ALCS Game 1

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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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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