HOUSTON: George Springer, Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros put a check mark in the September box.
And amid the celebration of clinching their third straight AL West title, they already were thinking ahead to what they might achieve in October.
“You can’t ever take the first goal for granted,” Verlander said.
Springer hit a career-high three homers, Verlander posted his MLB-leading 20th win and the Astros secured the division crown in grand fashion, routing the Los Angeles Angels 13-5.
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.
Manager AJ Hinch spoke to the team in the clubhouse as the players broke out the bubbly and began a spraying celebration.
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. AP