Here's what the ALCS has taught us about home-field advantage

Fenway has not been kind to the Astros. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images.

Panic? Not yet. Concern? Well, yeah. The Astros are down 2-1 in the American League Championship Series, which isn't a math problem as much as the way the Red Sox are hitting grand slam homers like they're playing drunk Wiffle Ball in a neighbor's backyard.

The Astros pitching is hurting. The season-long reliable starting rotation has been decimated and left asunder (awesome word). Ace Lance McCullers is on the injury shelf, and starters Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy have barely made cameo appearances. Valdez has been the workhorse, lasting 2-2/3 innings, while Garcia survived one inning and Urquidy managed to get only four Sox batters out. The Astros have fallen behind 8-0 and 9-0 in their two losses. They need to stop doing that.

Zack Greinke, who the Astros said wouldn't start in the ALCS, will start crucial Game 4 tonight. Greinke has thrown only 12-1/3 innings in the last month while still surrendering five runs. He needs to stop doing that, too.

More troubling, if that's even possible, Astros pitching coach Brent Stromm is suggesting that Astros hurlers are tipping their pitches. Imagine how much an advantage a Red Sox batter would have if he knew what pitch was coming. Oprah's Book Club would see this as literary irony. You remember 2017, right? The Red Sox certainly do.

Astros fans didn't see lopsided scores coming, and here's another development they may not have expected.

Red Sox fans in Fenway Park have been respectful, even kind and friendly toward Astros supporters who traveled up to Boston.

Famed restaurateur Matthew George, like a hurricane chaser, has spent the 2021 season following the Astros into danger: Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Fenway Park. In biblical times, George would have cheered for Daniel in the lion's den.

"The fans in Boston have been terrific toward us. They engage with us, ask about the Astros players, what kind of season we've had. I haven't seen any trouble or heard any threats or anything over the line before, during or after the games," George said.

That surprised George. This surprised me. George said he bought his World Series ticket from the team's official website. The games in Boston were not sold out in advance by season ticket holders.

"I got online the minute tickets went on sale to the public. I bought my field box seat for Game 3, seven rows behind the Astros on deck circle for $320," he said.

George's first impression of Fenway: "it's small. The stadium shakes, you can feel your seat vibrating, when the Red Sox hit a home run. When Kyle Schwarber hit his grand slam Monday night, you really felt Fenway rock."

George said that some Astros fans hung out after the game to watch Astros players board their bus. A small group of Red Sox fans started yelling at the Astros fans but police chased the rowdies away.

George said it was a different story when he attended games at Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium. Fans there were rude and unruly. Of course it might have helped if George weren't wearing an Astros jersey behind enemy lines. George was the target of invective and middle finger salutes at Yankee Stadium and hot dog shrapnel at Dodger Stadium. Household hint: to remove mustard stains, pre-soak the garment with detergent and hot water, wash, let dry in sunlight.

"There's no mistaking who the fans at Fenway are rooting for, but you can tell these are true baseball fans who really know and appreciate the game. They're not there just to be seen. They clearly want the Red Sox to win, but it's cool if you're an Astros fan. I've always heard about the amazing Fenway experience and it's lived up to everything."

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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