SEATTLE — In a season where he said nothing has come easy, Justin Verlander picked the right moment to once again look like the ace he's been for most of his career.
Perfect timing for Verlander. Perfect timing for the Houston Astros.
Verlander took a shutout into the ninth inning, allowing just three hits and worked out of the one jam he faced, and the Astros created some cushion in the AL playoff chase with a 5-1 win over the Seattle Mariners on Monday night.
Verlander put together a vintage performance befitting his status as one of the top right-handers in the game for most of his career. He was on the verge of his first complete game since 2019 when he no-hit Toronto, but manager Dusty Baker pulled Verlander after Josh Rojas led off the ninth inning with a double.
Nevertheless, Verlander did his part with an effort Houston needed after being swept at home over the weekend by Kansas City. The Astros extended their lead to 1 1/2 games over Seattle for the final wild card in the American League. Houston also remained 2 1/2 behind Texas in the AL West.
“This is just one of those years where nothing has been easy. Maybe catch the right timing here and this can be the start of something, hopefully,” Verlander said.
Rojas' double snapped Verlander's string of 16 straight batters retired, but the Astros were well on their way to the needed victory before the string was broken. Verlander (12-8) struck out eight, walked one and threw 96 pitches.
“I was obviously kind of running on fumes a little bit, so appreciate the chance to go out there and get a (complete-game shutout),” Verlander said. “It didn’t work out, but that’s all right.”
Seattle lost its fourth straight and for the seventh time in 10 games. The Mariners also fell four games behind Texas in the division.
“All these losses suck right now, but there's nothing we can do about them. Got to keep our heads up and look at the positive side and get ready for tomorrow,” Seattle shortstop J.P. Crawford said.
Houston didn’t need much offense, but managed one big two-out rally against Seattle starter Luis Castillo (14-8) that scored three runs in the second inning. The Astros added on with long solo home runs from Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker for additional cushion. Alvarez's homer was his 30th of the season and came leading off the third inning. Tucker's homer leading off the sixth gave him 110 RBIs, most in the AL.
Making his first start against Seattle since last year’s AL Division Series, Verlander faced traffic on the bases only once. Seattle loaded the bases with one out in the third inning on singles by Dominic Canzone and Rojas and a walk to Crawford. But Verlander got Julio Rodríguez out in front of a curveball and Seattle’s young All-Star grounded into a double play to end the threat.
“If it turns into a double play, great, which it did, which was huge. But one of the best hitters in baseball in that situation you're trying to get him out and not let the inning cascade and get away from you,” Verlander said.
Verlander didn’t allow another base runner until Rojas got him in the ninth. Rojas scored on Rodríguez's sacrifice fly, ending the shutout.
The Mariners had won 10 straight games started by Castillo, but he suffered his first loss since July 14. Castillo threw six innings allowing eight hits, five runs and struck out eight.
“I thought Luis Castillo’s stuff was as good as we’ve seen it all year,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “Unfortunately, he made a couple of mistakes in the middle of the plate with the fastball in the second inning there.”
Castillo was one strike away from getting out of the inning but Mauricio Dubón lined a 2-2 fastball into center field for a hit to score José Abreu. Martín Maldonado followed with an RBI single and Jose Altuve had an RBI single and in the span of six pitches a scoreless game became a 3-0 Houston lead.
“That was big to put a crooked number up there and finally have a lead,” Baker said.
Verlander made his 38th career start against Seattle and was the third time he pitched at least seven shutout innings against the Mariners. Verlander’s eight strikeouts were the second-most he’s had in a game this season.
Verlander won his 256th career game tying him with Andy Pettitte for 42nd all-time.
Astros: RHP Cristian Javier (9-4, 4.64) struck out 11 and allowed only one earned run over five innings in his last start against Baltimore. Javier allowed three runs over seven innings in his only start against Seattle earlier this season.
Mariners: RHP George Kirby (11-10, 3.58) ended a string of rough outings by throwing seven innings and allowed three runs to get the victory in his last start against Oakland. It will be Kirby’s second start against Houston this season, after throwing 6 2/3 innings and allowing one run in July.