By JOSHUA KOCH
HOUSTON (AP) — Justin Verlander earned his major league-leading eighth win, Jeremy Peña and Jose Altuve homered and the Houston Astros snapped their three-game losing streak with a 9-4 victory over the Miami Marlins on Sunday.
“I’m happy that we ended this losing streak,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Sometimes it can get a life of its own and turn into a monster. So, that was a big monkey off our backs.”
Verlander (8-2) set down the first 10 batters he faced before giving up a flare single into shallow right field in the fourth inning.
Verlander gave up four unearned runs and three hits, walked one and struck out five in seven innings, lowering his ERA to 1.94. This was Verlander’s first career win against Miami and third straight start to go seven innings.
“When one of these streaks inevitably happens throughout the season — it always does — if and when it falls on your shoulders, you hope you’re the guy who’s able to stop it,” Verlander said. “I wouldn’t say it was all me today by any standard, but we were able to get it done.”
Houston had been 3 for 35 with runners in scoring position during the series and pushed across just two runs over the previous 12 innings before breaking out in the fourth.
Leading 1-0 off a first-inning RBI groundout from Michael Brantley, the Astros got a jolt when Peña crushed a first-pitch curveball off Miami starter Edward Cabrera for a two-run homer.
Houston tacked on two more runs in the fourth on Brantley’s RBI fielder’s choice and an RBI single from Yordan Alvarez, making it 5-0. Brantley finished 1 for 4 with two RBIs.
“Obviously, the game is about scoring runs, especially to score early and give Justin the lead and take some pressure off the offense,” Brantley said. “At the same time, I have a lot of trust in each of these guys in this locker room on how they prepare and how they work. So, it was a tough game but glad we got the win tonight.”
Cabrera (2-1), who had given up just one earned run and three hits in the first two starts of the season, was tagged by Houston for five runs on seven hits, while walking three and striking out two in 3 2/3 innings. This was his shortest outing of the season.
“I thought Edward was opposite of everything he’s been so far,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He was behind in counts, not attacking. Not that he wasn’t trying to attack, he just wasn’t throwing strikes with his stuff and forcing those guys to swing their bats.”
After six scoreless innings, Verlander struggled in the seventh, giving up all four runs, with a three-run homer by Bryan De La Cruz pulling the Marlins within one at 5-4.
In the eighth, Altuve’s 12th home run of the year gave the Astros some late-game insurance, a three-run shot to left field making it 8-4. Alvarez drove in his second run of the game with a sacrifice fly, pushing the lead to 9-4.
“I’m glad Jose Altuve gave us those insurance runs,” Baker said. “That was huge, because they had some guys coming up that can reach the fences.”
The nine runs scored by the Astros are the most since a 10-3 win over Kansas City on June 3.
Kyle Tucker extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a line drive to left field in the seventh inning.
Marlins: Avisail Garcia (left hand inflammation) was scratched from the Miami starting lineup just minutes prior to the first pitch of the game. Garcia was slated to play right field and bat sixth.
Astros: RHP Jake Odorizzi (left leg tendon strain) and LHP Lance McCullers Jr. (flexor tendon) both participated in their first pitchers’ fielding practice (PFP) prior to Sunday’s game at Minute Maid Park. Odorizzi said his leg is “still a little sore” but the PFP “went well and the movement was good”. Baker described this step of the process as the “final hurdle” before penciling Odorizzi in for a rehab assignment.
Marlins: Miami continues its 10-game road trip in Philadelphia on Monday. Marlins RHP Sandy Alcantara (6-2, 1.61 ERA) is slated to face RHP Aaron Nola (4-4, 3.50 ERA) in the series opener.
Astros: Houston opens a three-game road trip against Texas on Monday as RHP Christian Javier (3-3, 3.22) takes on Rangers LHP Taylor Hearn (4-4, 5.40 ERA).