HOUSTON – After collecting his MLB-leading 12th win Saturday, Justin Verlander wasn't ready to reflect on how far he's come this season.
But the 39-year-old did take a moment to note how his almost two-year absence from the game after Tommy John surgery has made him appreciate his success a bit more.
“I’ve said the word perspective here a lot, and I don’t take it for granted," he said. “I think in the past I took a lot of things for granted, my health and some success when I was young, certainly not since I’ve been an Astro. But I think age and going through some stuff, has a way to help you grow up and realize some real positives that maybe you wouldn’t have taken a moment to realize before."
Verlander struck out 10 in six sharp innings and the Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 5-0.
Martín Maldonado hit a second-inning grand slam as the AL West-leading Astros bounced back after a 5-1 loss in the series opener Friday night. The A's actually outhit Houston 7-6, but had little to show for it.
Verlander (12-3) allowed six hits without a walk and lowered his ERA to 1.89, which ranks third in the majors. Phil Maton, Hector Neris and Bryan Abreu each pitched a scoreless inning to complete the shutout against the team with the AL's worst record.
Verlander, who leads all active players in strikeouts, now has 3,121 in his career, moving him past Curt Schilling (3,116) and Bob Gibson (3,117) into 14th place on the all-time list.
He was selected to his ninth All-Star game and will attend next week’s festivities in Los Angeles but will not pitch in Tuesday’s game after throwing 106 pitches Saturday.
“He has that inner drive that you can’t really teach somebody, especially with a guy that’s had the success that he’s had," manager Dusty Baker said. “A lot of people would have just called it in but this guy, he loves to pitch and he loves to compete. We’re glad that he’s put in the time and effort and glad that we’ve got him back."
Added catcher Maldonado: “That guy, I feel like he’s 25 years old."
Verlander laughed when told of Maldonado's assessment of him.
“I appreciate it," he said. “There’s a lot of hard work that goes into trying to fight the good fight and rage against the dying of the light as long as possible. And I’ll continue to do that as long as I possibly can."
Five of the six hits Verlander allowed were singles and the only time the Athletics got more than one hit in an inning came when Dermis Garcia and Nick Allen hit consecutive singles to start the fifth. But Vimael Machín grounded into a double play before Verlander retired Ramón Laureano to end the threat.
“That’s classic Justin," Oakland manager Mark Kotsay said. “Life on the fastball and he threw a lot of breaking balls today."
Houston second baseman Jose Altuve was in the lineup at designated hitter after missing Friday’s game dealing with soreness after being hit by a pitch in the left knee Thursday. Altuve said he was still sore Saturday and would not participate in the All-Star game because of the injury.
There were two outs in the second when Yuli Gurriel and Jake Meyers hit consecutive singles before Chas McCormick walked to load the bases.
Maldonado then connected off rookie Jared Koenig (1-3) for his third career grand slam on a shot to center field to make it 4-0.
Aledmys Díaz walked to start Houston’s fourth and Gurriel singled, setting up an RBI single by McCormick.
Koenig yielded six hits and five runs in a career-high seven innings for his third loss in five starts this season.
“The second inning kind of blew up, but after that he settled down," Kotsay said. “Just one bad inning."
Astros: RHP Lance McCullers Jr., who has been out all season with a right forearm strain, said he felt good after throwing about 40 pitches in a two-inning simulated game Saturday. The team hasn’t determined his next step, but he could begin a rehabilitation assignment soon. “This is like the end of my rehab,” he said. “This is that end point, the end of the tunnel for where we feel like we were hoping to be by this point in the calendar. That’s a good thing. As far as my next step, I have to wait and speak to the training staff and the Astros.”
Houston’s Jake Odorizzi (4-2, 3.38) is scheduled to start in the series finale Sunday. The Athletics have yet to name a starter.
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