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William Contreras homers vs. Justin Verlander in 13-pitch AB

HOUSTON — Justin Verlander fired fastballs and curveballs and even a changeup to William Contreras looking for a final out. It was baseball’s best: an all-time ace engaged in a long battle against a budding star, two outs and two runners in scoring position in a tie game.

On the 13th pitch of their matchup and Verlander’s 42nd pitch of the deciding fifth inning, Contreras finally found solid contact. His three-run home run traveled a Statcast-projected 428 feet and sent the Brewers to a 4-2 win over the Astros Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.

Contreras called it the best at-bat of his career. This did not surprise his 65-year-old manager.

“Yeah, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in My career, and my career is much longer than his,” Brewers manager Pat Murphy said. “It just made a statement about who this guy is. This represents our team.

In addition to ending Houston’s six-game winning streak, the NL Central-leading Brewers spoiled an outing in which Verlander passed former teammate Max Scherzer and moved to 11th on the list MLB all-time record with three strikeouts Saturday and 3,368 in his career. Verlander only needs four more outs to pass Greg Maddux and take sole possession of 10th place.

He could have used one more.

“Great at-bat,” Verlander said. “We fought. He won. I can go home and lay my head on my pillow tonight. I made a bunch of good pitches. He’s one of the best hitters in baseball and he got me. Obviously, it still hurts, you know? It’s rubbish. I felt like I was throwing the right pitches there.

For both sides, it was a rare moment. Contreras is tied for the longest Brewers at-bat to end with a home run since the pitch count began in 1988, joining a list that includes Jesús Aguilar’s strikeout against the Marlins on April 21, 2018.

And it represented the longest at-bat against Verlander that ended with a home run, beating Paul Konerko’s epic 11-pitch run on April 22, 2011.

“I think I have a lot of confidence in my abilities and what I can do,” Contreras said. “I don’t think it’s something I really believed in very much, but now that I’m having the year that I’m having, it really helps me to keep calm and (stay) focused on what I’m capable of to do.

Verlander entered the fifth inning throwing 56 pitches with a 1-0 lead, but the Brewers cobbled together their first extended rally from the bottom of the batting order. A single and two walks – one by 20-year-old rookie Jackson Chourio, born three months before the 41-year-old Verlander was drafted – preceded Blake Perkins’ game-tying sacrifice.

This in itself was a critical moment. Perkins worked with Verlander for 10 pitches.

“Going first was cool,” Perkins said. “(Contreras) was cooler.”

Verlander got the second out of the inning and settled in to face Contreras, who at 26 is no longer just the younger brother of Willson Contreras but an elite catcher in his own right, with a 176 wRC+ entering Saturday that ranked tied for fifth in the Majors.

Verlander took the lead in the count, 1-2, but then missed outside with two consecutive shots to push the count to the max.

“He kept fouling them and took a really good curveball, 1-2, it was fair,” Verlander said. “Just an epic fight. Frustrating. Honestly, this batting attack doesn’t really bother me. I kind of went out of sequence this round. A few walks, the home run. Obviously the scoreboard makes the difference in the game, but for me I was losing my mechanics a little bit and making a few guys walk is a little more frustrating.

On the sixth pitch, Contreras fouled a curveball. Next up, a 96.3 mph fastball. Next up was this changeup, the only one Verlander showed Contreras in their three meetings all night.

Verlander continued to step back and shoot as his pitch count in the inning reached and exceeded 40. Contreras continued to foul. The 12th pitch at bat was a 96.5 mph fastball, one of Verlander’s four hardest offerings all night. Contreras fouled for a seventh straight time.

Verlander continued to challenge.

“If he walks him, he knows he’s probably going to come out of the game,” Murphy said. “He’s a guy who has succeeded in almost every situation. …I’m sure that, from time to time, during his incredible career, he encountered a stick like that. I’m sure he respects that.

Pitch #13 was another fastball, in the zone and too close to the middle of the plate. Contreras lined him up at 109.3 mph from the start, according to Statcast, breaking the tie and ending Verlander’s 515th regular-season start in one fell swoop.

“In my first two ABs, I just missed him under the ball,” Contreras said. “I’m a hitter that’s going to make adjustments step by step, so in that last at-bat, those were the adjustments I was making and we were able to win it.”

Verlander came down with his best stuff.

“If I threw a slider to Contreras there, 3-2, and he hit a home run, I’d have a much harder time putting my head down tonight and being able to fall asleep than it did product,” he said.

As he spoke at his locker, Contreras joked that he had already watched the highlight 25 times.

“I’ll go eat,” he said, “and then maybe 100 more.”

News Source : www.mlb.com
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