Tigers' Verlander holds Astros hitless until 7th

AP - Sports
Tigers' Verlander holds Astros hitless until 7th
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Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander delivers to Houston Astros' Carlos Pena during the fourth …

HOUSTON (AP) -- Detroit starter Justin Verlander made another no-hit bid Sunday against the Houston Astros.

However, Verlander was facing a high pitch count, too, and in the seventh, Houston finally got one to fall.

Verlander, who has already pitched two no-hitters in his career, held Houston hitless until the seventh inning and the Tigers romped past the overmatched Astros 9-0 Sunday to complete a four-game sweep.

Verlander (4-2) struck out nine. The former AL MVP and Cy Young winner has a 1.55 ERA this season.

''I actually felt really calm out there,'' Verlander said. ''Obviously, it's a bit of a letdown to give up a hit. Not that it was easy by any means, but I felt calm.''

Carlos Pena got Houston's first hit, a single with one out in the seventh over the head of second baseman Omar Infante, who was playing in shallow right with the shift on, and in front of outfielder Don Kelly. Carlos Corporan followed with a single.

''He guessed right,'' Verlander said of Pena's at bat. ''A lot of times in this game, I had thrown offspeed in fastball counts. He thought otherwise. I threw a fastball, and he did a great job of getting on top of the fastball that was up in the zone.''

Pena said Verlander was good, mixing up speeds.

''It's always seems like he has something up his sleeve and he can pull it out at any time,'' Pena said. ''He'll start you off with a changeup, then a curveball, and then he'll throw one for 100 (mph) right inside. He is very unpredictable. He is very impressive.''

Verlander came close to joining rare company. Only five pitchers in major league history have thrown three or more no-hitters: Nolan Ryan leads with seven, Sandy Koufax threw four and Bob Feller, Cy Young and 1880s pitcher Larry Corcoran each had three.

Verlander, who used a good mix of changeup and fastball throughout, said this attempt at throwing a no-hitter was different than others because he threw close to 30 pitches in the first inning.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he didn't think Verlander would get a chance to finish the game because of the high pitch count.

''There were just too many early that it wasn't going to work out late,'' Leyland said. ''I had 125 (pitches) with a possible 130 at max. It just didn't look like he was going to get there. So I don't worry about stuff that I don't have to worry about any more. I would have done what I felt was the best thing to do for Justin Verlander's career and the Detroit Tigers. I would have been caught up in a no-hitter like everyone else and there's nothing wrong with that. But you can't do a silly thing.''

Prince Fielder homered and drove in four runs. Andy Dirks had four hits, including a home run. Brayan Pena and Omar Infante also homered.

''It's a lot of fun,'' Fielder said. ''Any time you score a lot of runs, it is fun, and plus our pitching has been outstanding, so everything is working really well right now.''

Detroit has won nine of the last 10 and swept a four-game road series for the first time since taking four at Kansas City on May 22-25, 2006.

Houston, which has the worst record in the majors, has lost sixth straight and 10 of its last 11. Philip Humber (0-7) gave up eight runs in four innings.

The Astros managed just a pair of runners through six innings, with Jason Castro drawing a walk in the first and Pena walking in the fourth.

The no-hitter remained intact to start the sixth as Marwin Gonzalez, who broke up Yu Darvish's perfect game try with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on April 2, reached on an error by Fielder at first base. Gonzalez was erased when Robbie Grossman lined out to Fielder, who doubled off Gonzalez.

Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera kept the Astros hitless to begin the fifth, making a diving stop to his left on Brandon Laird's grounder, then rolling over and throwing to first from his back for the out.

The best opportunity for a Houston hit before that came in the fourth when Fernando Martinez hit a drive to the warning track in left that Dirks caught in the corner.

A day after routing Houston 17-2, Detroit scored twice in the first inning and five more in the second. Fielder hit his eighth homer in the first. Pena homered in the second, Dirks hit an RBI single and Fielder added a two-run single.

Humber has lost all seven of his starts this season, and he has only made it past the fifth inning in one of his last four outings.

''In his last four starts, just a lot of deep counts,'' Houston manager Bo Porter said of Humber. ''There is a lack of attack of the strike zone, which gets him behind in the count. When you do that against Miguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter, Prince Fielder, these guys are All Stars for a reason. If you get behind, let them get into a hitter's count and put something in the zone, they are going to attack and put a good swing on it.

NOTES: Detroit C Alex Avila was unavailable because of an illness, manager Jim Leyland said. ... Houston LHP Erik Bedard has been moved from the rotation to the bullpen. He threw 3 1-3 innings in relief Sunday, giving up one run and two hits with three strikeouts. Houston will decide on Bedard's spot in the rotation, which would come up again Friday, midweek, manager Bo Porter said. ... Houston players wore ''Los Astros'' jerseys Sunday in recognition of Cinco de Mayo.

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