HOUSTON (AP) — Houston’s Justin Verlander was bracing for a pitcher’s duel as he prepared to face former teammate Charlie Morton and the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.
Turned out quite differently than Verlander had imagined.
Rookie Yordan Alvarez homered twice as Houston jumped on Morton to build a big lead before Verlander was ejected in the sixth inning of the Astros’ 15-1 win.
“It was the last thing I expected with Charlie on the mound,” Verlander said. “But it was a pleasant surprise. At that point I was just trying to get as deep as I could in the ballgame. Unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
The Astros honored Morton (13-6) with a pregame video recounting the highlights of his two-year stint with the team. Morton, who won Game 7 of the AL Championship Series and Game 7 of the World Series in 2017 to help Houston to its first title, tipped his cap after receiving a standing ovation following the tribute.
Houston’s hitters didn’t give Morton nearly as warm of a reception in his first trip to Minute Maid Park since signing with the Rays. The Astros tagged him for seven hits and a season-high six runs in four innings, which tied his shortest start this season.
“They got me with that one, and then they took it to me on the mound,” Morton said with a laugh, referring to the video.
Verlander’s ejection came with the Astros up 9-0 when he thought he struck out Tommy Pham. Instead the pitch was called a ball, and the right-hander yelled something to home plate umpire Pat Hoberg.
Pham then doubled to center on Verlander’s next pitch. Verlander then yelled at Hoberg at least three times before he threw him out just as Pham reached second base. Verlander continued to jaw at Hoberg while he walked off the field and after he reached the dugout.
Verlander didn’t believe his ejection was warranted.
“My back was turned. I guess he heard what I said,” Verlander said. “I could have cleaned up the language a little bit but it wasn’t toward him, it was toward my opinion of the call and he took exception to that.”
Verlander (16-5) allowed four hits and struck out four in 5 1/3 innings while lowering his ERA to an AL-leading 2.69. His early exit helped end a streak of seven straight games with double-digit strikeouts. But Verlander, who leads the majors with 243 strikeouts, stayed around long enough to collect his 16th win, which ranks second in the big leagues.
“I’m not sure he made hardly any mistakes,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I told him not to let the last inning ruin his day. I thought he threw a great game.”
It was a much different performance than Verlander’s previous start, when he threw a two-hitter in a 2-1 loss to the Tigers.
After that start, the Astros denied a newspaper reporter access to the clubhouse until after Verlander finished his postgame session with the media, and he later tweeted that he didn’t want to speak to the reporter because of unspecified “unethical behavior in the past.”
Against the Rays, the Astros kept piling on after the early onslaught against Morton. The first of Alvarez’s two homers was a three-run shot in the fifth, and Jake Marisnick knocked in two runs with a single in a five-run sixth.
Tampa Bay put third baseman Michael Brosseau on the mound in the seventh, and Alvarez hit a solo shot with one out for his 21st homer.
The Rays got their only run on Joey Wendle’s first homer of the season in the seventh.
Rays: CF Kevin Kiermaier was out of the lineup with rib pain after being injured on Sunday. But manager Kevin Cash said he’s doing better and should be back in the lineup Wednesday. … RHP Tyler Glasnow (right forearm strain) will make a rehabilitation start for Class A Charlotte on Friday and is expected to make three or four appearances in the minors before rejoining the Rays. … LHP Blake Snell (arthroscopic elbow surgery) is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Friday for his first work on the mound since his operation.
Astros: RHP Josh James (right shoulder soreness) will pitch several innings for Triple-A Round Rock later this week. If that goes well, he could come off the injured list sometime next week.
THEY SAID IT
“It seems like every time Charlie threw a ball they could handle, they certainly did and made us pay for it.” — Cash on Morton’s outing.
Rays: LHP Ryan Yarbrough (11-3, 3.29 ERA) starts Wednesday night. Yarbrough allowed two runs — one earned — in 4 1/3 innings in his last start, but didn’t factor in the decision in Tampa Bay’s 5-2 win over Baltimore.
Astros: RHP Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.75 ERA) is scheduled to start Wednesday night. Cole struck out 12 in seven scoreless innings in his last start to win his 11th straight decision as the Astros beat Detroit 6-3.
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