By the time Justin Verlander made his way to the mound on Tuesday evening, Houston was almost incontinent with expectation. This was due in part to the fact that the moment in question did not occur until approximately 9:30 p.m. local time, at which point the cable channels are typically awash in catheter commercials, and for good reason. The late start came courtesy the Seattle Mariners, who insist on beginning their games at such an ungodly hour, thereby preventing much of the rest of the country from seeing how they play, which is a very good thing if you are the Seattle Mariners.
Still, the home team did not play badly at Safeco Field. They played weirdly, but not badly. Then again, so did the Astros, although in their case a certain loopiness was to be expected, the team having played four games in three days in two time zones. Accordingly, their bats fell deadly silent for most of the contest. That the ‘Stros had not a single hit until the seventh inning (aka hours after you went to bed) and only two hits overall, will likely leave you with the impression that the team lost last night’s contest. Such is not the case. That first hit was a two-run homer, after all, and by Cameron Maybin, a feat all the more impressive for having been accomplished at what felt like 4:30 in the morning. That, along with an earlier sacrifice fly by Alex Bregman (sometime before midnight?), left the Astros’ run production at three for the night. Luckily, the hapless Mariners managed just one, and so it was that Houston clocked its 85th victory of the season, sometime before dawn.
Actually, Seattle’s failures had little to do with luck and everything to do with Justin Verlander. Of late, we’d begun to doubt that an Astros starter could throw 90 fine pitches in a game, but then the team decamped to the Pacific Northwest and Dallas Keuchel did just that, pitching seven very fine innings on Monday night, and the ‘Stros, not coincidentally, notched their 84th win by a score of 6-2. Despite lasting only six innings, Verlander would hurl 103 pitches, none of them better than the last five he sent screaming by the Mariners’ final batter, right-fielder Mitch Haniger.
Those final pitches were all just shy of 100 mph, among the fastest Verlander threw all evening. It was a virtuosic finale, yes, and one we would have found perplexing on any other day. (How could JV have summoned the strength?) As it was, the feat seemed of a piece with a game in which a starting pitcher was removed despite having given up not a single hit (Ariel Miranda), Verlander got a 103-mph beaning from a hitter and emerged unfazed (Robinson Cano) and a team that was slumping till very recently—courtesy anemic hitting, weak hitting and a hurricane—suddenly found itself with six wins in a row. (Go Astros!)