HOUSTON – Astros ace Justin Verlander struck back Tuesday night.
The Houston star, hit hard and often by the Mariners 11 days earlier, was back to his typical self, and that was bad news for the Mariners.
Verlander allowed one run over seven innings and struck out 12, outdueling Chris Flexen and leading Houston to a 4-1 victory over the Mariners at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros had to sweat it out in the eighth inning when former Mariner Rafael Montero walked the bases loaded with his team ahead 2-1. But he got out of the jam when former Astro Abraham Toro hit into a double play.
The escape act allowed Houston (36-20) to tie the three-game series, so the Mariners (25-31) will have to win Wednesday to win their fourth straight series.
It was the third time Verlander and Flexen squared off this season, with the Astros winning two of those games.
Verlander has been perhaps the best pitcher in baseball this season with the exception of one poor start – May 27 at T-Mobile Park when the Mariners hit four homers and scored six runs off him in six innings.
Flexen was the better pitcher that day, allowing one run in seven innings to get the win.
It was a different story in Houston in April, when Verlander allowed three hits in eight scoreless innings in a 4-0 win over the Mariners and Flexen.
The Mariners used an aggressive approach to beat Verlander in Seattle, hitting three of their homers on first pitches. Seattle had a similar approach Tuesday, but with a lot less success, starting in the first inning when Verlander retired the side in order on seven pitches.
Verlander cruised through the next two innings as well, but the Mariners strung three singles together in the fourth inning and it led to the game’s first run. With one out, J.P. Crawford hit a flare to left field, followed by Eugenio Suarez’s soft hit to shallow center and Adam Frazier’s line drive into right field.
That loaded the bases for Toro. He hit a slow grounder to Jose Altuve at second base. It was probably not going to be a double play, but Houston never got the chance to turn one as Frazier’s hard slide prevented Jeremy Pena from making a relay throw.
Flexen, who did not allow a hit in the first three innings, could not hold on to the lead for long. A well-placed bloop single by Kyle Tucker scored the tying run and a Jeremy Pena single through the middle made it 2-1 Houston.
Verlander kept that lead, ending his outing by getting five of his final six outs on strikeouts.
Flexen recovered nicely from the fourth inning, and pitched well enough to win on most nights. He pitched 6 2/3 innings and allowed the two earned runs on five hits and three walks. He struck out two.
The Mariners came a couple feet from leading in the eighth when Toro hit the first pitch he saw down the right-field line, but it hooked just foul. Instead of a double that might have cleared the bases, it was just a strike and later he hit into the double play.
Houston then got a pair of insurance runs on Yordan Alvarez’s two-run homer off Ryan Borucki, who joined the Mariners on the start of the road trip.
Even with the loss, the Mariners are 5-3 heading into the final game of this trip. A victory Wednesday would make a good trip a very good trip.