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

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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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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