Verlander earns 11th win, leading Astros past Royals 5-2

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON – In a career with so many accomplishments, Justin Verlander‘s success this season after missing almost two years with an elbow injury has been particularly sweet.

“Of course,” the Houston Astros right-hander said when asked if his stellar start means a lot to him. “Yeah, absolutely. We’ve talked about it a lot, just so much hard work since the since the surgery and it’s nice to see it pay off and hopefully – knock on wood – it continues.”

Verlander got his 11th win, Yordan Alvarez hit his 26th homer and the Astros beat the Kansas City Royals 5-2 to take the series 3-1.

Jose Altuve added a homer and three RBIs for the Astros, who bounced back after a 7-4 loss that snapped an eight-game winning streak.

Verlander (11-3) grinded through six innings, allowing seven hits and two runs – one earned – with eight strikeouts to lower his ERA to 2.00 in his remarkable return from Tommy John surgery. His ERA, opponent average (.190) and WHIP (0.97) all rank second in the AL. He shares the MLB lead in victories with the Dodgers’ Tony Gonsolin (11-0).

“I had to make some pitches in some big spots and trust my defense behind me,” he said. “Every game is not going to go perfectly without traffic. Today was one of those games where you had to grind a bit.”

The Royals led 2-0 and Kris Bubic (1-6) had walked five batters but had allowed just one hit – a single by Jake Meyers in the second – when Martin Maldonado doubled with one out in the fifth.

Altuve then jumped on the first pitch, sending it into the seats in left field to tie it at 2-2.

There were two outs in the inning when Alvarez connected on his opposite-field shot to the first row in left field to put the Astros on top 3-2. His 26 home runs rank second in the AL to Yankees star Aaron Judge, who has 30.

Altuve was asked if he’s impressed by what Alvarez does day after day.

“We enjoy the way he goes out there and everything he does,” Altuve said. “So sometimes we get surprised, sometimes not. We’ve seen good swings from him and it seems like every day he comes ready to hit the ball.”

Houston added two insurance runs in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Altuve and an RBI double by Aledmys Diaz.

Ryan Pressly pitched a scoreless ninth for his 18th save.

Verlander has 24 wins against the Royals, which is his most against any team and ties him with Nolan Ryan for fourth-most in league history against Kansas City.

The Royals led early in this one just as they had in the first three games of the series.

Emmanuel Rivera and Edward Olivares hit consecutive singles to start the second. Rivera was picked off trying to steal third for the second out before a single by Nicky Lopez scored Olivares to put Kansas City up 1-0.

Olivares got things going in the fourth when he singled with no outs and made it all the way to third on the play on an error by center fielder Meyers. The Royals made it 2-0 when Olivares scored on a sacrifice fly by Kyle Isbel.

Verlander took a one-hopper hit by MJ Melendez off the leg with one out in the fifth. It didn’t slow him down, as he chased the ball after it deflected off his leg and made the throw in time to beat Melendez to first.

Rivera singled to start the sixth before Verlander walked Isbel with one out. After a short visit to the mound, Verlander retired Lopez and Cam Gallagher on groundouts to preserve the lead and end his day.

Bubic yielded four hits and three runs while tying a career high with six walks in 5 1/3 innings for his second straight loss.

Manager Mike Matheny was disappointed in the number of walks Bubic issued.

“I just want him to continue to understand how his aggressiveness is going to be very beneficial to him,” Matheny said. “But I thought his stuff was good.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Royals: INF Bobby Witt Jr. was out of the lineup for a second straight game after fouling a ball off his hand. He still had some swelling, but Matheny said he expected Witt to hit in the cage and that he was still listed as day to day.

Astros: SS Jeremy Pena was scratched from the lineup about an hour before the game due to health and safety protocols. Manager Dusty Baker said Pena was sick but would travel with the team to Oakland.

DUSTY’S MILESTONE

Thursday’s win was a milestone for Baker, moving him out of a tie with Walter Alston into sole possession of ninth place on the all-time wins list with 2,041.

UP NEXT

Royals: Brady Singer (3-3, 4.30 ERA) will face Cleveland’s Aaron Civale (2-5, 7.05) in the opener of a three-game series against the Guardians.

Astros: Jose Urquidy (7-3, 4.15) will oppose Oakland’s Paul Blackburn (6-3, 2.90) when the Astros open a three-game series against the Athletics.

Brian Cashman signs 4-year contract to remain Yankees GM

Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — Brian Cashman has signed a four-year contract to remain the New York Yankees Senior Vice President and General Manager. The announcement was made during the first day of baseball’s Winter Meetings.

Cashman, New York’s GM since 1998, had been working on a handshake agreement since early November, when his five-year contract expired.

The Yankees were swept by four games in the AL Championship Series and haven’t reached the World Series since winning in 2009. It is the franchise’s longest title drought since an 18-year gap between 1978-96.

Cashman’s main goal during the offseason is trying to re-sign AL MVP Aaron Judge.

Judge hit an American League-record 62 homers this season with a .311 batting average and 131 RBIs. He turned down the Yankees’ offer on the eve of opening day of a seven-year contract that would have paid $213.5 million from 2023-29.

While Judge remains on the market, Cashman was able to re-sign Anthony Rizzo on Nov. 15 to a two-year contract worth $40 million after turning down a $16 million player option.

Cashman has been the Yankees general manager since 1998. He has been with the organization since 1986, when he was a 19-year old intern in the scouting department. In his 25 seasons as GM, the Yankees have reached the postseason 21 times, including four World Series championships and six American League titles.