HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander's first victory over the Twins came 13 years ago this week, a dominating seven-inning, one-run performance that probably looked eerily similar to the one he delivered on Wednesday: First-pitch strikes, plenty of soft contact, and a strikeout or two in nearly every inning.
Verlander became the 10th pitcher ever to record 20 wins against the Twins, a group that includes four members of the same Hall of Fame he'll someday join, and he made it look as easy as ever. The Twins sent more than three batters to the plate only three times in his eight innings, scratched out only four hits and reached second base only twice, and ended a road trip that included plenty of offensive fireworks in hear-a-pin-drop hush: A 7-1 loss at Minute Maid Park.
Kohl Stewart, who matched Verlander zero-for-zero in his year-ago visit to his hometown, answered the Twins' emergency call for a starting pitcher competently against the AL's best hitting lineup, allowing five runs over six innings, three of them on home runs by Carlos Correa and Michael Brantley. He walked three, struck out one, and generally fought his way out of trouble, a promising sign for a 24-year-old prospect.
But Stewart was no match this time for the routine brilliance of Verlander, who has allowed only nine hits over his last three starts, all by-the-numbers victories.
The longtime Tigers' right-hander struck out Max Kepler on three pitches to open the game, strike three coming on a vintage 95-mph high fastball that Kepler couldn't catch, and the tone was set for the night. Verlander retired the first 10 batters he faced, until Jorge Polanco took advantage of a rare mistake, a fastball left in the middle of the plate, and lined it into the right field seats. Some in the crowd of 26,582 applauded Verlander after the home run, a sign that thoughts of a no-hitter had already creeped in.
He wasn't perfect, but he didn't have to be. Eddie Rosario turned a ground-ball deflection off Jose Altuve's glove into a double, Willians Astudillo lined a single, and Ehire Adrianza singled in the eighth, but the Twins, after averaging 7.8 runs in their previous five games of this trip, never threatened a rally. Verlander, who never issued a walk, turned the game over to lefty Framber Valdez for the ninth, his 20th career victory against Minnesota (against nine losses over 37 career starts) secure.
The Twins, who started the road trip with a three-game sweep of the Orioles and a mostly lopsided victory over the Astros on Monday, come home after dropping the final two games, with the same two opponents scheduled to visit Target Field in the upcoming week.
Polanco's home run was the fifth of the season, already just one off his total from a year ago.
Stewart, summoned to his hometown of Houston to make the emergency start, pitched a scoreless first inning, but Correa led off the second inning with a home run off the foul pole in right field. An inning later, Alex Bregman hit a two-out double off the wall in left field, then trotted home on Brantley's long home run into the right field seats.
The right-hander, who had a 6.00 ERA in three starts at Class AAA Rochester, allowed a leadoff walk to Josh Reddick in the fourth inning, and it cost him when Robinson Chirinos lined an RBI double. Stewart then threw a pair of wild pitches past catcher Jason Castro to allow Chirinos to score.
Fernando Romero relieved in the seventh inning, and surrendered two runs over two innings, both of them coming on a Reddick home run into the Crawford Boxes in left field.
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