MINNEAPOLIS — After two frustrating years, Astros ace Justin Verlander was uncertain about his baseball future. The two-time Cy Young Award winner pitched just one game in 2020 and 2021 combined, missing all of last season following Tommy John surgery.
Verlander is back to his old self — just like that guy with all those no-hitters.
Verlander missed out on his fourth no-no by five outs because of a former Yankee but still faced the minimum through eight innings, and Houston beat the Minnesota Twins 5-0 Tuesday night for its eighth straight win.
“Having the game possibly yanked out from underneath you makes me appreciate being here, playing with my teammates, pitching well, all of that,” Verlander said.
Twins third baseman Gio Urshela singled to right field with one out in the eighth to end Verlander’s bid. The 39-year-old right-hander, in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, finished the inning by getting Royce Lewis to ground into a double play.
Verlander was vying to tie Sandy Koufax for second on the career no-hitter list. Nolan Ryan holds the record with seven.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been here many times before and had it happen. I’ve had a few heartbreaking ones in the ninth inning,” Verlander said. “This one I think it’s just one of those you appreciate that it was a good outing and gave us a chance to win, and we did that.”
Tuesday’s outing moved Verlander to 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA through six starts to continue his stellar start to the 2022 season.
“The guy’s a horse,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “When he pitches, the guys stay alert. He gets the ball quickly. He doesn’t mess around on the mound, so you keep the defense sharp when you do that.”
Verlander struck out five and walked two on 89 pitches. Blake Taylor pitched the ninth for Houston.
Baker said Verlander was on a 90-pitch limit but added they might have extended that had Verlander got through eight no-hit innings.
Verlander was perfect through four innings before allowing a leadoff walk to Jorge Polanco in the fifth. Verlander got Urshela to tap into a double play one pitch later to retire Polanco.
The right-hander walked Minnesota’s No. 9 hitter, Gilberto Celestino, in the sixth, but Celestino was later thrown out at second base by catcher Martín Maldonado — one of several solid defensive plays backing Verlander’s performance.
“The no-hitter was getting kind of deep in the game and he was able to make a great play, spin and throw the guy out at second trying to advance,” Verlander said of Maldonado. “Really, his job behind the plate was fantastic.”
Jeremy Peña drove in the first two runs for the Astros. Alex Bregman also had two RBIs, including a double to left in the fifth that drove in Jose Altuve.
Minnesota Twins starter Joe Ryan (3-2) struggled to find the strike zone. The right-hander issued a walk in each of his five innings and allowed four runs.