With playoff aspirations running at an all time high for both teams, the Houston Astros sent their ace, Justin Verlander, to the mound against Arizona Diamondbacks stud, Merrill Kelly. The Astros entered the game with a “Win & In” mentality, fully aware that a victory over the Diamondbacks would guarantee a highly coveted Wild Card berth. Even with their star pitcher on the mound, they knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task with Kelley on the other side.
Kelley, has been one of Arizona’s best and most reliable players this season, coming in with a 3.38 ERA, 182 K and a 3.6 WAR in 170.2 innings pitched in 2023. In the National League, the Diamondbacks have also been involved in a high-intensity Wild Card race of their own battling with the Reds, Cubs & Marlins. Arizona was able secure their own future with a win against Houston, or, with some help if the Cincinnati Reds lost to the Cardinals in St. Louis.
Astros win a pitcher's duel to clinch a playoff spot
The marquee pitching matchup didn’t disappoint as both starters pitched to goose eggs over the first 3 innings. In the top of fourth Houston had Tucker in scoring position after stealing second base, his 30th of the season. Jose Abreu broke the game open for the second straight night with a run scoring double to give the Astros a 1-0 lead and that’s all they would need for the rest of the evening.
The Houston bullpen was called upon after five strong innings from Verlander (2 H, 0 R, 5 K) who exited after 94 pitches. Kelly was also outstanding and went seven innings deep for Arizona allowing only one run on five hits. Things got particularly interesting in the bottom of the 7th when Kendall Graveman loaded the bases with only 1 out, but the Astros rolled out Hector Neris to end the threat with a strikeout and ground ball to third.
Even though they were trailing, there was some cheering amongst the Diamondbacks faithful as news of a Reds loss started circulating in the crowd which meant Arizona was guaranteed a a playoff spot regardless of the outcome. Not long after that, Houston punched their own postseason ticket after the Astros brought in Bryan Abreu to close out the ninth inning for his 5th save of the year.
Verlander got his 2nd win in his 2nd critical start over the last week. This is the J.V. the Astros hoped they’d be getting when they brought him back from the Mets at the trade deadline. His last time out vs Seattle was the spark the Astros needed to win 4 out of their last 5 games and put the horrors of prior few series clear in their rearview mirror.