Astros outslug Red Sox, win showdown to take 1-0 ALCS leadOctober 14, 2018
USA TODAY Sports
Published 12:13 AM EDT Oct 14, 2018
BOSTON — In a matchup of two of the American League’s foremost ace starters, Justin Verlander out-pitched Chris Sale to help the Astros beat the Boston Red Sox 7-2 in Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday.
The Astros’ 35-year-old Cy Young contender, making his 23rd career postseason start and his seventh since joining Houston last year, ran into trouble in the first inning after Mookie Betts led off with a single and took second on a wild pitch. But following a walk to J.D. Martinez, Verlander induced a double-play grounder from Xander Bogaerts to end the frame.
Sale could not match his counterpart’s performance early. Atypically wild and without the usual mid-90s velocity on his fastball, Sale worked around a leadoff walk in the first but pitched his way into a jam in the second by issuing two more free passes and a hit-by-pitch. George Springer’s bases-loaded double plated the Astros’ first two runs of the night to give Verlander an early two-run lead.
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Despite a low pitch count, Verlander nearly came unglued in the fifth. After Steve Pearce led off the Red Sox’ half of the inning with a single, Verlander struck out Brock Holt, then walked the next three Boston batters to force in a run. With the bases still loaded, he got Mookie Betts to ground weakly to third base, where Alex Bregman fielded it cleanly and threw home for a force out. But when it seemed Verlander might escape with the lead intact, he uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Jackie Bradley Jr. to score from third and tie the game.
Verlander struck out Andrew Benintendi with a fastball on the outside corner to end the fifth. Benintendi objected to home-plate umpire James Hoy’s call, slamming his helmet and bat to the ground when the inning ended. Boston manager Alex Cora left the dugout in defense of his outfielder and was ejected from the game before the start of the sixth.
After Sale labored his way through four innings, reliever Joe Kelly took over for the Red Sox. In the sixth, Kelly plunked Alex Bregman with a 1-2 fastball to give Houston a leadoff baserunner. An error by Boston third baseman Eduardo Nunez ushered Bregman to second, and a Carlos Correa bloop single later in the inning drove in Bregman with the go-ahead run.
The Astros added four more runs — three of them off a Yuli Gurriel three-run homer — in the ninth to extend the lead.
Verlander looked like he was on the ropes after walking three batters and giving up the lead in the sixth, and the outlook appeared ominous when Benintendi worked a full count with runners on second and third and two out. But Verlander’s 98-mph fastball on the outside corner froze Benintendi to end the Sox’ only real rally of the night. The Astros would grab the lead again in the inning.
Man of the moment
Springer’s two-run single not only marked the biggest hit in the game, but extended his postseason hitting streak to 10, dating back to Game 2 of last year’s World Series. In that stretch, Springer has a .429 batting average with eight home runs, 12 RBI and a .510 on-base percentage. The reigning World Series MVP only lengthened his impressive postseason resume in Saturday’s win.
State of the Astros
By taking the first game of the series, the Astros essentially erase the Red Sox’ home-field advantage in the set. They’ll send Gerrit Cole to the mound for Game 2 at Fenway Park on Sunday. Cole last pitched in Game 2 of the Astros’ ALDS sweep over the Cleveland Indians, throwing seven dominant innings to earn the win. The 28-year-old former first overall pick went 15-5 with a 2.88 ERA and an otherworldly strikeout rate after joining the Astros in an offseason trade.
State of the Red Sox
Despite his well-documented October struggles, David Price will get the ball for Boston on Sunday. Price threw a 1 ⅔-inning clunker in the Red Sox’ only ALDS loss and is 0-9 with a 6.03 ERA in 10 career postseason starts. Cora expressed confidence that Price can find his steady regular-season form in Game 2, but Boston will face a sticky situation if he can’t: Going to the bullpen early on Saturday will limit the Sox’ already thin relief corps on Sunday, so Cora will need both innings and effectiveness from the embattled Price.