Springer 3HRs, Verlander 20th win, Astros clinch AL West

Houston Astros starter Justin Verlander follows through on a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
265805 Pinchos- PGB promo Banner (25 x 5 cm)-5 copy

George Springer hit a career-high three homers, Justin Verlander posted his MLB-leading 20th win and the Houston Astros clinched their third straight AL West title in grand fashion, routing the Los Angeles Angels 13-5 on Sunday.

A crowd at Minute Maid Park that was cheering from Verlander’s first pitch got even louder as Springer homered three times in the first four innings. The Astros kept breaking away and improved to 102-54, a half-game ahead of the New York Yankees for the best record in the majors.

After the final out, the Astros held a bouncing group hug in the middle of the diamond and posed for a team picture. It hasn’t been determined who they will face in the playoffs as they try for their second World Series championship in three years.

Springer, the MVP of the 2017 World Series, had two chances to tie the big league record for home runs in a game. He popped up with the bases loaded in the fifth and grounded out in the seventh.

Verlander (20-6) yielded six hits and two runs in five innings to reach 20 wins for the second time in his career and the first since winning the AL MVP and Cy Young Award in 2011 when he went 24-5 for Detroit. This year’s AL Cy Young front-runner struck out five to leave him six strikeouts shy of becoming the 18th pitcher in MLB history to reach 3,000.

Jose Rodriguez (0-1) allowed three runs in two innings.

CLEVELAND (AP) — Rookie Oscar Mercado hit a three-run homer, Yasiel Puig drove a three-run double and Cleveland moved into a tie for the second AL wild card.

Carlos Carrasco (6-7) pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings for his longest relief appearance since his midseason cancer diagnosis, and the Indians matched the Tampa Bay Rays with six games to play. Both teams are 92-64 and two games behind Oakland, which leads the wild-card race.

Mercado’s 14th home run off Vince Velasquez (7-8) broke a 1-all tie in the fifth. The Indians put the game away with a six-run seventh, which included Puig’s double and a two-run homer by Franmil Reyes.

NEW YORK (AP) — Luis Severino (1-0) struck out nine over five scoreless innings for his first win of the season, and New York hit three home runs as it beat Toronto in its regular season home finale.

New York (102-55) moved 47 games over .500 for the first time since its record-setting 114-victory season in 1998. The AL East champions clinched home-field advantage in the AL Division Series starting Oct. 4 and are competing with Houston for the top record in the AL.

Aaron Judge hit his 26th homer this season and 14th in his last 29 games. Brett Gardner added a three-run drive and DJ LeMahieu made it 6-0 with a two-run homer in the second.

Toronto opener Wilmer Font (2-3) gave up four runs in the first and was followed by Trent Thornton.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Nelson Cruz hit his 400th career home run, Miguel Sanó connected twice and Minnesota powered past Kansas City to remain four games ahead of Cleveland for the AL Central lead.

Kansas City joined Baltimore, Detroit and Miami with 100 losses, only the second time in major league history there have been four 100-loss teams in one season.

Sanó homered in the first and third innings. Sanó hit a three-run drive during the big first inning against starter Jorge López (4-9), who lasted just 2 1/3 innings. Zack Littell (6-0) earned the win in relief.

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Willie Calhoun hit two of Texas’ five homers and the Rangers slowed Oakland’s wild-card push.

The A’s had won 10 of 11 but couldn’t stretch their two-game lead over Tampa Bay for the top AL wild card.

Texas ended a seven-game skid. Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus and Nomar Mazara all went deep. Rangers starter Lance Lynn (15-11) matched his career high with 12 strikeouts to end a five-game losing streak.

Jurickson Profar had three hits and an RBI for the A’s. Marcus Semien doubled twice.

Oakland starter Tanner Roark (10-9) saw his three-game winning streak halted. He allowed five runs and six hits in three innings.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Nathan Eovaldi (2-0) pitched six gritty innings, Christian Vazquez hit a three-run homer and Boston beat playoff-contending Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay dropped into a tie with Cleveland for the second AL wild card, and both teams trail Oakland by two games for the top spot.

Boston designated hitter J.D. Martinez drove in two runs and is one RBI away from his third consecutive and fourth overall season of at least 35 homers and 100 RBIs. Martinez had an RBI single and Vazquez hit his homer off Ryan Yarbrough (11-5) as Boston went up 4-0 in the first.

Rays two-way player Brendan McKay got his first major league homer.

DETROIT (AP) — Willi Castro hit his first major league homer, one of four connections by Detroit in a win over Chicago. Jeimer Candelario, Gordon Beckham and Victor Reyes also went deep.

Detroit’s Matthew Boyd (9-11), who missed his last start after the death of his grandfather, gave up three runs, eight hits and two walks in five innings. Joe Jimenez pitched the ninth for his eighth save.

The White Sox got homers from Eloy Jimenez and Wellington Castillo but lost for the 17th time in 25 games. White Sox starter Reynaldo López (9-15) allowed five runs.

BALTIMORE (AP) — Chris Davis homered off Marco Gonzales (16-12) in the seventh inning to carry Baltimore past Seattle.

Orioles left-hander John Means (11-11) allowed one run and seven hits over seven sharp innings in the penultimate start of an All-Star rookie season. He walked one and struck out four, including Domingo Santana with his final pitch.

Richard Bleier finished for his fourth save in a game that took only 2 hours, 11 minutes.q