The Houston Astros paid the cost for a pair of ninth-inning dustups on Sunday and Monday, with the latter fracas resulting in the suspensions of manager Dusty Baker and reliever Hector Neris.
In need of a stabilizing force in the middle game of a three-game set against the visiting Seattle Mariners, Houston found it in the form of veteran right-hander Justin Verlander, who produced seven strong innings with a season-high 12 strikeouts in the Astros’ 4-1 victory on Tuesday.
Swept up by emotion against the Kansas City Royals and Mariners in back-to-back games, the Astros relied on Verlander to provide a semblance of normalcy. For him, that meant dominance.
“There was an urgency for us to go out there and compete and win this game, and they did,” Astros bench coach and acting manager Joe Espada said. “And it starts with that horse on the mound.
“I have a front seat to one of the best competitors I have ever seen in my life. This guy, how he prepares every single day, I get to enjoy how serious he is about his work. And then he knows how big this game was for us. Even though it’s June, he knows the importance of us going out there and winning this game. And he posts every single day.”
Right-hander Jose Urquidy (5-2, 4.76 ERA) will start the rubber match for the Astros on Wednesday. He has won three of his past four starts despite posting a 5.24 ERA and .939 opponent OPS with five home runs allowed over 22 1/3 innings. Urquidy has walked just four batters in that span but has yielded 35 hits. Still, he has suffered only one loss over his last eight starts and earned the victory in his previous outing when he allowed three runs on five hits and one walk with six strikeouts over six innings in a 10-3 road win over the Royals on June 3.
Urquidy is 1-2 with a 5.93 ERA over six career appearances (five starts) against the Mariners. Both of his losses this season have come against Seattle, with Urquidy pitching to an 11.42 ERA and 2.654 WHIP while allowing 12 runs (11 earned) on 20 hits and three walks over 8 2/3 innings.
Right-hander Logan Gilbert (5-2, 2.22) has the starting assignment for the Mariners on Wednesday. The American League Pitcher of the Month for April, Gilbert ranks sixth in the AL in ERA. He did not factor into the decision in his last start after allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in six innings in the Mariners’ 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers on June 3, snapping a career-best streak of starts with at least seven innings pitched at three.
Gilbert is 1-1 with a 4.71 ERA over four career starts against the Astros. He tossed seven shutout innings against Houston on May 28, allowing four hits with five strikeouts in a 6-0 win.
By taking the series opener, the Mariners remain in position to claim their fourth consecutive series with a victory in the finale. The loss on Tuesday came without any drama, a welcome turn of events following the histrionics in the opener, which resulted in Mariners manager Scott Servais being fined an undisclosed amount for actions that contributed to the incident.
“Things happen in the course of a game,” Servais said. “Players do things and we all react and get tied up in the emotion of things. No issues and it’s over.”
–Field Level Media