Houston — When the Astros traded for Justin Verlander less than three weeks ago, they envisioned days like this.
Verlander struck out 10 over seven innings in his first home start for Houston, Derek Fisher and Marwin Gonzalez homered in a big fifth inning and the Astros clinched the American League West with a 7-1 win over the Mariners on Sunday.
“The story is almost too good to be true,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We trade for him for this exact reason to come up in big moments. He was locked in from the very beginning. Nobody better to have on the mound and nobody better to celebrate with.”
The Astros acquired the ace from Detroit on Aug. 31, just minutes before the deadline for players to be eligible for postseason play. He had made two starts on the road before his Minute Maid Park debut.
“I don’t think you could ask for a better introduction for me to the city of Houston than this,” Verlander said. “First home start would have been great. First home start and a win would have been great. First home start and to win in a division-clinching game — you can’t make that up. And I’m looking forward to hopefully many more wins.”
George Springer and Carlos Correa also homered for the Astros, who won their first division title since 2001 and seventh overall. The Astros become the first team in major league history to win titles in three divisions after previously winning the NL West and NL Central.
As the Astros celebrated Sunday’s accomplishment, they were quick to point out that they want to finish the regular season strong to try and gain home-field advantage in the postseason b’y finishing with the best record in the AL. Houston led the AL for most of the season, but Cleveland moved ahead with its recent 22-game winning streak.
“For us, this is just the beginning,” Correa said. “We are just getting started.”