Astros kick off the 2013 season with a victory

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The Houston Astros, playing their inaugural game as a member of the American League, defeated the Texas Rangers 8-2 on Opening Day in Major League Baseball.

The Astros got on the board first in the fourth inning when Justin Maxwell tripled to left field on a fly ball that bounced high off of the wall in front of the Crawford Boxes, scoring two runs. They padded their lead to 4-0 in the fifth on RBI singles by Ronny Cedeno and Jose Altuve.

Astros starter Bud Norris shut the Rangers out for five innings, but slowed down in the sixth as his fastball velocity dipped below 90 MPH. David Murphy and Nelson Cruz both hit RBI singles with two outs, bringing the game back to 4-2 and chasing Norris in the process. Erik Bedard came in to clean up the inning.

Rick Ankiel put the game out of reach with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, pinch-hitting for right fielder Brandon Barnes. Justin Maxwell and Matt Dominguez had both reached base on walks, forcing Rangers starter Matt Harrison out of the game. Derek Lowe took the hill in relief, but Ankiel promptly served Lowe’s 3-2 slider into the seats in right field, putting the Astros up 7-2.

After Justin Maxwell’s second triple of the game in the bottom of the eighth (the first two-triple game on Opening Day since Tony Pena, Jr. with the Royals in 2007), the Astros added another run with two outs when Dominguez singled two second baseman Ian Kinsler, who had to range far to his right for a ground ball with lots of topspin.

Lefty Erik Bedard threw three and a third scoreless innings in relief, earning a save under the three-inning rule — the first save of his career. Today’s victory also marks the first victory of Bo Porter’s managerial career.

Joe Girardi won’t use Masahiro Tanaka in Game 7

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The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.

Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.

Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.

Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.