LOS ANGELES — A home run derby broke out during a hot, dry day at Dodger Stadium, and suddenly the Houston Astros have their swing and swagger back.
Carlos Correa homered twice and drove in four, Jose Altuve hit a go-ahead, two-run single during Houston’s four-run sixth inning and the Astros rallied to beat the Oakland Athletics 10-5 in the opener of their AL Division Series on Monday.
“I love October baseball,” Correa said. “The energy is just different. I know there’s no fans this year, but the energy to know you win or go home is what drives me.”
George Springer, MVP of the 2017 World Series, had four hits for Houston, which trailed 3-0 and 5-3.
“To get down early and not quit and fight hard and come out with a win in the first game is obviously huge,” Springer said.
The Astros rallied with two outs in the sixth against Oakland’s vaunted bullpen to take control of Major League Baseball’s first neutral-site postseason game resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Houston pounded out 16 hits in all as the A’s ran through eight pitchers.
“As the game got deeper,” Springer said, “the at-bats got better.”
The teams combined for six home runs in daytime conditions that were ripe for the ball to carry at the stadium where the Dodgers hit a major league-leading 118 homers. The temperature was 91 degrees at game time under sunny skies and with little breeze, although tricky shadows crept toward the mound during the final innings. The entire best-of-five series will be played during the day. At night, the air is cooler and often thicker, an environment less favorable to hitters.
“I’ve never seen the ball carry like that here,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, an All-Star player for the Dodgers in the 1980s.
Houston’s hitters hadn’t looked quite the same this year, the first since their sign-stealing scheme was unveiled. Altuve, Correa and others slumped during the regular season, and the team hit a combined .194 during a two-game sweep of Minnesota in the wild-card round.
“You can’t judge this offense by 60 games,” Correa said. “When you get the leadoff guy (Springer) getting on base every single time, good things are going to happen. When he goes, we go as a team.”
The Astros’ strut emerged at the same ballpark where they beat the Dodgers to win the 2017 World Series in seven games, helped by their sign-stealing scandal that rocked baseball and drew the ire of rival players and fans.
“The way people want to perceive us is fine,” starter Lance McCullers Jr. said. “People are allowed to feel any way about the Houston Astros.”
“They played the later innings better than we did,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “We just didn’t have the at-bats that we typically do at the end of the game.”
Martin Maldonado followed with a single. Springer doubled to shallow left for his 25th career postseason extra-base hit in the leadoff spot, moving past Derek Jeter for most ever, according to Stats Perform. The ball zinged down the third-base line past a diving Chad Pinder, pulling Houston to 5-4.
Altuve’s line-drive single to left scored Maldonado and Springer to put the Astros back in front, 6-5. Altuve moved up on the throw home and scored on Michael Brantley‘s single to right.
Correa’s second home run – a blast to center in the seventh – had Ramon Laureano climbing the wall in pursuit. His spikes dug a hole in the wall covering as the Astros led 8-5. Correa cupped his ear with his hand as he rounded the bases, a taunt aimed at those who have criticized Houston for its cheating system.
“When Carlos Correa is right there’s nobody better,” McCullers said. “He’s been coming up huge for us.”
Houston added two runs in the ninth on Correa’s RBI single and Yuli Gurriel‘s sacrifice fly.
Oakland led 5-3 in the fifth on Mark Canha‘s sacrifice fly to right that scored Semien. He singled and took second when third baseman Alex Bregman barehanded the ball and threw it past first for an error.
Matt Olson homered leading off the fourth, putting Oakland back in front 4-3. His shot to center was his first-ever hit off McCullers.
Chris Bassitt put the potential tying and go-ahead runs on in the fifth with back-to-back singles by Springer and Altuve. But he gave way to Yusmeiro Petit, who retired the next three batters to escape the jam.
Bassitt was cruising along until the Astros jumped on him for three straight hits in the fourth. Bregman homered leading off, Kyle Tucker followed with a single and scored on Correa’s homer to center that tied the game, 3-3. Bassitt hadn’t given up three runs since August.
McCullers got out of any further damage by retiring the next three batters.
“Those were real big,” Baker said. “He left them out there or they would have been off to the races.”
The A’s took a 3-0 lead with homers by designated hitter Khris Davis, who had a two-run blast in the second, and Sean Murphy‘s solo shot in the third. Olson walked to set up Davis, who went opposite-field on the first pitch from McCullers.
The A’s extended their losing streak in Game 1 of the postseason to eight.
“We’re not panicking,” Bassitt said. “Win tomorrow and don’t worry about the extra crap.”
ON THIS DAY
Bregman has homered on Oct. 5 for four straight years.
Astros: LHP Framber Valdez got a victory in the AL wild-card series against Minnesota.
Athletics: LHP Sean Manaea makes his second career postseason start after losing the AL wild card game last year when chosen to start over 15-game winner Mike Fiers, who had pitched his second career no-hitter in 2019. Manaea returned later than he had hoped following surgery in September 2018 to go 4-0 with 1.21 ERA in five starts over September last season.