Published at 12:13 am ET on October 14, 2018
BOSTON – In a match with two of the best strikers in the American league, Justin Verlander beat 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, who started his 23rd career after the season opener and his seventh place since moving to Houston last year, got into trouble after Mookie Betts started with a single and on one second place came second. But after a walk to J.D. Martinez, Verlander induced a double-play band by Xander Bogaerts to finish the frame.
Sale could not reach the performance of his counterpart early. Atypically wild and without the usual speed in the mid-nineties on his fastball, Sale worked around a leadoff walk in the first round, but threw himself in the second round through two more free passes and a hit-by-pitch. George Springer's base-charged double sealed the Astros' first two runs of the night to give Verlander an early two-run lead.
Despite a low pitch Verlander came in the fifth round almost unbalanced. After Steve Pearce had replaced half of the innings with a single from the Red Sox, Verlander hit Brock Holt, then went the next three Boston embankments to force a run. With the bases still charged, he left Mookie Betts weak to third base, where Alex Bregman laid it clean and threw home for a force. But when it seemed that Verlander could escape intact with the lead, he uncorked a wild place that allowed Jackie Bradley Jr. to shoot from the third and tie the game.
Verlander hit Andrew Benintendi with a fastball on the outside corner to finish fifth. Benintendi disagreed with the call of home plate referee James Hoy, slammed his helmet and hit the ground with his club when the inning ended. Boston coach Alex Cora left the dugout to defend his outfielder and was thrown out before the start of the sixth day.
After Sale had worked through four innings, Joe Kelly took over responsibility for the Red Sox. In the sixth, Kelly, Alex Bregman crashed with a 1-2 fastball to give Houston a leadoff baserunner. Boston error Third baseman Eduardo Nunez took Bregman to second place and a Carlos Correa Bloops single later in the inning drove in Bregman with the go-ahead run.
The Astros added four more runs – three of them from a Yuli Gurriel three-run homer – in ninth to extend the lead.
Verlander looked like he was on the ropes after running three doughs and taking the lead in the sixth, and the prospect seemed menacing as Benintendi worked out a full count with runners on the second and third and two. But Verlander's 98-mph fastball on the outside edge left Benintendi freezing to finish the Sox's only real rally. The Astros would again take the lead in the inning.
Man of the moment
Jumpers two-run single was not only the biggest hit in the game, but extended its postseason strike to 10, which goes back to the second game of last year's World Series. In this section, Springer has a .429 batting average with eight homeruns, 12 RBI, and a .510 on-base percentage. The reigning World Series MVP only extended its impressive postseason resume on Saturday.
Condition of the Astros
By taking the first game of the series, the Astros essentially clear the home advantage of the Red Sox in the set. They will send Gerrit Cole to Game 2 at Fenway Park on Sunday. Cole, who was last defeated in Game 2 of the Astros' ALDS, defeated the Cleveland Indians and threw seven dominant innings to win the victory. The 28-year-old former first overall selection went 15-5 with a 2.88 ERA and an otherworldly strikeout rate after entering the Astros in a low season trade.
Condition of the Red Sox
Despite his well documented October fights, David Price will get the ball for Boston on Sunday. Price threw a 1 in-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 his confidence that Price will be able to find his regular season form in Game 2, but Boston will face a difficult situation when he can not. Early Saturday will put them in first place, and so will the already-thin Auxiliary Corps Sox limited on Sunday Cora will need both innings and effectiveness from the competitive price.