Vintage Verlander helps Astros pad wild-card lead


SEATTLE — Justin Verlander took a shutout into the ninth inning, allowing just three hits and working out of the one jam he faced, and the Houston Astros created some cushion in the American League playoff chase with a 5-1 win over the Seattle Mariners on Monday night.

Verlander was dominant with 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.

Rojas’ double snapped Verlander’s string of 16 straight batters retired, but the overall performance was exactly what the Astros needed after being swept at home over the weekend by Kansas City.

Verlander (12-8) struck out eight, walked one and threw 96 pitches as his outing helped give Houston a 1½ game lead over Seattle for the final wild card in the AL.

It was his 56th career game allowing no more than one earned run over eight-plus innings, which ties Cliff Lee for the fourth most such outings over the last 20 seasons behind only Félix Hernández (71), Clayton Kershaw (63) and Roy Halladay (57).

Seattle lost its fourth straight and for the seventh time in 10 games.

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 J.P. 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.

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 and allowed eight hits and five runs while striking out eight.

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 and Jose Altuve followed with an RBI single each and, in the span of six pitches, a scoreless game became a 3-0 Houston lead.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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