The Houston Astros and their ace – Justin Verlander – are in postseason form.
Verlander threw five scoreless innings, striking out 10 without allowing a hit as Houston blanked the Philadelphia Phillies 10-0 Tuesday night.
Astros manager Dusty Baker pulled Verlander after 77 pitches, allowing his bullpen to complete the shutout. The bullpen did not allow a hit until the ninth inning, ending Houston’s bid for a combined no-hitter.
In his final regular-season start, Verlander put the finishing touches on his bid to become a three-time CY Young winner, completing a dazzling regular season after missing the entire 2021 season with an injury.
"To me, this is maybe not what was supposed to happen, but what I expected to happen," Verlander said. "I didn't know exactly how good the season would be, but I thought I would be me when I'm healthy, which is usually pretty good."
With the win, Verlander finishes the regular season with a record of 18-4 (the most wins in the American League) and an ERA of 1.75 (the lowest ERA in Major League Baseball). It is the lowest ERA of Verlander’s career, topping his ERA in 2011 when he won his first CY Young award.
It has been an amazing turnaround for Verlander, who missed most of the 2020 season and the entire 2021 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
"It's great to have him on the mound," Baker said. "The team's excited, the fans are excited, I think baseball is excited when he's on the mound on a national stage like that. He's some pitcher."
The Astros have rolled to the division title in the AL West and will enter the playoffs as the top seed in the American League.
For Verlander, it is the second time this season that he has been pulled from a start before allowing a hit. However, regular season stats are not the ultimate goal for the nine-time All-Star.
"I wouldn't be who I am or in this position now if I just was happy with where I finish the regular season. ... I'm already trying to prepare myself for the postseason and get ready for that," Verlander said. "But at the same time, I see the numbers, I know how good they are, and I do appreciate it."
Phillies catcher Garrett Stubbs broke up Houston's no-hit bid to lead off the ninth inning, ending the bid for the third combined no-hitter in MLB this season.
"About the fifth inning you start thinking about it," Baker said of the possibility of a no-hitter. "You start counting the amount of outs. ... Everybody in our bullpen, the guys that came in, they wanted to be a part of it."
The Astros await the winner of the Seattle Mariners vs Toronto Blue Jays series.
The Associated Press contributed to this report