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HOUSTON (AP) — As Houston's Justin Verlander flirted with a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox, he took a moment to scan the seats behind home plate to see whether childhood idol Nolan Ryan, who threw a record seven no-hitters, was watching from his usual seat behind the plate.
After throwing two no-hitters in his career, Verlander thought to himself that it would be "pretty cool" if Ryan was there to see it if he joined him in the exclusive group of players who have tossed at least three.
Ryan was at the game, but it wasn't to be.
"I screwed it up," Verlander said with a laugh.
Verlander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and struck out a season-high 12 to lead the Astros to a 5-1 win over the White Sox.
Verlander (8-1), who said his slider was his best pitch Tuesday night, was in control from the first pitch, allowing one hit and walking one in eight innings for his fourth straight win and the seventh in eight starts. The only hit off him came when Jose Abreu sent the first pitch of his at-bat just over the wall and out of reach of a leaping Jake Marisnick in straightaway center field with one out in the seventh to cut the lead to 5-1.
"My thought was if Jake catches this, it's over. I'm going to get it," Verlander said. "Sure enough it went over. He had a great effort at it (but) I was pretty confident that that ball was going to be a home run unless a miracle happened."
It was Abreu's sixth career off of Verlander.
"We all know the kind of pitcher that he is," Abreu said in Spanish through a translator. "He has all of my respect. He's one of the best. In that at-bat I just went in there trying to make hard contact if possible. I am happy that I was able to do it."
Yuli Gurriel hit a solo homer off Dylan Covey (0-3) in the fourth inning to give the Astros home runs in 18 straight games, tying the second-longest streak in franchise history.
Verlander, who threw no-hitters in 2007 and 2011, retired his first five batters with three strikeouts before walking Yonder Alonso with two outs in the second. But he got right back on track, sitting down Tim Anderson to end the inning.
He needed just 11 pitches to strike out the side in the third inning and fanned two in the fourth. He struck out one in the fifth and one more in the sixth after a long layoff after the Astros sent eight hitters to the plate in the bottom of their four-run fifth.
Yoán Moncada struck out to start the seventh before Abreu's homer. Verlander received a hearty ovation after ending his night with a perfect eighth before Hector Rondon took over for the ninth and finished the one-hitter.
"He was all over the strike zone, wherever he wanted to go he could go," manager AJ Hinch said. "Everything from swing-and-miss to getting into counts and really one pitch the entire night where he yanked down to Abreu and Abreu hit a ball out of the ball park. An incredible night for a guy who's fun to watch pitch."
Houston, a big league-best 33-16, won for the 12th time in 13 games overall and ninth in a row over the White Sox.
Tuesday's performance was the latest in a string of dominant starts for the 36-year-old Verlander. He's allowed just two runs and four hits while striking out 29 combined in his last three starts spanning 22 innings.
Hinch was asked where his recent work ranks in his time in Houston. Verlander is in his second full season with the Astros after a trade from Detroit late in the 2017 season.
"He's been really good so I don't know if I can put it all together in a three-outing run but I'm just glad he's ours," Hinch said. "I'm glad every five days we've got him out there pitching at an elite level. When that happens we know we can win. Where that fits in with his Astro tenure so far, I have no idea."
Covey allowed four hits, walked four and allowed four runs in four-plus innings.
Houston loaded the bases on three straight walks with no outs in the fifth, and Tony Kemp scored on a wild pitch by Aaron Bummer to make it 2-0. Alex Bregman walked before Michael Brantley scored two with a double. A single by Correa scored Bregman to extend the lead to 5-0.
Astros: Houston placed RHP Collin McHugh on the 10-day IL with discomfort in his right elbow, retroactive to Saturday. Hinch said the team doesn't think the problem is serious and expects his stay on the IL to be short. ... 2B Jose Altuve (strained left hamstring) continues to increase his activity and could begin a rehabilitation assignment in the next few days. ... OF George Springer, who left Sunday's game with stiffness in his lower back, missed his second straight game.
THEY SAID IT
White Sox manager Rick Renteria on Verlander dominating his team on Tuesday night: "Against a former Cy Young Award winner, I think they did everything they could possibly against this guy. He was that good tonight."
White Sox: RHP Iván Nova (2-4, 7.42) will start for Chicago on Wednesday night. Nova will try and bounce back after yielding eight hits and nine runs in three innings of a 10-2 loss to Toronto in his last start.
Astros: RHP Gerrit Cole (4-4, 3.56) is scheduled to start for Houston when the series continues Wednesday. Cole, who leads the majors with 93 strikeouts, struck out seven in five scoreless innings of Houston's 3-1 win over Boston in his last start.
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