ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The way the Houston Astros have been hitting, Justin Verlander certainly had a clear advantage going into a matchup against another three-time Cy Young Award winner.
Houston had already hit the first of its five homers and gone ahead to stay before Verlander even threw his first pitch against the Texas Rangers.
“As a starting pitcher, your job is to carry the momentum. Our offense made it pretty easy on us this series,” Verlander said.
José Abreu’s grand slam in the third inning was Houston’s third homer against Texas starter Max Scherzer, who was done soon after that, and Abreu added a three-run blast as the Astros went on for a 12-3 victory over the slumping Rangers on Wednesday night to complete a sweep in the pivotal three-game AL West series.
“It really wasn’t about making a statement. It was more about winning games and trying to get into first place,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You love to see your offense come alive like that. We got some good pitching performances. We played an excellent series.
The sweep put the reigning World Series champion Astros (80-61) in sole possession of the AL West lead for the first time all season, a game ahead of Seattle.
Houston hit 16 homers against the Rangers — its most ever in any three-game span — while outscoring them 39-10 in their final head-to-head matchup this regular season. Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley also went deep against Scherzer, and Houston tacked on two more homers in the ninth, with Chas McCormick going deep right after Abreu’s second long ball to match his career high with seven RBIs.
Marcus Semien hit two solo homers and had an RBI single to drive in all three runs for Texas (76-63), which lost for the 15th time in 19 games.
“Obviously, it was not a good series, wasn’t a lot we did well,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “We just didn’t execute pitches, left a lot up throughout the series and we paid for it. … They put it to us, and there’s no getting around that.”
After being alone or tied for first place 148 of the season’s first 149 days, the Rangers are third in the AL West, a season-high three games off the division lead. They also remained percentage points behind Toronto (77-63) for the AL’s third and final wild-card spot after the Blue Jays also lost.
It was the 12th regular-season meeting of pitchers with at least three Cy Youngs apiece, and first time ever that two-time teammates Verlander and Scherzer pitched against each other in a game. The right-handers were together with the Detroit Tigers from 2010-14, and this season with the New York Mets before both were traded right before the deadline to different AL West contenders.
The 40-year-old Verlander (11-7), whose 255 career victories are the most among active pitchers, scattered four hits and two runs over seven innings. He struck out six and walked one with the only earned run he allowed coming when Semien hit his first pitch in the second deck of seats in left field.
“Going against Max, obviously, you think is probably going to be a tight one,” Verlander said. ‘” was pleasantly surprised and pleased to get some runs early and was able to kind of settle in after Semien’s leadoff homer and just go to work.”
Scherzer (12-6) allowed a season-high seven runs, all on the homers, with four strikeouts and two walks while throwing 60 pitches over three innings. He threw one-hit ball over six scoreless innings against Minnesota five days earlier, but left after 88 pitches and later said he had some forearm tightness.
Scherzer said he was dealing with “just an ailment” and needed some rest. He will get an extra day before his next start in Toronto since the Rangers have an off day before then.
“I couldn’t get all the way through the ball, couldn’t explode through the ball,” Scherzer said. “I can go out there and compete. I went out there against Minnesota last time kind of with a similar issue and was able to compete and locate. … Today, just didn’t get it done and didn’t locate the ball well enough.”
After Scherzer began Wednesday by striking out Jose Altuve, who had homered five times in the previous two nights, Jeremy Pena hit a double off the top of the wall and Alvarez followed with his 25th homer a 2-0 lead. Brantley went deep in the second, a play on which All-Star right fielder Adolis Garcia got hurt after leaping at the wall to try to make a run-saving catch.
Garcia jammed his right leg hard after coming down to the ground, and left with knee discomfort. Bochy said the knee “was pretty sore” and that an MRI was planned Thursday.
Houston’s 10th grand slam of the season was a 425-foot drive to left-center in the third that made it 7-1.
“The slider to Abreu, it didn’t finish up,” Bochy said. “It stayed in the middle and that’s what really put the game away.”
The matchup of active career strikeout leaders Scherzer (3,365, 11th place overall) and Verlander (3,317, 13th place) was the first for starting pitchers both with at least 3,000 strikeouts since Boston’s Curt Schilling went against Roger Clemens of the New York Yankees on Sept. 16, 2007.
An off day Thursday for both teams. The Astros return home and open a three-game series against San Diego on Friday night, while Texas continues its nine-game homestand (1-5 so far) with the first of three games against Oakland.