ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch asked ace Justin Verlander to do something he had never done before. It might be a while before he asks him to do it again.

Verlander was chased after just 3⅔ innings in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, allowing four runs, seven hits and two homers. The Astros trailed 4-0 when he was pulled from the game after walking Tampa Bay’s Ji-Man Choi in the fourth, much to the delight of raucous, jam-packed Tropicana Field. Verlander threw 84 pitches.

With the Astros’ lead in the series down to 2 games to 1, Hinch tabbed Verlander, 36, for the start after the Astros’ 10-3 loss in Game 3 on Monday. That meant Verlander would be starting on three days’ rest, something he’d never done on the heels of another full-length start during his illustrious career. Verlander threw seven shutout innings against the Rays in Houston in Game 1 on Oct. 4.

The Rays jumped on Verlander from the outset. Tommy Pham, Tampa Bay’s second batter in the game, homered to left field to open the scoring. The Rays tacked on two more runs that first inning and Verlander needed 32 pitches to escape further damage. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that was the most pitches Verlander had thrown in a first inning since he joined the Astros in 2017.

In his last inning, Verlander gave up a solo homer to Willy Adames on a slider that broke into the middle of the plate waist-high. The walk to Choi was a fitting end to an outing in which Verlander struggled to locate his pitches. Verlander threw strikes on just half of his 50 four-seam fastballs, according to Statcast.

With his fastball missing the strike zone, the Rays teed off on Verlander’s off-speed pitches. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Rays were 6-for-12 against Verlander’s off-speed offerings with two homers, two doubles and seven hard-hit balls.

A Rays win would force a fifth and deciding game in Houston on Thursday. The Yankees have already clinched a spot in the ALCS after closing out the Minnesota Twins in three games on Monday night.


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