Astros' Justin Verlander dominates in another postseason gem

HOUSTON -- Astros ace Justin Verlander continued to move up the all-time postseason charts during a dominant seven-inning outing on Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of their American League Division Series matchup.

Verlander blanked the Rays over seven innings, allowing just one hit and three walks while striking out eight. Houston won 6-2, grabbing the quick series lead over the underdog Rays.

For Verlander, it was just another in a long line of postseason gems, and with each outing, he climbs the all-time postseason leaderboards.

"I never get complacent about what I've been able to do in the playoffs," Verlander said. "Each and every game is a new opportunity to go out and re-prove myself."

With his seventh strikeout -- a whiff of Tampa Bay's Yandy Diaz in the seventh inning, -- Verlander passed Roger Clemens for the third-most K's in postseason history. He now is at 175, eight behind Andy Pettitte and 24 behind the record holder, John Smoltz. If the Astros enjoy a deep playoff run as expected, Verlander likely would pass Smoltz this month.

The win was Verlander's 14th in the postseason, which moves him into a third-place tie with Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. He is one behind Smoltz, while Pettitte tops the list with 19.

Even if the Astros are eliminated by the Rays, Verlander, 36, likely will get more chances to add to his historic numbers: He continues to insist he plans on playing until age 45.

"I guess I kind of pegged this like 45 number," Verlander said in advance of his outing. "Whether that's realistic or not, I don't know. I know I'm not going to sell myself short."

Verlander walked Rays leadoff hitter Austin Meadows to start the game, after uncharacteristically struggling to find command of his fastball. He went to his secondary pitches to coax two double-play grounders during a sterling effort from the Houston defense. Verlander, typically a fly ball pitcher when opposing hitters manage to put the ball in play against him, seemed as proud of that as any of the records.

"I don't know if that's the first game all year I've gotten two double plays," Verlander said. "These guys always give me a hard time because I don't get them enough ground balls. I was able to get them a few in the game today."

The defensive support aside, it was an unusually banner effort even by Verlander's standards. He became just the 13th pitcher in postseason history to hold an opponent to one or fewer hits over at least seven innings. The last pitcher to do so was the Cincinnati Reds' Bronson Arroyo in 2012.

"He's an unbelievable competitor," Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. "He prepares more than anybody. I love how much pride he takes in every start that he makes."

None of this was any surprise to Bregman and his teammates, who have seen Verlander dominate the majority of his outings since joining the Astros late in the 2017 season. Still, they can't help but marvel at Verlander's continued excellence.

"When you can execute at your best in the biggest moments," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "I mean, there's nothing -- there's not a higher league. Like there's nowhere for him to go to be tested any further. So the test is really being able to do it start after start and then postseason after postseason.

"I don't know how to define it. I don't know what it's called. Whatever that 'it' factor is, he's got it."