Astros, Verlander shut down Angels
(TSX / STATS) -- ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Houston Astros still had a comfortable lead in the American League West heading into the opener of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night, but right-hander Justin Verlander knew it was time to put the team's four-game losing streak to rest.
In his second start since he was acquired from the Detroit Tigers, the veteran right-hander came through with eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory, lowering Houston's magic number to five in the quest to clinch its first division title since 2001.
Verlander (12-8) allowed one hit, a leadoff double in the first inning by Brandon Phillips. He walked one and struck out nine to prevent the Astros (87-57) from matching their longest losing streak of the season.
"On a night when we really needed it, after a tough series and an off day to kind of reset, those are the things that make you feel really good after the game, just knowing that we needed a big win today," Verlander said.
He walked Mike Trout to start the fourth and hit Trout with a 3-2 pitch to open the seventh, but Phillips never left second base and Trout never left first.
Verlander faced the minimum number of batters from the second through sixth innings to help drop the Angels (73-71) two games back of the Minnesota Twins (75-69) for the second AL wild card.
Yuri Gurriel drove in the only run with a two-out single in the second.
Ken Giles relieved Verlander to start the ninth and gave up a one-out single to Phillips, but second base umpire Pat Hoberg ruled Phillips came off the bag after his slide in an attempt to stretch the hit into a double. Giles then got Trout to ground out to third for his 30th save.
"You can never stop on the play because you just never know," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said of shortstop Carlos Correa's tag on Phillips. "It's a little dangerous for the fielder sometimes, with all the chaos that happens around the base, but a pretty firm tag is nice."
Angels right-hander Garrett Richards (0-1) made his second start since coming off a five-month stay on the disabled list caused by biceps nerve irritation in his throwing arm. It was his first appearance at Angel Stadium since April 2016.
He retired the side in order in the first inning but allowed three singles up the middle in the second to fall behind 1-0.
Gurriel, a 32-year-old rookie who came in averaging 3.35 pitches per plate appearance, the fewest in the majors, lined a 1-1 pitch to center with two outs to score Correa from second.
Verlander didn't cruise through the first inning as easily as Richards, allowing the leadoff double to Phillips on his third pitch.
Trout and Justin Upton then hit back-to-back hard line drives to left field, but Marwin Gonzalez tracked both down. Albert Pujols then grounded to deep short, and Correa's two-hop throw was in plenty of time.
Verlander, 34, settled in and retired nine in a row before Trout led off the fourth with a walk, but the runner was quickly erased when Upton hit into a 6-4-3 double play.
"Early on, I was a little rusty," Verlander said. "I think seven days (between starts) will do that to you, but after the first, specifically after that, I was able to get better."
Richards was removed after allowing one run and four hits in five innings, striking out four and walking none on 63 pitches, 45 for strikes. He threw 52 pitches in 3 1/3 innings in his return from the disabled list on Sept. 5 against the Oakland A's.
"Garrett just had really good command of everything, very pitch-efficient and he used all his pitches, pitched on both sides of the plate," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's a great five innings from Garrett."
NOTES: Astros RHP Collin McHugh played catch for the first time since leaving after three innings Friday against the Oakland A's because of a fingernail injury. He had no setbacks, but he will miss his next scheduled start Thursday at the Angels. ... The Kansas City Royals claimed RHP Mike Morin off waivers from the Angels, who designated him for assignment when RHP Garrett Richards came off the disabled list last week. ... Angels 2B Brandon Phillips came in 0-for-15 this season against the Astros before his double off RHP Justin Verlander in the first inning.
Updated September 13, 2017