The Houston Astros topped the Boston Red Sox by an 8-2 final in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series on Thursday (box score). The Astros now possess a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series, with Game 2 scheduled to take place on Friday.
Here's what you need to know about the Astros' victory:
Altuve comes up big
Jose Altuve, the Astros diminutive second baseman, has a good chance of bringing home this season's AL Most Valuable Player Award. His performance in Game 1 won't affect his chances, but it did add to what's been a brilliant year.
Altuve, who homered 24 times and slashed .346/.410/.547 during the regular season, didn't wait long into the postseason to strike. He hit a solo home run in his first at-bat against Chris Sale to make it 2-0, and later added additional solo shots in the fifth and seventh (off Austin Maddox).
In doing so, Altuve became the first Astros player to:
Jose Altuve has the first three-homer game in Astros' postseason history.— Jake Kaplan (@jakemkaplan) October 5, 2017
Altuve also joined a select list of players to homer multiple times off Sale:
Players with multi-HR games against Sale:— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) October 5, 2017
Ryan Raburn 9/7/15
Eric Homser 6/10/16
Miguel Cabrera 9/5/16
Josh Donaldson 9/26/17
Speaking of which ...
Sale's home-run woes continue
Those who kept up with the Cy Young Award race (or who read Mike Axisa's recent piece) know that Sale struggled a bit down the stretch. He made first starts in September, allowing multiple home runs in three of them -- including four in his final regular-season appearance. In fact, Sale allowed two-plus home runs eight time all year, and five of those occasions came after Aug. 1.
Sale's recent inability to keep the ball in the yard evidently carried into his first career postseason start. He gave up three dingers, including the aforementioned two to Altuve. What's worse is, and both were on two-strike counts. As with most pitchers, he doesn't tend to do that:
Sale's final line: five innings, nine hits, seven runs (all earned), a walk, six strikeouts, and three home runs. His 17 Game Score tied for the, per Baseball Reference. Not what the Red Sox wanted -- not from anyone, but especially not from their ace.
Verlander is quality
On paper, the Sale-Justin Verlander match-up had the potential to sizzle. Sale's rough outing put the squash on that pretty quick. Verlander, for his part, was OK.
In what was his postseason debut for the Astros, Verlander turned in a quality start: Six innings, two runs, three strikeouts. Nothing fancy, nothing worth writing home about. He did it on 99 pitches before giving way to the bullpen. It was fine. Not Verlander's best -- not even with the Astros, with whom he's been brilliant -- but good enough to get the win and put the Astros in prime position to take over the series.
Other Astros produce
Altuve serves as a convenient headliner, but he wasn't the Astros' only hitter to come through. Here were some other notable performances:
Alex Bregman opened scoring with a solo homer in the first. He later added another hit.
Evan Gattis notched two doubles and scored twice.
Josh Reddick also tallied two hits and two runs scored.
In other words, it was a lineup-wide effort from the majors' best offense.
Early controversy proves pointless
Although the Astros' offensive outpouring rendered it moot, we had ourselves a good old fashioned bang-bang play early on. No, not the normal type. Rather, this one revolved around whether Dustin Pedroia Mitch Moreland could cross the plate. Originally, the umpires said no. After a review, they changed their minds, thus awarding the Red Sox their first run of the game. It wasn't their last, but again, it didn't matter.
Nunez leaves injured
Red Sox utilityman Eduardo Nunez appeared just once during the regular season after September 9 due to a knee injury. He got the nod at designated hitter on Thursday, but didn't last long. Nunez re-aggravated his knee on his first at-bat, a groundout to third, . He's presumably done for the series, which opens up DH for Hanley Ramirez.
Game 2 preview
On Friday, the Red Sox will try to even the series. It won't be easy. The Astros will start Dallas Keuchel, their second ace. The Red Sox will counter with Drew Pomeranz. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET.