HOUSTON (USA TODAY Sports) — Breaking down Game 1 of the ALDS between the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Astros 8, Red Sox 2: Astros take a 1-0 lead in the series.
The game: Faced with the unenviable task of scoring runs against Boston ace Chris Sale, the Astros quickly showed how hard it is for even an elite starter to shut down their league-best offense. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve hit back-to-back home runs off Sale in the bottom of the first to help their club to an early lead.
Boston battled back, scoring a run on an odd play in the top of the 2nd after video replay showed that Mitch Moreland crossed home plate just before Dustin Pedroia was tagged out at third base with the final out of the inning. The Sox evened the score with another run in the fourth thanks to a pair of hits and a sacrifice fly from Rafael Devers.
But the Astros went in front again in the bottom half of the frame on a two-run double to the right-center field gap by Marwin Gonzalez. After another home run from Altuve in the fifth padded their lead, they chased Sale by opening the sixth with a double and a walk. Reliever Joe Kelley allowed both his inherited runners to score on a single by Brian McCann, hanging seven earned runs on Sale across five innings in his first-ever postseason start.
Astros starter Justin Verlander, meanwhile, kept the Red Sox in the ballpark and largely off-balance for six innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
Man of the moment: Jose Altuve is the favorite to win the AL MVP after a regular season that saw him hit .346 with a .957 OPS and 32 stolen bases. In Thursday's game, he got off to about as good a start as possible toward taking home postseason MVP honors, tying a playoffs record with three home runs. In Altuve's only previous postseason series -- against the Royals in the 2015 ALDS -- he managed only three hits total.
Needing a mulligan: Pedroia, the longest tenured Red Sox player and a champion with the 2007 and 2013 clubs, did not cost his team a run by getting thrown out at third in the second inning, but he did end a rally against Verlander. Then, with runners on first and third, no outs, and a 2-0 count in the bottom of the fourth, he swung at an eye-high fastball and popped out meekly to catcher Brian McCann.
Manager's special: Red Sox manager John Farrell opted to use utilityman Eduardo Nunez at designated hitter in part due to the right knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for most of September. Nunez grounded the first pitch he saw to third base then collapsed in pain on the baseline after reaggravating his injury. His status for the remainder of the series has not yet been announced, but the fact that he had to be carried off the field does not suggest a speedy recovery.
What you missed on TV: After what looked like a brilliant diving catch by Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. in the bottom of the fourth on a sinking liner by Josh Reddick, the Astros called for their first challenge. A replay displayed on the huge right-field scoreboard at Minute Maid Park showed that Bradley had clearly trapped the ball, and the crowd erupted with the same enthusiasm it showed for the first inning homers. A batter later, Gonzalez's double gave Houston a lead it would not relinquish.
State of the series: The clubs play again Friday at Minute Maid Park, with Drew Pomeranz starting for the Red Sox against the Astros' Dallas Keuchel. The series will move to Boston for Game 3 on Sunday.
José Altuve with the 10th 3-HR game in postseason history. He's the second 2B to do it, and second straight Venezuelan-born player to do it. pic.twitter.com/h0tbwQZ6qv— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 5, 2017