Justin Verlander carries Astros past M’s in series opener

Justin Verlander turned in a vintage performance, taking a shutout into the ninth inning as the Houston Astros defeated the host Seattle Mariners 5-1 on Monday night to extend their lead in the race for the American League’s third and final wild-card playoff berth.

Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker homered for the Astros (86-71), who snapped a three-game losing streak and moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Mariners (84-72), who lost their fourth in a row. The contest was the opener of a three-game series.

The Rangers began the night a 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Rangers (87-68) in the AL West. Texas played a late game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Calif.

Verlander (12-8) retired the side in order seven times. The 40-year-old right-hander, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, was charged with one run on three hits and one walk in eight-plus innings. He struck out eight, one shy of his season high.

Seattle’s only run came in the ninth. Josh Rojas led off with a double into the right field corner, ending Verlander’s bid for his first complete game since Sept. 1, 2019. Reliever Bryan Abreu got J.P. Crawford to ground out to second, sending Rojas to third, before Julio Rodriguez lofted a sacrifice fly to deep right.

Abreu then struck out Cal Raleigh to end the game.

Mariners ace Luis Castillo (14-8), who had won eight consecutive decisions, took his first defeat since July 14. The 30-year-old right-hander allowed five runs on eight hits over six innings, with one walk and eight strikeouts.

The Astros opened the scoring with three runs in the second.

Jose Abreu led off with a triple to right-center field, the ball bouncing off the end of Rodriguez’s glove and rolling to the wall. It appeared Castillo might escape the inning unscathed as he got Chas McCormick to ground out to second and struck out Jeremy Pena. He got two strikes on Mauricio Dubon before allowing a line-drive single to right-center to plate Abreu.

Martin Maldonado hit an RBI double to left-center, and Jose Altuve lined a run-scoring single up the middle to make it 3-0.

Alvarez led off the third by taking a low slider deep to right-center, his 30th home run of the season.

The Mariners threatened in the bottom of the inning as Dominic Canzone and Rojas grounded one-out singles to right field and Crawford walked to load the bases for Rodriguez. Verlander induced an inning-ending double play to get out of the jam, then retired the next 15 batters in a row before Rojas’ double in the ninth.

Tucker led off the sixth with a blast off the windows of the Hit It Here Cafe on the second deck in right field. It was his 29th homer of the season.