as Verlander threw six innings of one-run ball in his first start since being acquired from the Tigers to bolster the American League's leading team. The 34-year-old gave up six hits with seven strikeouts in a 103-pitch performance that hiked his season record to 11-8 with a 3.74 ERA.
"A lot of nerves, a lot of excitement," Verlander said. "I think the closest thing I can compare it to is Opening Day kind of nerves. The unknown -- don't really want to let everybody down, new team. These guys have made the process pretty easy on me so far, just fitting in and feeling like I'm right at home as quickly as possible."
But the Astros were knotted in a 1-1 tie and had yet to manage a hit until Maybin -- claimed off waivers from the Angels last week -- launched a two-run homer off rookie reliever Emilio Pagan with one out in the top of the seventh.
"We continue to add to the script that anybody on this team can really do something special for us," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Tonight, obviously, Verlander set the tone by getting through his outing, Maybin comes up with the big hit. We didn't have a lot of opportunities. We drew some walks. Maybin with the one big swing and we walk away with the win."
Mariners starter Ariel Miranda didn't allow a hit, but walked six and needed a season-high 112 pitches to get through six innings, turning a 1-1 tie over to his bullpen. Pagan was the second reliever used in the seventh, after James Pazos issued a one-out walk.
After twisting his ankle while landing awkwardly on his delivery to Carlos Beltran leading off the third, Miranda walked the bases loaded before allowing a sacrifice fly to Alex Bregman, which stood as Houston's lone run until Maybin connected with his eighth homer of the year and second in five games for the Astros.
"There was a lot of good pitching out there tonight," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "Ariel Miranda pitched his heart out. He gave us everything he had. He tweaked his ankle and hung in there for 112 pitches. It was really a tremendous effort by him."
The win kept Houston three games ahead of the Indians for the AL's best record at 85-53, with Cleveland winning its 13th straight game earlier in the day at the White Sox.
Seattle fell to 69-70, though still just three games back of the Angels for the AL's second Wild Card spot after Los Angeles topped Oakland in 10 innings. Robinson Cano went 3-for-4 for the Mariners, who have now lost 10 of 15 games to Houston this year, including the first two games of this series to a pair of AL Cy Young Award winners in Dallas Keuchel and now Verlander.
"That's a good squad over there. We know that," Servais said. "We've played them a lot this year, we just haven't been able to put the big rally together. But I'll take our chances with our club. If we continue to compete like that every night, we're going to be in this thing all the way til the end. It just hasn't happened the last two nights."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Escape act: Verlander wiggled out of a big jam -- and escaped serious injury -- in an eventful sixth inning when Cano lined a 103.5-mph shot that caught the Astros' new ace in the right arm and rolled over to the third-base line. That infield single was followed by a base hit by Nelson Cruz. But Verlander got Kyle Seager to ground into a 3-6-1 double play, then dug deep to blow down Mitch Haniger, freezing the rookie with a 99-mph fastball for strike three on his hardest-thrown -- and final -- pitch of the night. More >
"It was definitely different, seeing him in a different uniform for sure," Seager said. "But his stuff was the same and the colors were the same. He's tough. We all know that. We had a couple opportunities. The one inning Robbie and Nelly got on, that was a big double play ball he got there. That one definitely hurt."
Seager shot: The Mariners' lone run off Verlander came courtesy of Seager's 21st home run of the season, a high-arcing shot to right field.in the fourth. Seager is now 8-for-22 with three home runs against Verlander in his career. The Mariners' left-handed hitters -- Cano, Seager, Yonder Alonso and Ben Gamel -- combined to go 5-for-10 against Verlander, while Seattle's right-handers were 1-for-13 with the lone hit the single by Cruz in the sixth.
"I thought his stuff was still fine. They weren't hitting him. The scoreboard was telling me that and my eyes were telling me the same thing. So why not? We had him covered. If there was traffic in the sixth, we'd have taken him out. But I felt good about where he was at. He was emptying the tank." -- Servais, on his decision to keep Miranda in after he'd thrown 96 pitches through five
"I would tell you the sixth inning is worth the price of admission. That was as impressive a finish to an outing as we could ask for, especially in the big moments where the inning starts out with runners on base. He never gets out of control. You wouldn't expect him to. He completely dominated the rest of the inning." -- Hinch on Verlander
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
This was the 11th time in Mariners history they've allowed two or fewer hits in a loss, the last time coming when they gave up just one hit on Opening Day in Texas last season and lost, 3-2.
The Astros won for the 15th time in club history when collecting two or fewer hits.
Astros: Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (7-3, 3.92 ERA) comes off the disabled list to pitch for the first time since July 30 in Wednesday's 9:10 p.m. CT series finale against the Mariners. McCullers, the AL Pitcher of the Month for May, went 0-2 with a 8.63 ERA in his last five starts before going on the DL with back discomfort.
Mariners: September callup Andrew Moore (1-3, 6.34 ERA) moves back into the rotation for the first time since July 26 and his first appearance since an Aug. 11 relief outing. This will be the rookie right-hander's first time facing Houston.
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