Brad Ausmus managed Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander for parts of four seasons with the Detroit Tigers. This was the fallow portion of Verlander’s career, the years earlier this decade when his health and effectiveness raised doubts. And even so, Ausmus watched Verlander make an All-Star team in one season and finish second in American League Cy Young voting in another.
“Great competitor, great pitcher, and you know you’re in for a battle,” Ausmus said after a 5-4 Angels victory on Friday night at Minute Maid Park. “With that being said, I haven’t come across any pitcher who’s pitched in the big leagues for any length of time who’s unbeatable. You will find most of them have losses. Really the frame of mind is, yeah, it’s going to be tough, but nobody is unbeatable.”
On Tuesday night in Cleveland, Verlander might start the All-Star game for the American League. On the first evening of this last series before the break, the Angels (45-44) still tagged him for three home runs and held on for the victory. The trio of Kole Calhoun, Shohei Ohtani and Andrelton Simmons all took Verlander deep. Mike Trout added an eighth-inning solo shot as insurance, a tally which proved crucial when Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel clubbed a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning off reliever Cam Bedrosian.
In this season of heightened offense and suspect baseballs, no pitcher has been victimized by the home run more than Verlander. He has yielded 26 this season, the most in the sport. He has still maintained a 2.98 earned-run average. But the Angels have now dinged him for three homers the last two times they have seen him.
The barrage against Verlander (10-4) began with the Angels in a deficit. After a clean opening inning from Noe Ramirez, Ausmus handed the baseball to Felix Pena for the second. He dumped the Angels into a hole on his third pitch. It was a changeup that floated over the center of the plate, and Astros outfielder Michael Brantley ripped the baseball over the right-field fence for a solo shot.
Pena (6-2) settled down and allowed no further damage across four innings. The Angels jolted Verlander in response in the third. A one-out single by outfielder David Fletcher set the table for Calhoun. Calhoun hammered a first-pitch fastball into the right-field seats to put the Angels ahead. The lead was extended two batters later.
Ohtani had struck out in his first at-bat, waving at an 0-2 curveball that dove beyond his reach. He had better luck his second time up. Ohtani crushed a 95-mph fastball to center for his 13th home run of the season. He created a present for himself on this, his 25th birthday.
“Shohei is a very smart hitter,” Ausmus said. “He may only be 25 today, but he is a very intelligent hitter and a very prepared hitter.”
The Astros shaved a run off the lead in the fourth, conjuring a rally with doubles from Brantley and rookie Yadier Alvarez. Simmons answered in the sixth. Verlander hung a slider. Simmons hooked into the welcoming porch of the Crawford Boxes in left to push the lead back to two.
The two sides traded homers in the eighth. The flurry against Verlander held up.
“It was a big win for us, especially coming off a couple wins in Texas,” Trout said.