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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Justin Verlander hadn't earned a win in the past six starts of his All-Star season. George Springer hadn't homered or contributed many game-changing hits in the last month.
Those are the closest things to crises in the charmed world of the Houston Astros, and the two stars dramatically ended their droughts in another blowout.
Springer hit a grand slam while the Astros batted around in the sixth inning, and Verlander ended his winless skid with 11 strikeouts over six dominant innings in Houston's 7-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night.
Just about everything clicked for the defending World Series champions in their fourth win in five games, extending the second-best start in franchise history to 66-35. Houston earned its 10th shutout victory of the season, matching Boston for the AL lead.
Four batters after Josh Reddick homered to lead off the sixth, Springer delivered his fifth career grand slam on a full count against reliever Noe Ramirez. Springer had driven in only five runs in his previous 24 games.
"That's obviously big for our momentum," said Springer, who hit his homer with the same bat he used to get a hit at the All-Star Game in Washington. "You could feel the wind come out of the stadium."
Verlander (10-5) yielded five hits while getting ample support in his third win over Los Angeles already this season. He has thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings over his last three starts at Angel Stadium, including a five-hit shutout on May 16.
"I like the aesthetic of pitching here," Verlander said.
Verlander leaned heavily on his fastball, including a 99-mph dart in the fourth to strike out Ian Kinsler, his longtime teammate in Detroit, with two runners on. Kinsler is impressed by the continuing excellence of his fellow 30-something veteran.
"He's been pretty fastball-dominant this year, and he's got a good fastball and he uses it well," Kinsler said.
Verlander hadn't won since June 14 despite setting career bests for strikeouts, ERA and opponents' batting average before the break. The All-Star right-hander walked two and allowed just one runner to reach third base.
While pitching victories are often considered an antiquated, misleading statistic, they matter to Verlander and many other starters.
"We play this game for wins, man," he said. "You can say all you want — you did your job, kept your team in the game, yada yada — but it's nice to get a win."
Shohei Ohtani had two doubles as the Angels (49-50) dropped below .500 for the first time since the season opener. Los Angeles has scored one run in the first 18 innings after the break in what's looking like yet another lost season for a big-budget franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since 2009.
Mike Trout went 0 for 2 with two walks, leaving him hitless in three consecutive games for only the second time in two months.
Ohtani had multiple extra-base hits for the third time in his rookie season. His fourth-inning double was the Halos' only extra-base hit off Verlander. The Japanese two-way sensation doubled again in the ninth against Tony Sipp, boosting his average to .283. He has five extra-base hits in 13 games since returning from the disabled list.
"He's got a really quick bat, and we saw that today on some good pitches inside," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's got a lot of strength in his bat, and he's a tough out when he gets into good counts. Looks like he's got the pull extra-base hit down pat. We have our hands full when he's up to bat."
Nick Tropeano (3-5) pitched five innings of two-hit ball in his return from injury. Tropeano walked four and recorded five strikeouts in his first start since June 10. The former Astros prospect missed the past 31 games with right shoulder inflammation, spending his second stretch on the disabled list this season.
Los Angeles committed three errors for only the second time this season. Even Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons misplayed an easy grounder from Marwin Gonzalez, who eventually scored Houston's second run in the fourth inning on Tony Kemp's double.
Ohtani played catch in the outfield for the third straight day as he continues a deliberate throwing progression. He hasn't pitched since June 6 due to a sprained elbow ligament, but the Halos are hopeful he'll be back on the mound this season.
Astros: Lance McCullers Jr. (10-4, 3.77 ERA) hopes to return to his dominant June form after one mediocre start before the break. He has 119 strikeouts in 112 1/3 innings.
Angels: Andrew Heaney (5-6, 3.78 ERA) will match his career high with his 18th start already this season. He pitched eight innings of four-hit ball in May to beat the Astros for the first time.
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