George Springer hit a career-high three homers, Justin Verlander posted his MLB-leading 20th win and the Houston Astros clinched their third straight AL West title in grand fashion, routing the Los Angeles Angels 13-5 on Sunday.
A crowd at Minute Maid Park that was cheering from Verlander’s first pitch got even louder as Springer homered three times in the first four innings. The Astros kept breaking away and improved to 102-54, a half-game ahead of the New York Yankees for the best record in the majors.
After the final out, the Astros held a bouncing group hug in the middle of the diamond and posed for a team picture. It hasn’t been determined who they will face in the playoffs as they try for their second World Series championship in three years.
Manager AJ Hinch spoke to the team in the clubhouse as the players broke out the bubbly and began a spraying celebration.
Springer, the MVP of the 2017 World Series, had two chances to tie the big league record for home runs in a game. He popped up with the bases loaded in the fifth and grounded out in the seventh.
Verlander (20-6) yielded six hits and two runs in five innings to reach 20 wins for the second time in his career and the first since winning the AL MVP and Cy Young Award in 2011 when he went 24-5 for Detroit. This year’s AL Cy Young front-runner struck out five to leave him six strikeouts shy of becoming the 18th pitcher in MLB history to reach 3,000.
The 36-year-old righty has fanned 288 this season, second most in his career in second in the majors behind teammate Gerrit Cole.
Verlander, who leads the AL with a 2.53 ERA, is the first Astros pitcher to win 20 games since Dallas Keuchel went 20-8 in 2015 when he won the Cy Young.
The Astros won their ninth division title. They took the NL West in 1980 and 1986, the NL Central in 1997-99 and 2001 and their three most recent titles in the AL.
Springer’s homered on his first three at-bats to help Houston take a 4-2 lead in the fourth inning. The Astros added six runs in a fifth, highlighted by a two-run homer from Alex Bregman to make it 10-2.
Springer, who has a career-best 38 home runs this season, got to work immediately, sending Jose Rodriguez’s first pitch into left-centre field for his franchise-record 12th leadoff homer this season. That left him one shy of the MLB record for leadoff homers in a season set by Alfonso Soriano with the Yankees in 2003.
Jared Walsh and Michael Hermosillo hit back-to-back triples with two outs in the second to tie it up.
Aledmys Diaz singled with no outs in the second and Springer connected off Rodriguez (0-1) again with two outs to put the Astros up 3-1.
There were two outs in the fourth when Springer sent a fastball from Jose Suarez into the seats in left field to make it 4-2.
The record of four homers has been done 18 times, mostly recently by J.D. Martinez for Arizona in 2017. This was the 14th time in a regular-season game in franchise history that an Astros player has hit three homers and the second time this season after rookie Yordan Alvarez also did it.
Cardinals book playoff ticket
Paul Goldschmidt hit a tiebreaking double in the ninth inning and the St. Louis Cardinals clinched a playoff spot by rallying past the Chicago Cubs 3-2 on Sunday for their first four-game sweep at Wrigley Field in almost a century.
NL Central-leading St. Louis qualified for the post-season for the first time since 2015 and stayed three games ahead of Milwaukee. It was the fifth consecutive win for the Cardinals, who came back for a 9-8 victory Saturday on consecutive homers by Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.
The time, Chicago manager Joe Maddon sent a dominant Yu Darvish (6-8) back to the mound for the ninth to go for his first complete game since 2014. But the result was the same in the Cubs’ fifth consecutive one-run loss.
Pinch hitter Jose Martinez sparked the winning rally with a leadoff triple that glanced off the glove of diving centre fielder Albert Almora Jr. Dexter Fowler followed with a sacrifice fly, tying it at 2.
After rookie Tommy Edman singled and stole second, Goldschmidt hit a grounder down the third-base line to put the Cardinals in front for good in the Cubs’ rainy home finale.
Miles Mikolas pitched 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball and Tyler Webb (2-1) got the last out of the eighth for the win. Andrew Miller worked the ninth for his sixth save.
Nicholas Castellanos hit his career-high 27th homer for Chicago (82-74), which dropped four games back of the Brewers for the second NL wild card. The Cubs finished with a 51-30 home record after losing their losing their last six games of the year at Wrigley.
It was the first four-game series sweep for St. Louis (89-67) at Chicago’s famed ballpark since May 1921.
Castellanos also scored the first run of the game when he scampered home on Yadier Molina’s passed ball in the first. But DeJong tied it with his 29th homer, a massive drive to Waveland Avenue in the third.
It was still tied when Castellanos led off the sixth with a drive to centre for his 16th homer in 49 games since he was acquired in a July 31 trade with Detroit.
The Cubs were without Kris Bryant for most of the day after the slugger sprained his right ankle trying to beat out a double play in the third. X-rays taken at the ballpark were negative.