THE PALLILOG

A tough act for Framber Valdez to follow, but he's up for the challenge

The Astros are up 1-0 in the ALDS. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Well that was easy. In game one of their American League Division Series the Astros made the White Sox look as though all five AL Central teams are no good this year. We already know that to be true of the other four. Of course anything can happen in one game or in a short series, but except for a poor eighth inning on the mound from Kendall Graveman the Astros absolutely cruised to a 6-1 series opening win.

The Lots of Lance starting pitching matchup played out as a major mismatch in the Astros' favor. Lance McCullers was tremendous until fading a little in the seventh. Six and two thirds scoreless innings from your starter? Yes, please. McCullers made 28 starts during the regular season. In zero of them did he not walk a batter. Thursday against the White Sox, zero walks (he did hit one guy). Tough act for Framber Valdez to follow in game two. Chicago starter Lucas Giolito has an easy act to follow after the Astros chased Lance Lynn in the fourth. The Astros have owned Lynn over their last several matchups. Giolito has been a different story.

Jose Altuve is occasionally the guilty party of some of the Astros' occasionally silly baserunning. Thursday, he made a spectacular baserunning play with as a good a slide as you can make to beat the tag on the throw home from Chisox third baseman Yoan Moncada on an Alex Bregman grounder. Altuve slid past the catcher and tapped home plate as he went by. Just tremendous.

Part of the beauty of sports is sometimes good decisions can blow up in your face, other times bad decisions can work out fine. This season Kyle Tucker was definitely the Astros' best offensive player. If you throw out April it wasn't particularly close. The Astros' lineup is loaded so it's not as if there are lightweights ahead of Tucker in the batting order. Still, slotting your best offensive player seventh in the order as Dusty Baker had Tucker in game one is silly. The simplest move would be to move Tucker up to second in the lineup and drop Michael Brantley to the seven spot. So of course Thursday Brantley had two hits while Tucker went 0-4. Baseball!

Couple the Astros comfortable win over the White Sox with the Rays dusting the Red Sox in their opener Thursday night, an Astros-Rays American League Championship Series rematch isn't inevitable, but the needle sure is pointing in the direction of the Astros being in St. Petersburg next Friday night.

Belichick returns to Houston

The Texans play the Patriots Sunday. Not exactly compelling. Much more the exact opposite of compelling. The Texans are off of one of the most pathetic showings in franchise history in taking a 40-0 beating at Buffalo, the Pats off losing Tom Brady's return to Foxboro. One reckons there will be a few no-shows who opt for almost anything besides entering NRG Stadium. Though the Texans are only one game back of the pacesetting Tennessee Titans in the thus far punchline awful AFC South.

Countdown to liftoff

Inside two weeks to the start of the Rockets' regular season. The Rockets won't be compelling but the presence of rookie Jalen Green and several other young talents sure makes them more interesting than the Texans. That's not meant as damning with faint praise, though watching glue dry would be more compelling than the Texans.

The NBA is celebrating it's 75th anniversary season. As the regular season opens in a couple of weeks, the NBA will unveil its 75 at 75, a panel selected list of the top 75 players in the league history. A quarter century ago the NBA unveiled its 50 at 50. Such rankings will always cause arguments, which is part of the fun. Shaquille O'Neal being on the 50 at 50 was laughably premature, now of course he's a no-brainer for the top 75, and would be an easy selection if the list was the top 25 at 75. Interesting that in unveiling the 75 at 75, the NBA has decided not to protect the 50 players who made the 50 at 50. Kind of awkward to inform Bill Walton, or Nate Archibald, or the family of Pete Maravich (as the case may be) "We're sorry to inform you that you are/he is OUT."

Buzzer Beaters:

1. CBS opted for Alabama-Texas A&M in primetime Saturday night. Uh oh. Blowouts aren't ratings magnets.

2. The Big 12 is clearly football inferior to the SEC but Texas-Oklahoma is about 100 times more interesting than Tide-Ags figures to be. More ultimately successful in Austin: Tesla or Steve Sarkisian?

3. Sports greatest Lances: Bronze-Parrish Silver-Berkman Gold-Alworth (until proven a blatant cheater Armstrong would have been a lock)

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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