Astros blank Halos behind strong JV, Yuli's HR
HOUSTON -- Yuli Gurriel broke up a scoreless game with a three-run home run in the seventh inning, and Justin Verlander and two relievers combined on a shutout in the Astros' 3-0 win Friday night at Minute Maid Park, sending the Angels to their fifth straight loss and 3 1/2 games behind the Twins for the second American League Wild Card spot.
"It feels good," Verlander said. "It's nice to be pitching well, but the playoffs are right around the corner. We're still fighting for the best record, so it's nice to have an impact that way, it's nice to get wins and it's nice to pitch well. But I think we're all getting ready for the next level."
With the Indians' loss to the Mariners, the Astros moved to within 1 1/2 games of Cleveland for the AL's best record.
Verlander and Garrett Richards put on a show. Both right-handers were nearly unhittable as they engaged in a pitchers' duel, each allowing only one hit. Verlander allowed a leadoff single to Kole Calhoun to open the game and also walked two.
"Verlander was good, too. I just tried to match him," Richards said. "It's not like we were facing an average Joe over there. That guy has plenty of accolades for his time in the big leagues. Any time you go against a guy like that, you have to be on your game."
Verlander struck out six in his seven innings, improving to 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA with Houston since his acquisition in an Aug. 31 trade with Detroit.
The Angels got everything they could out of Richards, who was making his fifth start of the season and fourth since his return from the disabled list. Richards struck out six and allowed only a first-inning double to Josh Reddick in six scoreless innings.
Gurriel's 18th home run of the season came off Yusmeiro Petit, who relieved Richards to start the seventh, and scored Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. The Astros (94-59) have reached 94 wins for the fourth time in franchise history.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Gurriel breaks through: After finding no success vs. Richards through six, the Astros' league-leading offense broke out quickly when the Angels turned to Petit. Altuve led off the frame with a single, and after a strikeout by Marwin Gonzalez resulted in both Gonzalez and manager A.J. Hinch being ejected, the Astros and the crowd were energized while Petit seemed to briefly lose control. Bregman worked a five-pitch walk to put two on base, and Gurriel then jumped ahead in the count, 3-1, before hammering the next pitch a projected 407 feet, according to Statcast™, to deep left-center field for the deciding runs.
"That was a big inning with a lot of emotion, a lot of tension and some really good ABs, and none bigger than Yuli," Hinch said. "What I've learned about him is he's really calm in the biggest moments. He doesn't really get too excited. He gets better as the game goes, as the count gets deeper. When he can work a count and get a pitch to hit in a big moment, he's pretty good."
Verlander escapes jam: In a scoreless game in the seventh, Justin Upton drew a leadoff walk, appearing to give the Angels their best scoring opportunity. But Verlander induced a grounder to third base from Albert Pujols, and with the slow-footed designated hitter running, Altuve was able to double-clutch at second base after catching the throw from Bregman, step off the bag and still have time to beat Pujols on his relay throw for the double play.
"Verlander really did put together an exceptional outing, and so did their guy. If you like pitching, then you'd like tonight. And if you like the Astros, you'd like tonight just a little bit more." -- Hinch
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Ken Giles has converted each of his last 20 save opportunities at home dating to Sept. 25, 2016. That ties the longest home saves streak in Astros history with Billy Wagner, who did it twice (2001, '02).
GONZALEZ, HINCH EJECTED
Gonzalez and Hinch were ejected in the bottom of the seventh for arguing balls and strikes. Gonzalez struck out looking on a 1-2 pitch that appeared outside before drawing a line in the dirt with his bat in protest.
"It's pretty simple," Hinch said. "I think he missed a couple calls, and a couple of us got [upset]."
REDDICK EXITS EARLY
Reddick exited the game after five innings with lower back discomfort. The Astros' right fielder, hitting .417 in September with a 1.119 OPS, is considered day to day moving forward. He was replaced by Derek Fisher.
"He was going to have tomorrow off anyway," Hinch said of Reddick following the game. "I don't think it's anything to be concerned with. He came off the field and had a little bit of back pain, so we pulled him right away. Where we're at, at this time in the season, it's an easy call."
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Angels manager Mike Scioscia lost a ninth-inning challenge of an out call on a force play at second base on a ball hit by Mike Trout. The call was confirmed that Bregman did touch second base on a flip from Altuve, forcing out Calhoun. The Astros completed the double play when Ben Revere was caught in a rundown between second and third.
Angels: Bud Norris goes against the team he came up with in the Major Leagues and will be making only his second start of the season on Saturday at 10:05 a.m. PT. Norris, who pitched for Houston from 2009-13, has made 57 appearances as a reliever this season.
Astros: In what will be his 24th start of the season, Charlie Morton will be looking to notch his 13th win when he takes the ball at 12:05 p.m. CT at Minute Maid Park. The right-hander is coming off a win over the Mariners in which he tossed six strong innings of one-run ball.
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