ALCS Game 1

Astros get great pitching, clip Yankees 2-1 to win series opener

Astros get great pitching, clip Yankees 2-1 to win series opener
Dallas Keuchel was terrific in Game 1 against the Yankees. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Astros received a historic start by Dallas Keuchel in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night, shutting down Aaron Judge and the Yankees and getting a 1-0 advantage in the ALCS.

Keuchel fashioned 10 strikeouts and gave up just four hits and was backed by clutch hitting by Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel along with another fantastic game by Jose Altuve as the Astros took Game 1 of the ALCS 2-1. He got late help from Ken Giles, who pitched 1 2/3rds innings and gave up the only run on a two-out homer in the ninth to Greg Bird. He recovered to close out the game.

Of course it was Jose Altuve who put the Astros in place to get the first run on the board and take the lead. First, in the top of the inning, he made a spectacular diving stop of a groundball and threw it to first in time for an out. Then, he took to the bases in the bottom half of the inning by getting the first hit of the night for the Astros, stealing second, then scoring on a RBI single from Carlos Correa to make it 1-0. Yuli Gurriel added another run with a RBI single of his own to make it 2-0 before Masahiro Tanaka was able to get out of the inning.

In the top of the fifth, the Yankees were able to get runners on first and second with no outs after a single and rare error by Altuve.  Keuchel got out of the jam, though, thanks in large part to Marwin Gonzalez getting Bird out at home plate on an amazing throw for the final out after a single by Judge. Tanaka was able to bounce back from the rough fourth for a 1-2-3 bottom of the inning.

Keuchel stayed hot in the top of the sixth, getting two more strikeouts to bring his total to nine, and had some strong defense behind him to get the final out on a ground ball as Correa had to make a quick throw to first that was offline but saved by Gurriel getting the tag for the third out. Altuve got yet another hit in the bottom of the inning, then advanced to second on a wild pitch, but was left stranded leaving the Astros in the lead.

Keuchel returned for the top of the seventh nearing the 100 pitch mark. He made easy work of it, getting through the half inning on just twelve pitches, including getting his tenth strikeout of the night, making him the third Astro to record ten or more in a postseason game. The Yankees went to their bullpen in the bottom half, bringing in Chad Green who gave up one hit but no runs. 

With Keuchel's dominant night done, the Astros brought in Chris Devenski for the top of the eighth. Devenski got a quick pop out before walking Brett Gardner, prompting A.J. Hinch to go back to the bullpen, bringing in Giles for a five-out appearance. Despite a walk, Giles was able to keep the Yankees off the board and get the Astros within three outs of the Game 1 win, ending the top of the inning with a big strikeout of Didi Gregorius. Green returned to pitch the bottom of the eighth for the Yankees and despite Altuve getting yet another hit, was able to hold the Astros to their 2-0 lead.

In the ninth, Giles started with sixteen pitches already thrown but was able to get through the inning and save the game despite losing the shutout on a solo home run to Bird. Giles bounced back and got a strikeout to end the game and lock up the 2-1 win. 

The first three innings featured a pitching duel, as Keuchel and Tanaka took turns dealing. Tanaka did not allow a hit.

The game started with a quiet first as both pitchers were able to get through their halves of the inning without trouble. Despite giving up a one-out walk to Aaron Judge, Keuchel was able to finish the inning with two strikeouts and a groundout. In the bottom of the inning, Tanaka issued a leadoff walk to George Springer but got out of the inning with a flyout and two groundouts. The Astros failed to score in the opening inning for the first time in the playoffs.

In the second, both pitchers stayed sharp and the he game remained scoreless thanks to  1-2-3 efforts from both pitchers. Keuchel continued to look strong with two strikeouts, while Tanaka had a groundout and two flyouts.

Gardner came up with the first hit of the night with a two-out single in the top of the third but was left stranded as Keuchel came back with a big strikeout of Judge. Tanaka kept the Astros off the bases with another perfect inning.

Game 2: First pitch for Game 2 of the ALCS is scheduled for 3:08 PM Central tomorrow from Minute Maid Park here in Houston. The Astros will send out Justin Verlander, who despite his weird relief appearance in Game 4 of the ALDS continues to be dominant for his new team. The Yankees will start Luis Severino who was pulled early in the wild card game but was very strong in the ALDS Game 4 win over the Indians. Severino finished the regular season third in the AL with a 2.98 ERA.

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With both Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers making their way back from surgeries that sideline that Astros pitchers last season, and given the team's thin depth in their starting rotation, Houston fans and media have waited on bated breath for scraps of information to leak out of the notoriously secretive organization regarding their progress.

In a week full of mostly Hurricane Beryl-related bad news, the Astros organization had some discouraging news of their own when manager Joe Espada told the media that Lance McCullers has been shut down from pitching after his arm did not respond well to his latest bullpen session. The team says they are "formulating a plan for what's next."

Another Astros starter making his way back from injury is HOF-bound Justin Verlander. Verlander has been on the IL since June 16th with neck discomfort and, while there was initial hope that JV would only miss a start, his status has become increasingly murky as he is still apparently not close to returning.

Shifting from the health questions of the starters to the performance questions of the bullpen, some Houston fans have voiced concern via social media that Astros big-ticket 9th inning pitcher Josh Hader is not looking like a "shut-down" closer. Hader gave up more home runs in the first week of July (3) as he did the entire month of June (2).

In this week's episode of Stone Cold Stros, Charlie Pallilo and Brandon Strange discuss how the fluid dynamics of Astros pitching is impacting the competitive landscape of the division race. To watch the conversation, just click the video YouTube embedded in this article. To listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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