HOUSTON — Ace Justin Verlander had just made another strong start and was in the dugout in the fifth inning when Yordan Alvarez hit his third spectacular home run of the night for the Houston Astros.
Cameras swung to Verlander, whose eyes widened as he admired his teammate’s handwork.
“It’s pretty cool when a major league player can amaze other major league players,” Verlander said. “It doesn’t happen too often. And that was one of those moments where everyone’s like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ It’s just incredible what he can do.”
Alvarez hit a homer in his first three at-bats, Verlander threw five innings without a hit on his return from the injured list and the Astros secured a postseason berth with a 5-0 win over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.
The Astros (95-50) won their sixth straight game to join the Los Angeles Dodgers as the first two teams to secure playoff spots and enter their sixth straight postseason.
There wasn’t a big celebration for this team with much bigger goals, but the Astros toasted quietly in the clubhouse after the game.
“You have to keep in mind … how hard it is to get into the playoffs and stay like that at the top for a while,” Verlander said. “It’s not easy, so I’m glad we were able to take a moment.”
Alvarez, who was tied for second in the AL with 36 home runs, had solo shots against Adrian Martinez in the first, third and fifth innings. He capped his big night with a single in the seventh to tie his career high of four hits.
“Hiting a home run feels great, imagine hitting three,” Alvarez said in Spanish through an interpreter. “Just a very special night.”
It’s his second three-homer game and first since August 10, 2019, a season in which he was AL Rookie of the Year. There have only been 15 three-homer games in Houston history, and Alvarez joined Glenn Davis and Jeff Bagwell as the only Astros to have had more than one.
Alvarez’s homers totaled 1,329 feet — 434, 431, and 464. He joined Nelson Cruz, who accomplished the feat on July 25, 2019, as the only player to hit three homers longer than 400 feet in a game since Statcast 2015 sponsored the pursuit began.
“Yordan was amazing,” said manager Dusty Baker. “Those balls he hit, I don’t know what the combined feet were but boy is that a lot of mileage.”
Verlander (17-3) didn’t miss a beat on his return after injuring a calf on August 28. He went one and hit nine to extend his season’s winning streak to nine games and lower his MLB-leading ERA to 1.78.
His performance put him 13th on the career strikeout list with 3,176 in 17 seasons, past Max Scherzer (3,173).
Baker said Verlander would stand on a pitch count but wouldn’t reveal where his limit is. He was lifted without giving up a shot after throwing 79 pitches.
Verlander beat Ramon Laureano with an out in the second. He didn’t allow another baserunner until Seth Brown walked in the fourth with two outs. He then sat down the next four batters he faced to end his night.
Phil Maton took the sixth and Nick Allen singled on his first pitch to break the no-hit bid.
In the first there were two outs when Alvarez scored a shot straight into midfield to make it 1-0.
Alvarez’s second homer came with two outs in the third, extending the lead to 2-0.
Jeremy Pena hit his 18th homer to left field with an out in the fifth. The Astros went back-to-back as Alvarez sent Martinez’s next pitch into midfield to extend the lead to 4-0 and send Houston’s dugout and the crowd into a frenzy.
Martinez (4-5) pitched five innings, walked three and the only hits he conceded were the four home runs, which were a career high.
“You take Alvarez out of the lineup and the lineup is very different,” said Oakland coach Mark Kotsay. “Yordan is a guy I mentioned as a possible MVP candidate before the season started. And tonight he showed why.”
The Athletics, who have the worst record in baseball at 52-93, managed just three singles and hit a season-high 16 hits.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34607322/yordan-alvarez-hits-3-hrs-justin-verlander-k-9-return-houston-astros-clinch-playoff-berth-win-oakland-athletics Yordan Alvarez hits 3 HRs, Justin Verlander K’s 9 in return as Houston Astros clinch playoff berth with win over Oakland Athletics