ALCS GAME 1: ASTROS 7, RED SOX 2

Astros pull away late, beat Red Sox 7-2 to take 1-0 lead in ALCS

Lance McCullers and the Astros were celebrating after Game 1. Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

The Astros remained unbeaten in the 2018 playoffs, blowing the game open late to thump the Red Sox 7-2 in Game 1 in Boston to go up 1-0 in the ALCS. 

Game 1 looked like it would go down to the wire through the first eight innings, with the Astros edging out the Red Sox 3-2 at that point on a two-RBI single by George Springer and a go-ahead RBI single by Carlos Correa. The bats started cracking in the ninth for Houston, though, putting the game out of reach on a solo shot by Josh Reddick then a three-run home run by Yuli Gurriel. Justin Verlander, despite suffering one bad inning where he gave up two runs on a hit, three walks, and a wild pitch, was otherwise dominant on his way to another playoff win. His final line was six innings, two runs, two hits, four walks, and six strikeouts. His two hits would be all Boston would get on the night after great innings by the bullpen trio of Ryan Pressly, Lance McCullers Jr., and Collin McHugh, who closed out the win.

The Astros were up to the plate first in the top of inning one, and George Springer led things off by battling Chris Sale for a walk. He would be forced out at second on a fielder's choice hit by Jose Altuve for the first out, bringing up Alex Bregman who squeezed a blooper into shallow right field that just fell in for a single but forced Altuve out at second before Sale got a strikeout to end the half-inning. In the bottom of the inning, Verlander took the mound and allowed a leadoff single to Mookie Betts who would advance to second on a wild pitch with one out. Verlander would then issue a one-out walk but would strand both runners on a double play to end the inning.

After two quick outs in the top of the second, Sale then struggled to find the zone, walking Carlos Correa, hitting Martin Maldonado with a pitch, then walking Reddick to load the bases with two outs. Springer was up next to try and make something happen, and after working the count 3-2 drilled a ball down the third base line to score two and give Houston the first lead of the series, 2-0 before Sale could get the third out. Verlander meanwhile was able to get a quick 1-2-3 inning in the bottom half to move things to the third.

Sale, with his pitch count elevating, continued in the third and issued another walk, this time to Bregman, to start the inning. He would get some help to erase the walk after a fly out, Bregman getting caught stealing second, then a strikeout. Verlander in the second half of the inning retired Boston in order, keeping the game at 2-0.

In the top of the fourth, Sale finally found a rhythm, getting his first inning without allowing a baserunner, including a couple of strikeouts. Verlander matched that with his third straight perfect inning, making it ten straight batters sat down in order.

Sale's night would be done after four innings, bringing in Joe Kelly as the first reliever for Boston in the top of the fifth, who was able to get through the 9-1-2 spots in the Astros order on 11 pitches. Steve Pearce gave Boston their first hit since the first inning to lead off the bottom of the fifth, then Verlander issued back-to-back one-out walks to load the bases, putting him in his highest-leverage situation of the night. After getting ahead 0-2 on the next batter, he would throw four straight balls to walk in Boston's first run and cut the lead in half, 2-1. Verlander would get a force out at home a groundball for the second out, leaving the bases loaded, which would bite Verlander as a wild pitch tied the game before Verlander could get a strikeout to end the long, disappointing inning.

Kelly remained in the game to start the top of the sixth and after an arguably late timeout call by Bregman at the plate, Kelly hit him with the next pitch, seemingly out of retaliation, resulting in a stare by Bregman before taking his base. Yuli Gurriel hit a groundball to third next which should have been a double play, but instead was fumbled, leaving both runners safe with no outs. Kelly worked his way back, getting a pop out then strikeout against the next two batters, but Carlos Correa would come through by dropping a single into the left-center gap to score Bregman and give Houston the lead back at 3-2. That prompted another call to the bullpen, this time for Matt Barnes who would get the third out on one pitch. Verlander, after the rough fifth, returned to the mound in the sixth and had a good bounce-back, getting three quick groundouts to end the inning.

Barnes, after his one pitch out in the sixth, kept going in the seventh and worked around a one-out walk to Springer and a two-out walk to Bregman to get through the top of the inning. Verlander's night was over after getting through the sixth, and first out of Houston's bullpen was Ryan Pressly, who worked around a one-out error by Correa that put a runner on first by getting a couple of strikeouts and huge defensive play from Bregman to send the game to the final two innings.

Ryan Brasier was next out of the Red Sox bullpen for the top of the eighth, and after a replay review confirmed, hit Tyler White with his first pitch, who would be pinch-run for by Jake Marisnick. Marisnick stole second, then a walk to Correa put two on base but Maldonado would ground into an inning-ending double play. Lance McCullers Jr. came in for an inning of relief in the bottom of the eighth, a perfect inning with a groundout and two strikeouts.

Instead of sending out their closer, Boston instead sent out Brandon Workman for the top of the ninth, and he was met by a solo home run by Reddick to lead off the inning, giving the Astros an insurance run at 4-2. Workman continued to struggle, walking Altuve and Bregman, setting up Gurriel for a break-open three-run home run to extend the lead to 7-2. Tony Kemp pinch-hit next and hit a double down the first-base line, prompting another call to Boston's bullpen to get Heath Hembree, who would finally get Boston out of the inning. Collin McHugh came on to close things out in the bottom of the inning and worked around a leadoff single to do so, putting Houston up 1-0 in the series.

Game 2: The series continues in Boston tomorrow for Game 2, an hour earlier than Saturday with first pitch scheduled for 6:09 PM Central. The game can be seen on TBS, along with all of the remaining ALCS games. The Astros will send out Gerrit Cole, who hopefully paired with another strong offensive game could put the Astros looking to remain unbeaten and leave Boston with a hard-fought 2-0 lead that they can take to Houston to possibly close things out at home. 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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