The Astros ace accomplished two strikeout feats — getting his 3,000th in the majors and career-high 300th of the season — and Houston clinched home-field advantage throughout the postseason with a 6-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night.
"It was a big night for Justin and a great night for our team," Houston manager AJ Hinch said.
Jose Altuve and Josh Reddick homered to back Verlander (21-6), who became the 18th pitcher to reach 3,000 career punchouts and the 19th since 1900 to reach 300 in a season. Both came against Kole Calhoun.
The right-hander — who struck out 12 in six innings while allowing three runs and four hits — came into the game with 2,994 strikeouts. He expected to reach the career milestone, but he thought getting to 300 would be a tougher task against a team that is the third-toughest to strike out in the majors. He's the second pitcher to reach both marks in the same game, following Arizona's Randy Johnson in 2000.
"Three thousand was something I wanted to accomplish this season. I honestly wrote off 300. I thought it was going to be a lot to ask for since these guys don't strike out much," Verlander said. "I got 3,000 and then to look up after five innings and have 11 strikeouts. Talking to AJ, I knew we were only going to go six innings. I had more emotion for 300 than 3,000 because I didn't expect to get there in this game. Very thankful to get both accomplishments. It hasn't set in yet."
He achieved the career milestone in the fourth inning when he got Calhoun swinging at a slider. Calhoun reached first, though, on a wild pitch, and Andrelton Simmons then gave Los Angeles a 3-0 lead with a two-run homer to left-center. Brian Goodwin supplied the first run in the second when he lined Verlander's curveball over the wall in right-center.
According to Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet, that's the first time a pitcher has recorded his 3,000th strikeout on a wild pitch.
"I told him that was my fault. I love that pitch because it is on top of the plate," catcher Robinson Chirinos said. "It hit the top of my foot. It couldn't have happened at a worse moment."
Verlander reached 300 in a season for the first time when he got Calhoun on a foul tip in the sixth.
Verlander and teammate Gerrit Cole are the first teammates to record at least 300 strikeouts in the same season since Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002. Cole has 316.
It was Verlander's sixth game this season and fourth since the All-Star break with 12 or more strikeouts.
Houston rallied with a five-run sixth. Altuve brought the Astros within a run with a two-run shot to left-center off starter José Suarez. Alex Bregman walked and Aledmys Diaz was hit by a pitch from Luke Bard (3-3) before Reddick sent a slider over the right field wall to put Houston on top.
"It was good to help Justin get out of the situation he was in. A bittersweet 3,000th strikeout reaches base and a home run afterwards," Reddick said. "Helping your team win is big but helping him get that milestone was another big step."
The Astros are only one game in front of the Dodgers but clinched home field by virtue of having a better intradivisional record. Houston beat the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series to claim its first championship, winning Game 7 on the road.
"It doesn't matter who we are playing, having that one extra game at home is going to be beneficial," Reddick said. "We see how dangerous teams are at home in the playoffs. It is more of a comfort level for us."
Houston will face either Tampa Bay or Oakland, who play Wednesday night in the AL wild-card game, starting Friday in the Division Series. The Yankees and Minnesota will meet in the other ALDS, which starts the same day.
Suarez had one of his better outings for the Angels. It was only the second time this season the left-hander has gone five or more innings and allowed two runs or fewer. Suarez allowed two runs and three hits and struck out six.
"He was efficient," Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. "He threw up zeroes for the first five innings. In the six he gave up a couple. I was a little torn. I wanted him to end on a good note, but I wanted him to keep pitching. After the Altuve two-run homer it was time to get him out so he could go into the offseason feeling good about his last outing."
Angels: Goodwin was back in the lineup and batted second after leaving Thursday's game due to back spasms.
Astros: Zack Greinke will throw a bullpen session on Sunday and a simulated game before the start of the AL Division Series. The right-hander also threw a bullpen on Friday in order to stay fresh for the postseason.
Cole (19-5, 2.52 ERA) attempts to reach 20 wins for the first time in front of friends and family. The 29-year old right-hander grew up in Newport Beach and lives in Santa Ana during the offseason. Left-hander Dillon Peters (4-3, 4.72 ERA) takes the mound in the Angels' finale.