HOUSTON (AP) — Justin Verlander continued his strong September with another dominating outing Sunday.
Verlander struck out 11 in seven solid innings and the Houston Astros extended their AL West edge, topping the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-4.
“Certainly, in the last couple of months this is his best start,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s had some pretty good ones as an Astro. When he comes out and sets that kind of tone and gets those swings and misses and the strikeouts it’s a pretty special day for us.”
The Astros lead Oakland by 4½ games in the division race. Arizona is 4½ games behind in the NL West and four back for the second NL wild card.
Verlander (16-9) allowed one run on three hits.
“I just felt good,” Verlander said. “I had good control of the fastball. Mechanics felt in line; timing felt good. I was able to execute pretty well today.”
He matched his career high for strikeouts in a season with 269 — he passed teammate Gerrit Cole, who has 260, for most in the AL. Verlander also surpassed 200 innings for the 11th time in his career.
Verlander hasn’t given up more than two runs in any of his three September starts.
Hinch said it all started with Verlander’s fastball Sunday.
“His fastball starts everything off because then they have to really cheat to get to his fastball, and when they do that it opens up all sorts of opportunities for the secondary pitches,” Hinch said. “But it all starts off his fastball. He has good hand speed, he has good direction. He finishes that fastball and then all of a sudden, the breaking ball comes along with it. He had a lot of weapons to go to.”
Zack Greinke (14-10) allowed four runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. Greinke has permitted at least three runs in four straight outings.
“Really good for the most part,” Greinke said. “The last inning wasn’t that great. Just trouble getting them to strikeout. Just a lot of balls in play and that put a lot of pressure on the defense. Wasn’t perfect but felt really good. They battled like a really good team would do.”
Tyler White hit a two-out, RBI double in the sixth to give the Astros a 2-1 lead.
Josh Reddick led off the seventh with a home run and Jose Altuve hit an RBI single later in the inning. Martin Maldonado’s single in the eighth extended the lead to 5-1.
“The thing that makes him so good is that he nibbles,” Reddick said of Greinke. “He doesn’t really leave too many pitches over the middle of the plate, so when he does, you can’t miss them. We did a great job of that early on, not letting him get too far ahead of us. I think we came out and ambushed his fastball before he got to his offspeed stuff. I think that set the tone really well for us, but after that, we waited for him to go over the plate.”
The Diamondbacks scored three times in the ninth after Collin McHugh walked David Peralta and Paul Goldschmidt singled with one out. Eduardo Escobar had a sacrifice fly and Daniel Descalso hit a two-run homer off Roberto Osuna.
Osuna struck out Ketel Marte to end it for his 18th save.
“I was really proud of these guys for fighting through what were some difficult circumstances there in the ninth inning,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “Their closer comes in, he’s got a really nice track record, but we didn’t shut down. There was a lot of good talk in the dugout about grinding away and fighting. You could see what happens when a couple of runners get on base, we just fell a little short.”
Peralta homered in the Arizona sixth.
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