ALCS Game 2

Astros-Yankees: Gutsy Altuve scores in the ninth as Astros win 2-1, take 2-0 series lead

Justin Verlander was sick in Game 2. Elsa/Getty Images

Justin Verlander proved in Game 2 of the ALCS that not only was the trade for him a terrific move for the Astros, it may prove to be the difference in these playoffs. Carlos Correa also proved that he is arguably the future of the sport.

Verlander pitched a complete game on Saturday including thirteen strikeouts while Correa homered and hit the walk-off hit as the Astros beat the Yankees 2-1 and take a 2-0 lead in the ALCS.

 Verlander started out hot in the top of the first inning by recording two strikeouts and a pop out to retire the Yankees in order. Luis Severino allowed a hit to, no surprise, Jose Altuve and walked Carlos Correa with two-outs, but was able to strand them with a groundout to end the inning.

In the second, Starlin Castro was able to fight off a pitch for a broken-bat grounder that dribbled slowly enough to beat out Altuve's throw for the Yankees first hit of the day. Verlander followed that with a strikeout, his fourth of the game, to end the top of the inning. Yuli Gurriel kept his .500 postseason batting average intact with a leadoff walk to start the bottom of the inning but was part of an inning-ending double play to keep the game scoreless.

Josh Reddick made a spectacular catch at the wall to rob Chase Headley of at the least a double and maybe a home run in the top of the third inning. Brett Gardner hit a ball into the corner and nearly got a triple out of it, but after a review was called out on a terrific relay throw from Reddick to Correa to Alex Bregman. Severino retired the Astros in order in the bottom of the inning.

Things remained quiet and scoreless in the top of the fourth as Verlander retired the side on 9 pitches with a groundout and two flyouts. Carlos Correa came through with the first run of the game on a solo home run to right field to put the Astros up 1-0 before Severino ended the inning.

After getting two quick strikeouts to start the top of the fifth, the Yankees were able to tie the game off of Verlander with a double by Aaron Hicks followed by a ground-rule double by Todd Frazier when the ball got caught in the bullpen fence in left-center. Verlander was able to limit the damage there with a lineout to end the top of the inning. The Yankees went to their bullpen in the bottom of the fifth, likely a result of Severino being hit on his glove hand by a comebacker by Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth. Tommy Kahnle was the relief pitcher and despite a walk to Alex Bregman was able to keep the game tied 1-1.

Verlander bounced back from the rough fifth inning to make quick work of the Yankees in the top of the sixth, including two more strikeouts, bringing his total to eight. Kahnle returned for the bottom of the sixth for the Yankees and retired all three Astros, including a rare strikeout of Altuve, to keep the game tied at 1 going into the seventh.

In the seventh, Verlander recorded two more strikeouts to become the fourth Astro with 10 or more strikeouts in a playoff game less than 24 hours after Keuchel became the third. David Robertson took over for the Yankees in the bottom of the inning, and despite giving up a two-out double to Gurriel was able to get out of the inning with the game remaining knotted up.

Verlander returned to start the eighth and struck out the side, the last of which was the thirteenth of the day on his 109th pitch. Robertson also had a quick inning in the bottom half, retiring the Astros on six pitches to send the game to the ninth still tied up 1-1.

Verlander came back out and was able to complete nine innings on 124 pitches after getting two popouts and a groundout to strand Didi Gregorius who singled earlier in the inning. Aroldis Chapman came in for the Yankees, and after a strikeout to Reddick gave up a single to Altuve. Correa was up next and hit the walk-off hit to score the game as Altuve ran home on a ball that was nearly thrown home in time to beat him but was lost by catcher Gary Sanchez, allowing the Astros to get the win 2-1.

Game 3: The Astros and Yankees get the day off tomorrow to travel to New York for the next few games of the series at Yankee Stadium. First pitch of Game 3 is scheduled for 7:08 PM Central on Monday night. A.J. Hinch has named Charlie Morton the starter for the Astros. Morton is coming off a relatively strong game; he was the starter in Game 4 of the ALDS where he threw six strikeouts in his four and one-third innings of work as the Astros went on to win and clinch that series. The Yankees will start CC Sabathia who pitched well in the decisive Game 5 of their ALDS against the Indians.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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