Astros clinch first division title since 2001 as Justin Verlander dominates

The Houston Astros did not trade for Justin Verlander merely to wrap up the American League West. The Detroit Tigers icon is a hired gun for October.

That said, the Astros aren’t about to complain that their new gunslinger was the one to lock down the division title.

Verlander struck out 10 Seattle Mariners in six innings and the Astros wrapped up their first division title since 2001 with a 7-1 victory at Minute Maid Park.

"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 (91-58) had not won a division crown since the Jeff Bagwell-Craig Biggio crew won its fourth NL Central title in five seasons in 2001. They earned wild-card berths in 2004, 2005 and 2015, making their lone World Series in '05 and winning their first wild-card game against the Yankees 10 years later, after a move to the AL West.

But this crew has higher expectations, thanks to a core led by middle infielders Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve and, more recently, Verlander.

"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."

His acquisition just minutes before the Aug. 31 trade deadline shocked a lagging team back to life, and he has not disappointed in Houston.

Verlander improved to 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts with the Astros, striking out 26 batters in 21 innings.

Sunday, he was backed by fifth-inning home runs from Marwin Gonzalez and Derek Fisher, and Correa and George Springer later tacked on homers to put it out of reach.

"It means a lot because I was here when we lost 100 games three years in a row," said Jose Altuve, longest-tenured member of the team. "Now I'm part of some winning teams and that means a lot to me.”

Contributing: Associated Press.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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