American League Playoffs

Altuve hits three home runs as Astros take Game 1 from Red Sox 8-2

Altuve leads the Astros past Chris Sale and the Red Sox with three home runs. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Jose Altuve was a monster in Game 1 on Thursday, and the Astros are off to a fast start in the American League Divisional Series because of it.

Altuve hit three home runs and the Astros rocked Red Sox ace Chris Sale in an 8-2 win at Minute Maid Park, taking a 1-0 lead in the series.

Justin Verlander pitched six innings and got the victory.

The Astros took control early. The started with a 95 mph fastball from Verlander to Xander Bogaerts for a called strike. Bogaerts would pop out and the Red Sox would go down 1-2-3 in the first. 

In the bottom of the first, Alex Bregman took Sale deep to give the Astros a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Altuve was up next and stepped into the box with chants of "MVP!" echoing through Minute Maid Park and made it back-to-back homers, extending the lead to 2-0. 

Verlander issued two one-out walks in the top of the second which allowed Boston to get one run back on a RBI single from Sandy Leon, but Dustin Pedroia was thrown out reaching for third to end the inning. The score would stay 2-1 until the top of the fourth when the Red Sox would get runners on the corners with no outs. Rafael Devers hit a sac fly to tie the game at 2 before Verlander got out of the inning, however, had already raised his pitch count to 79. 

In typical Marwin Gonzalez fashion, he came to the plate in a tie game with two-outs and two on and came through. He drilled a ball opposite field off the right-center wall to score two runs, putting the Astros up 4-2. Sale, like Verlander, would also fall victim of a high pitch count through four innings, ending the fourth at 75 pitches.

The Astros continued to get the better of Sale as Altuve hit his second home run of the game, extending the Astros' lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the fifth. Gattis hit his second double of the game followed by a Reddick walk with no outs in the bottom of the sixth to end Sale's day. Joe Kelly came in for the Red Sox and gave up a single to load the bases before giving up a two-RBI single to Brian McCann to make it 7-2 Astros and give Sale seven earned runs on the day.

Meanwhile, Verlander cruised through the fifth and sixth innings on eight and twelve pitches respectively before Hinch went to the bullpen with the large lead in the seventh. The Astros received a perfect top half of the seventh from Devenski including two strikeouts before Altuve gave the Astros another insurance run with his third solo home run of the game to make it 8-2 in the bottom half of the inning. 

Boston would be unable to trim the lead down despite getting a couple of two-out hits off of Harris in the eighth before Liriano was brought in to get the last out of the inning. Joe Musgrove came in for the ninth in a non-save situation and continued to perform well as a reliever, locking up the 8-2 win.

In the end, the Astros played a good defensive game behind good pitching, made use of the long ball including three by the potential MVP, and added additional runs off timely hitting to go up 1-0 on Boston in the series. 

The Astros play the Red Sox again Friday at 1:05 p.m. at Minute Maid Park. Dallas Keuchel takes the mound for Houston against Boston's Drew Pomeranz.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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