HOUSTON -- Just like most everyone at Minute Maid Park on Sunday, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland found himself ensnarled in the burgeoning excitement of another potential Justin Verlander no-hitter.
But as Verlander tore through the Houston Astros, prudent thoughts began to take hold of Leyland. Verlander had an elevated pitch count, and while history beckoned, Leyland wasn't going to jeopardize his ace.
Verlander lost his no-hitter in the seventh inning, but by then the Tigers had already secured a sizable early lead for a second consecutive game en route to capping a four-game sweep of the Astros with a 9-0 victory.
Astros first baseman Carlos Pena laced a 3-2 pitch over the defensive shift and into right field with one out in the seventh to snuff the only lingering suspense. Verlander (4-2) owns a pair of no-hitters and, while his pitch count was bloated in the early going, he appeared primed for a third career no-hitter before Pena turned on a 96 mile-per-hour fastball.
"I really didn't think he had a chance to get there ... with the pitch count," Leyland said. "There were just too many (pitches) early that it wasn't going to work out late. I had 125 with a possible 130 at max.
"It just didn't look like he was going to get there. I would have done what I felt was the best thing to do for Justin Verlander's career and the Detroit Tigers. I would have been caught up in a no-hitter like everyone else, and there's nothing wrong with that. But you can't do a silly thing."
Verlander, whose career-high pitch count of 133 came in Game 5 of the 2011 American League Championship Series, issued walks in the first and fourth before Marwin Gonzalez reached on a Prince Fielder error to open the sixth. He required 86 pitches to complete five innings, but after the Tigers (19-11) walloped Astros right-hander Philip Humber (0-7), the only real drama was watching Verlander flirt with history yet again.
Verlander surrendered two hits with nine strikeouts over seven innings. He tossed 116 pitches (including 80 strikes), just 10 pitches off his season high of 126 thrown in a 2-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners April 18.
"I wasn't really thinking about it," Verlander said. "Who knows? I go out in the seventh and have a five-pitch inning and it's really a non-issue at that point. I think Leyland has been around long enough to kind of play it by ear and trust my opinion."
After scoring six runs over their first two at-bats against Houston right-hander Lucas Harrell Saturday night, the Tigers sent 10 batters to the plate in a five-run second inning after Fielder staked Detroit to a 2-0 lead with a two-run homer, his eighth, to right field in the first inning.
Fielder added a two-run single in the second, following an RBI single from Andy Dirks and a two-run home run from Brayan Pena earlier that frame. Humber allowed three home runs among his eight hits, with the Tigers scoring eight runs and drawing three walks over his four innings.
"It just seems like every mistake I made they hit hard, and I just did not make enough good pitches," said Humber, whose ERA ballooned to 8.82. "(Being dropped from the rotation), that is something that is out of my control, but I have not done anything to keep that from happening."
The Astros (8-24) have dropped six consecutive games and 10 of 11. After suffering two close losses to open their series with the reigning AL champions, the Astros were outscored 26-2 on Saturday and Sunday.
"You just have to wipe the slate clean each and every day," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "It doesn't matter if you would have won today, you still have to come back Tuesday with a clean slate. I know everybody is going to come back here looking to win baseball games."
NOTES: Humber defeated the Tigers in his final spring training start, allowing four hits and two walks with five strikeouts over six scoreless innings on March 28. ... Houston wore 'Los Astros' jerseys in recognition of Cinco de Mayo. ... Astros second baseman Jose Altuve was absent from the starting lineup for the first time this season. He entered Sunday tied for second in the majors with 43 hits (trailing Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who has 47) and tied for second among second basemen with a .333 average. His 33 double plays turned lead all second basemen. ... Detroit swept a four-game road series for the first time since sweeping the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in 2006.