ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Verlander leads Astros over D-backs, both teams clinch postseason spots

Sep 30, 2023, 9:36 PM | Updated: 11:17 pm

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Diamondbacks celebrated their return to the postseason with the typical party, a champagne-soaked fun fest in the clubhouse that eventually included a dip in the Chase Field swimming pool behind the right-center field wall.

The Houston Astros celebrated their return to the postseason by doing — well, not much of anything.

Considering the recent past for the two franchises, it made total sense.

Justin Verlander threw five innings, José Abreu hit a run-scoring double and the Astros beat the Diamondbacks 1-0 as both teams clinched spots in the upcoming playoffs.

Houston gets a chance to defend its World Series title after fighting through a tight American League wild-card race for the past several weeks. The Astros still have plenty to play for Sunday — they could clinch the AL West and a first-round bye with a win and a Texas loss.

Manager Dusty Baker said there was a postgame toast after Saturday’s win and some bright orange playoff t-shirts were passed out among players, coaches and staff. Other than that, it was hard to tell anything important had just happened.

“The celebration was a bit muted,” Verlander said. “Keep your eye on the prize.”

The Diamondbacks backed into the bracket, thanks to the Reds’ 15-6 loss at St. Louis. Arizona’s seeding could change depending on Sunday’s results, which also could determine whether the Marlins have to fly back to New York on Monday to finish a suspended game with the Mets.

It’s the first playoff appearance for Arizona since 2017. The D-backs went 52-110 in 2021.

They’re just the third team in MLB history to go from a 110-plus loss season to a playoff berth in a three-season span, joining this year’s Orioles and the 2013-15 Astros.

That helps explain why there was much more joy in the Arizona clubhouse despite Saturday’s loss.

“We lost 110 games two years ago and we just punched a ticket to the postseason,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “We are one of the top teams in the National League and that didn’t happen by luck. It happened because we were a trustworthy group and ready to compete every single night.”

Said first baseman Christian Walker: “I think a lot of the emotion you see is that a lot of these guys were here the last few years, and we feel like we really earned this. We pulled ourselves out of a (difficult) situation and turned ourselves into some winners.

“To be a part of this group, a contributor, a teammate, a leader, it is amazing.”

Houston won on Saturday after multiple clutch moments in the final innings.

Hector Neris got a pair of crucial outs in the seventh. He entered with the bases loaded and one out but struck out Ketel Marte on three pitches and coaxed a weak groundout from Tommy Pham. Shortstop Jeremy Peña made a slick defensive play in the eighth, turning a double play on a tough hop on a hard-hit ball by Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

The Astros got two more solid defensive plays in the ninth. Catcher Martin Maldonado threw Jake McCarthy out on an attempted steal. Third baseman Alex Bregman got the second out after charging a slow roller and making a strong throw to first.

Bryan Abreu then walked Geraldo Perdomo and struck out Corbin Carroll. It was Bryan Abreu’s fifth save of the season.

“It’s hard to win a game 1-0,” Baker said. “A lot of things have to go your way and you have to play good baseball. I’m proud of these guys to this point. We’ve got one more game to win.”

José Abreu brought home the game’s lone run with a double off the center-field wall, making it 1-0 in the fourth. Abreu also was the offensive hero on Friday night after hitting a two-run double to nearly the same spot in 2-1 win.

Verlander (13-8) helped the Astros to World Series wins in 2017 and 2022 but signed as a free agent with the New York Mets during the offseason. After a disappointing few months, the Mets traded the three-time Cy Young Award winner back to the Astros at the trade deadline.

He provided another good outing Saturday, giving up two hits and three walks while striking out five.

“Five innings is not what I consider a job well done,” Verlander said. “I’d like to have gone deeper, but to hand over to the (bullpen) tonight and have them perform the way they do, Hector stepping up was absolutely huge, it makes it easier on us starters.”

Arizona’s Merrill Kelly (12-8) went seven innings, giving up five hits and two walks while striking out five.

VERLANDER TIES NIEKRO

The 40-year-old Verlander tied Phil Niekro for 12th on the career strikeouts list, catching Carroll looking in the fifth.

Verlander and Niekro both have 3,342 strikeouts, though Verlander needed roughly 2,000 less innings to reach that mark.

SPEEDY TUCKER

Houston’s Kyle Tucker is one homer from joining the 30-30 club this season after stealing his 30th base of the season in the fourth. He also has 29 homers and 111 RBIs.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP J.P. France was back at the ballpark one day after he was scratched from Friday’s start because of a family emergency. France told reporters that he was available out of the bullpen.

UP NEXT

The teams wrap up the regular season on Sunday.

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