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

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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.

Japanese Baseball to begin June 19

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Japanese League commissioner Atsushi Saito announced that Japan’s professional baseball season will open on June 19. Teams can being practice games on June 2. There will be no fans. Indeed, the league has not yet even begun to seriously discuss a plan for fans to begin attending games, though that may happen eventually.

The season will begin three months after its originally scheduled opening day of March 20. It will be 120 games long. Teams in each six-team league — the Central League and Pacific League — will play 24 games against each league opponent. There will be no interleague play and no all-star game.

The announcement came in the wake of a national state of emergency being lifted for both Tokyo and the island of Hokkaido. The rest of the country emerged from the state of emergency earlier this month. This will allow the Japanese leagues to follow leagues in South Korea and Taiwan which have been playing for several weeks.

In the United States, Major League Baseball is hoping to resume spring training in mid June before launching a shortened regular season in early July. That plan is contingent on the league and the players’ union coming to an agreement on both financial arrangements and safety protocols for a 2020 season. Negotiations on both are ongoing. Major League Baseball will, reportedly, make a formal proposal about player compensation tomorrow.