Carlos Correa
AP Images

Astros trounce Red Sox for 1-0 lead in the ALCS

11 Comments

The Astros took an early lead in the ALCS after sailing past the Red Sox with a 7-2 win during Game 1 on Saturday night. They’ve now won four straight playoff games this month and will look to gain a 2-0 advantage over their AL rivals before the series moves to Houston on Tuesday.

On paper, you couldn’t have asked for a better matchup. Chris Sale was pitted against Justin Verlander in what promised to be a vintage pitcher’s duel… and quickly devolved into the opposite. Sale dropped the velocity on his fastball by a few miles and couldn’t seem to locate the strike zone. Over the first four innings of the game, he held the Astros to two runs on one hit, four walks, and five strikeouts, topping out at a staggering 86 pitches before he made his exit from the mound.

Verlander, meanwhile, cruised through four shutout innings with nary a sign of trouble, racking up four strikeouts and allowing just one hit and one walk as the Red Sox struggled to plate their first run of the night. He eventually ran into a spot of trouble in the fifth after giving up a leadoff single to Steve Pearce, then following that hit with three back-to-back-to-back walks to Eduardo Nuñez, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mitch Moreland. Moreland plated a run with his free pass, and another wild pitch from Verlander allowed Bradley enough time to sprint home and score the tying run.

With the score 2-2, bases loaded, and two outs, Andrew Benintendi worked a full count against the lefty, then was caught looking on a 97.8-MPH fastball that hovered just a bit outside the strike zone. It turned out to be a little too outside for Alex Cora’s liking, too, as he emerged from the dugout to confront home plate umpire James Hoye and got tossed between innings.

The Astros finally tipped things back in their favor in the sixth inning. Correa came through with a go-ahead RBI single to score Alex Bregman and take the lead, while Verlander appeared to recover from his meltdown the previous inning and retired the heart of the order on just nine pitches. While Red Sox righties Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier combined for two scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth, they were left high and dry by an offense that just couldn’t seem to get a foothold against the Astros and went hitless in the bottom half of both innings.

Houston completed their victory lap in the ninth. Brandon Workman stepped in for Brasier and managed to strike out George Springer on four pitches, which might have been more impressive had he not handed out hits and walks to every other batter. Josh Reddick‘s solo shot lifted the Astros to a 4-2 lead, while Yuli Gurriel mashed a 346-foot, three-run homer that all but cemented the club’s first win of the series.

The Red Sox had little hope of staging a five-run comeback to extend the game in the bottom of the ninth. Xander Bogaerts worked a leadoff single off of Collin McHugh, but this time there were no free passes and no home runs to follow it up. Pearce struck out, Brock Holt lined into the second out (avoiding the strikeout that would have awarded him the despised golden sombrero), and Nuñez hit a routine grounder to third as the Red Sox dropped the series opener, 7-2.

The Astros will attempt to keep their four-game win streak alive on Sunday, when right-hander Gerrit Cole takes the mound against lefty David Price for Game 2 of the ALCS. Game time is set for 7:09 PM EDT at Fenway Park.

Kershaw-Sale anything but a pitcher’s duel

Elsa/Getty Images
1 Comment

World Series Game 1 was billed as a battle of aces, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw against Chris Sale of the Red Sox. Between them, they have 14 All-Star Game nominations. Kershaw has won three Cy Young Awards. Sale could his first Cy Young Award this year. Among his 10 seasons with at least 110 innings pitched, Kershaw has never posted a sub-2.92 ERA. Sale has been at 2.90 or below in each of the last two seasons. The two have combined for over 4,000 career strikeouts and both have averaged better than a strikeout per inning over their careers.

And yet Tuesday’s Game 1 was anything but a pitcher’s duel between Kershaw and Sale. Though a couple of fielding mistakes weren’t of any help to Kershaw in the first inning, Red Sox batters were squaring him up good. Of the five balls put in play in the first inning, three had exit velocities of 100 MPH or higher. Of the 12 total balls put in play against him overall, five reached triple digits in exit velo.

Kershaw gave up a pair of runs in the first, another run in the third on a J.D. Martinez double to straightaway center field, and another two in the fifth. Kershaw led off the fifth by walking Mookie Betts, then giving up a single to Andrew Benintendi, ending his night. Ryan Madson relieved Kershaw and proceeded to allow both inherited runners to score. All told, Kershaw yielded five runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts on 79 pitches in four-plus innings.

Sale, meanwhile, was on the hook for individual runs in the second, third, and fifth. Dodger hitters weren’t squaring him up quite as well as the Red Sox batters squared up Kershaw, but Sale was still more hittable than usual. Of the eight balls put in play against him, four were at least 90 MPH in exit velo. One of the runs was a no-doubt solo home run to Matt Kemp in the second. The Dodgers chased Sale in the fifth when he issued a leadoff walk to Brian Dozier. Matt Barnes relieved him allowed the inherited runner to score. Overall, Sale threw 91 pitches in four-plus innings, serving up three runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.

The game is now, as has been generally the case throughout this postseason, a battle of the bullpens.