Friday, May 27, 2022

Twins vs. Astros: Justin Verlander takes no-hitter into eighth inning as Houston wins eighth in a row

Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander fell five outs short of his fourth career no-hitter Tuesday night at Target Field. He lost the no-hit bid when Minnesota Twins third baseman Gio Urshela served a clean single to right field with one out in the eighth. Verlander finished with just the one hit allowed in eight shutout innings (HOU 5, MIN 0).

Here is Urshela’s history-ruining base hit:

Verlander faced the minimum 24 batters in his eight innings. He issued two walks in addition to Urshela’s single, and the three baserunners were erased on two double plays and a caught stealing. Verlander improved to 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA through six starts on the young season.

Here are four takeaways from Verlander’s near no-hit performance.

1. Houston’s defense was excellent

Verlander struck out five batters in his eight innings and he had a lots of help from his defense. The Astros made several stellar plays behind him, including a diving catch by Michael Brantley and a barehanded play by Alex Bregman. Check out the glovework:

Every no-hitter seem to have that one defensive play that saves the game. Had Verlander been able to complete it Tuesday, we could have pointed to no fewer than two plays that kept the no-hit bid alive. The Astros went into the game leading baseball in defensive runs saved (plus-22) and outs above average (plus-14). Good defense is the norm.

2. Verlander hasn’t lost anything

Watching him Tuesday night, it was easy to forget Verlander missed most of 2020 and all of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He returned this season at age 39 and hasn’t missed a beat. As noted, he lowered his ERA to 1.55 in six starts and 40 2/3 innings. His 25.4 percent strikeout rate is down a bit from his 30-plus-percent peak, but is still very good.

Verlander’s fastball sat at 94.7 mph and topped out at 96.1 mph Tuesday, and hitters missed with four of their 14 swings against his slider (29 percent). That’s pretty close to peak Verlander right there. Also, the case can be made Tuesday was not his best start of the season — Verlander struck out eight in eight shutout innings against the Mariners on April 16.

Given his age and the injury — yes, Tommy John surgery is considered routine, but it is a major procedure and not everyone makes it all the way — Verlander’s come back as well as he and the Astros could have reasonably hoped. Tuesday was only more evidence he can still be an impact starter on a World Series contender.

3. Verlander is still in an exclusive club

Although he did not finish the no-hitter Tuesday, Verlander remains one of only six pitchers in history with three career no-hitters. The other five: Bob Feller (three), Cy Young (three), Larry Corcoran (three), Sandy Koufax (four) and Nolan Ryan (seven). All except Corcoran are in the Hall of Fame. 

Verlander no-hit the Brewers (June 12, 2007) and Blue Jays (May 7, 2011) as a member of the Tigers, then he no-hit the Blue Jays again while with the Astros (Sept. 1, 2019). On Aug. 26, 2015, Verlander lost a no-hitter in the ninth inning against the Angels.

4. The Astros are red hot

Oh by the way, the defending American League champions have won eight straight games to move to within one game of the AL West leading Angels. The Astros are 19-11 with a plus-21 run differential on the season. They are 12-2 in their last 14 games.

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