By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — Justin Verlander was pulled after pitching six no-hit innings in his major league-leading 16th win and the Astros beat the Minnesota Twins 4-2 Tuesday night in Carlos Correa’s return to Houston.
Verlander (16-3) allowed just one runner to reach base — Nick Gordon struck out in the second inning on a wild pitch to get aboard. The Astros ace fanned 10 and lowered his MLB-best ERA to 1.87 in his spectacular return after missing almost two seasons after Tommy John surgery.
The 39-year-old, the only active player to have thrown three no-hitters, was lifted after 91 pitches. Ryne Stanek relieved to begin the seventh and Correa led off with Minnesota’s first hit.
Alex Bregman’s homer helped the AL West-leading Astros build a 4-0 lead. The Twins scored twice in the ninth and had the bases loaded before Bryan Abreu struck out Jake Cave to end it.
The Twins lost their fourth straight in a night of struggles at the plate that came after they placed All-Star outfielder Byron Buxton on the injured list with a hip strain. Until their late rally, the most noise Minnesota made came when manager Rocco Baldelli was ejected during an animated argument.
Correa, making his first visit to Houston after leaving the Astros to sign with the Twins this offseason, received a huge ovation when honored during a pregame ceremony where he was presented with his AL Championship ring. The crowd reaction was also huge in his first at-bat in the first inning and the star shortstop tipped his batting helmet to the adoring fans before stepping in the box.
The reaction wasn’t nearly as warm when he broke up the Astros’ combined no-hit bid with a liner to center field that a diving Mauricio Dubón couldn’t corral. That was the only hit for Correa, who was selected first overall by the Astros in 2012 and spent his first seven seasons in Houston.
Jose Miranda hit an RBI single with one out in the Twins ninth. There were two outs when Max Kepler’s run-scoring single cut the lead to 4-2 and chased Hector Neris. He was replaced by Abreu, who walked Gio Urshela to load the bases but fanned Cave for his second save.
Dubón gave Houston the lead with an RBI single in the second inning and Trey Mancini made it 2-0 with his run-scoring double in the fourth. Bregman’s 18th homer this season was a two-run shot in the seventh.
Yordan Alvarez added a single for the Astros on a night his family from Cuba got to see him play professionally for the first time. Father Agustín Eduardo Álvarez Salazar, mother Mailyn Cadogan Reyes and brother Yonder Alvarez Cadogan — each decked out in his jersey — gazed wide-eyed at the field as they watched him step to the plate.
“This is one of my biggest moments in my entire life,” his father told The Associated Press in Spanish through a translator. “And I could be able to say so many words, but the truth is that there are no words to express what I’m feeling right now.”
Things got testy in the fifth when Twins starter Aaron Sanchez (0-1) plunked Jose Altuve on the left thigh. There was some jawing between Altuve and Sanchez and benches cleared, but there wasn’t any pushing or shoving.
Order was soon restored, but after Yuli Gurriel walked on four pitches, Baldelli came out of the dugout yelling at the umpires. He was soon ejected by first base umpire Todd Tichenor, but that didn’t stop him from screaming and gesturing wildly for a couple more minutes before leaving the field.
Sanchez, who was the starter in a combined no-hitter for the Astros in 2019 against Seattle, yielded six hits and two runs in four-plus innings after being called up from Triple-A Tuesday.
Twins: OF Kyle Garlick (bruised rib cage) is scheduled to begin a rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A St. Paul Wednesday. He is set to be the team’s designated hitter Wednesday before playing in the outfield Thursday.
Verlander’s big night moved him past Pedro Martinez (3,154) and Max Scherzer (3,157) and into 13th place on the all-time strikeout list with 3,161.
Mayah Zamora, who spent 66 days in the hospital as a victim of the Uvalde elementary school shooting, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Zamora got to meet Correa before the game, and his foundation along with several other charities worked together to find alternative lodging for her family while they build them a new home.
The foundation began work to get Zamora a new home after she learned that the shooter, who wounded her and killed 19 students and two teachers, lived just blocks from her home where she was too upset to return to after leaving the hospital.
Houston’s Framber Valdez (12-4, 2.72) opposes Dylan Bundy (7-5, 4.60) when the series continues Wednesday night.
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