What was evident over the final two innings of their 2-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday was the Houston Astros' desire to maintain momentum, even at the cost of sound thinking.
Two critical baserunning blunders undermined the Astros in support of another brilliant effort from right-hander Justin Verlander, who allowed two solo home runs while posting 11 strikeouts in a 99-pitch complete game. Houston -- now 17-3 over its last 20 home games -- could have clinched the series with a win, but have another shot at claiming the four-game set Thursday.
"I don't fault those guys at all," Verlander told reporters of his teammates. "They are playing hard, and I am sure they are upset at themselves. As long as someone is playing hard, I don't think anybody takes offense at the effort."
Right-hander Gerrit Cole (14-5, 2.87 ERA) will start for the Astros on Thursday, returning to the rotation after missing his previous start with right hamstring discomfort.
Cole is in the midst of his best stretch as a professional, going 10-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 126 strikeouts over 14 starts and 91 innings. The American League Pitcher of the Month for June and July, Cole is 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA over six career starts against the Tigers.
He recorded 17 strikeouts over 10 2/3 innings while winning both of his starts against Detroit last season, posting a 2.53 ERA in the process.
Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (1-8, 6.66 ERA) will start the finale as Detroit tries to earn a series split. He did not factor into the decision in his prior start Aug, 17 at Tampa Bay after allowing one hit with five strikeouts over five scoreless innings.
Zimmermann has faced Houston eight times in his career and is 2-4 with a 3.51 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings in those starts. He took the loss in his previous outing against the Astros, allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits and one walk with three strikeouts over five innings on Sept. 11, 2018.
In five career starts at Minute Maid Park, Zimmermann is 2/3 with a 3.34 ERA.
The Tigers showcased an attentiveness that manager Ron Gardenhire appreciated in closing out their victory over the Astros Wednesday, executing an inning-ending double play in the eighth before cutting down catcher Robinson Chirinos at third base to seal the win in the ninth.
Both plays required great execution, with shortstop Jordy Mercer, first baseman Ronny Rodriguez and third baseman Dawel Lugo eliminating Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve in a 1-1 game in the eighth inning. In the ninth, Lugo received the relay throw from second baseman Gordon Beckham to erase Chinos and end the game when Chirinos attempted to stretch a two-out double to center into a triple.
"Those are the things we've kind of struggled through," Gardenhire said. "We work on them a lot, we talk about them a lot and in a game like that, it's nice to see. We made two big plays, and hopefully, they'll think about that and realize how important it is to catch the ball, throw the ball to the cutoff man and do it right. And they did it (Wednesday) and it worked out really great."
--Field Level Media
Astros look to rebound, win series from Tigers
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