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. “I know everybody says we’re going to win the World Series, but you can’t do that without this first. So, step one complete. Now we have the divisional round coming up and we’ll … prepare for that and try to win 11 games.”
Verlander posted his MLB-leading 20th win, Springer hit a career-high three homers, 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.
“I don’t ever want to disrespect the things we’ve already accomplished, but when you’re in the moment everything feels like it’s the best of all time,” Hinch said. “I like hanging flags: flags for divisions matter, flags for the World Series matter, and I want our guys to appreciate that.”
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.
The 36-year-old righty has fanned 288 this season, second most in his career and second in the majors behind teammate Gerrit Cole.
Verlander, who leads the AL with a 2.53 ERA, is the first Astros pitcher to win 20 games since Dallas Keuchel went 20-8 in 2015 when he won the Cy Young.
It’s the second time that Verlander has started a game in which the Astros clinched the division after he did it soon after he was traded from Detroit in 2017.
“The last time I clinched the division for the Houston Astros we went on to do some pretty special things that year,” he said. “Glad to be out there. These moments as an organization are so special. I’m just so happy to be a part of it.”
The Astros won their ninth division title. They took the NL West in 1980 and 1986, the NL Central in 1997-99 and 2001 and their three most recent titles in the AL. (AFP)