DETROIT — Two seasons after being traded to Houston, Justin Verlander is still appreciated in the Motor City.
Verlander allowed two hits in seven impressive innings against his former team, and the Astros won their eighth straight game, 5-1 over the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night. It was Verlander's second start at Comerica Park since his 2017 trade from Detroit to Houston. The crowd was sparse, but he received a nice little ovation after his last inning of work, and he waved to acknowledge the fans.
"It honestly is really special. I think for the most part of my career here, the fans were always incredible toward me," Verlander said. "What it comes down to is I always gave everything I had — blood, sweat, tears. There was never anything left out there."
Verlander (7-1) struck out nine . JaCoby Jones homered off him in the third for the Tigers' only run, but with Miguel Cabrera out of the lineup, Detroit managed little offensively. The only significant jam Verlander faced was in the fifth, when Niko Goodrum lined out with the bases loaded.
Alex Bregman hit his 14th homer of the season, a solo shot off Gregory Soto (0-2) to open the scoring in the first. Bregman pulled within two home runs of teammate George Springer, the American League leader. Springer nearly hit one of his own, but Detroit left fielder Christin Stewart reached above the wall to make the catch in the fourth.
Verlander retired his first eight hitters before Jones connected for a 436-foot homer in the third. The right-hander rebounded by striking out the side in the fourth. With the bases loaded in the fifth and the Tigers down 3-1, Goodrum hit a line drive that second baseman Aledmys Diaz caught to end the inning.
The announced attendance was just 15,940 — a far cry from the atmosphere for some of Verlander's starts when he was leading the Tigers to division titles in Detroit.
"It's kind of sad," he said. "I think most of my memories here, this ballpark was packed and fans were rowdy, and it's obviously a bit different now. But that comes with winning."
Jake Marisnick hit an RBI single for Houston in the second, and Robinson Chirinos added a sacrifice fly in the fourth. Detroit made two errors in the sixth, helping the Astros score another run.
Marisnick hit a run-scoring triple in the eighth to make it 5-1.
Soto was recalled from Double-A Erie before the game, and Detroit used him as a two-inning "opener" because its rotation is depleted by injury. Nick Ramirez relieved him and went four innings.
After the game, the Tigers optioned third baseman Jeimer Candelario to Triple-A Toledo.
"It was tough," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's one of my favourite guys in this clubhouse — but we didn't think we had a choice. He's lost at the plate right now, and although he has been better defensively for most of the season, he's gotten sloppy in the last few games."
Houston has won 11 of 12, although this was a tamer offensive performance after the Astros scored 45 runs in their previous four games.
Ryan Pressly pitched the eighth for Houston, extending his scoreless innings streak to 37.
Verlander beat Detroit at Comerica last September, but he lost to the Tigers when he faced them in Houston in July.
"All the guys I played with, I'm rooting for them," Verlander said. "I think you always root for your friends. You're not wishing ill will on anybody until I'm facing them."
Tigers: Cabrera missed the game because of a sore knee. Gardenhire did not seem to think it was a serious problem. Cabrera was injured most of last season, so Verlander didn't face him then either.
"We talked about it a bunch when we played together. I don't know what I would have done to him," Verlander said. "I've seen him be such a prodigious hitter for so long. You have all these moments in your head that you just have flashbacks to. And it's like, all right, well, he's hit that pitch, he's hit that pitch, he's hit that pitch."
Astros: Houston is off Thursday before an AL Championship Series rematch at Boston. Gerrit Cole (4-4) starts the series opener for the Astros on Friday night against Rick Porcello (3-3).
Tigers: RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-2) takes the mound Thursday when Detroit opens a four-game set against Oakland. Chris Bassitt (1-1) starts for the Athletics.
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