The deepest lineup in baseball showed off its thunder up and down the order Thursday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, making Chris Sale‘s postseason debut one to forget.
With second baseman Jose Altuve leading the way with a curtain-call-inducing three-homer performance, the Astros got the best of Sale and the Red Sox and slugged their way to an 8-2 win in Game 1 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan. Altuve is the ninth player in Major League history to hit three homers in a playoff game.
“We didn’t have a guy in the lineup that didn’t have good at-bats today, and I think that speaks to why we’re a good offensive club,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “And we need those big hits, especially in the big moments, and putting up good at-bats is one of the themes on our team. It’s a staple for up and down the order.”
The Red Sox have lost four straight playoff games dating back to last season’s ALDS sweep at the hands of the Indians. Game 2 between the Astros and Red Sox is set for 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT today at Minute Maid Park.
“Don’t think for one second this team is going to give up,” said Sale on Thursday. “We’ve got to keep fighting. This one is on me. I take full responsibility for this one. We’ve got 24 other guys in here that are going to grind [it out] tomorrow and even this thing up.”
Teams that win the first game of a Division Series are 66-26 in the series, including 28-18 in the ALDS. Last season, all four teams that went up 1-0 in the DS round advanced.
“Our team was so excited to get out there and ready to compete,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “The guys showed it today. We had some guys step up today, and it’s going to be a different guy every day. That’s what this team has done all year, different guys stepping up.”
Astros starter Justin Verlander held the Red Sox in check, allowing two runs and six hits in six innings to outduel Sale, who gave up seven runs and nine hits in five-plus innings. After allowing the Red Sox to tie it in the fourth, Verlander sent down five of the final six batters he faced.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Verlander said. “I think once you kind of get into your routine and you’re out there warming up, that part everything kind of subsides a little bit. Then right before first pitch your emotions kind of peak. Then once you make that first pitch it’s kind of, ‘OK, let’s go.'”
Bregman and Altuve staked the Astros to a 2-0 lead, and the game was tied at 2 in the fourth when Marwin Gonzalez ripped a two-out, two-run double to right field to put the Astros ahead, 4-2. Altuve’s second homer off Sale made it 5-2 in the fifth.
“I love the way that the team went out there and played today,” Altuve said. “We put a lot of good at-bats together, and [when] Marwin doubled, it was real big. But I think one of the keys was when Alex homered. I think he set the tone.”
Sale allowed the first two batters to reach in the sixth, and both scored on a Brian McCannbases-loaded single off Joe Kelly. Altuve, leading off the seventh against Austin Maddox, homered again to left field.
“We know that this is a quick-strike offense that we’re going up against, and when you don’t locate, things can happen quickly,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “That was the case today.”
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Catch that wasn’t: Gonzalez’s two-run double in the fourth wouldn’t have been possible had a call not been overturned earlier in the inning. Evan Gattis was at second with one out when Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. appeared to make a diving catch to rob Josh Reddick of a hit. The call was overturned following an Astros challenge that showed Bradley trapped the ball, putting runners at first and second. After Yuli Gurriel flied out to left for the second out, Gonzalez ripped one into the right-center-field gap. Bradley’s trap play had a four percent catch probability, according to Statcast™.
Three for Altuve: Altuve capped one of the best postseason performances in Astros history when he hit a 1-1 pitch from Maddox and sailed it over the left-field wall to become the 13th Astros player in history to hit three homers in a game — the first since Carlos Lee on April 13, 2007, at Philadelphia. Altuve is the first player to hit three homers in a playoff game since Pablo Sandoval did it for the Giants in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series.
“Obviously, I was thinking that it feels really good, another run, supporting my team, but in the personal side, it’s kind of like crazy,” Altuve said. “I never hit three homers, so this, what happened today, is new for me, and I’m really happy that it happened in a playoff game.”
“That’s kind of a buzzsaw right there. We’ve seen all year what he can do. He had a pretty historic night, so tip your cap to him,” said Sale.
“Never really gave my team a chance to win, put ’em in a hole early. They fought back and they fought back hard, and I gave it right back to them. It happens obviously. Not a good time for it to happen. Take it off the chin, come back tomorrow ready to rock.” — Sale
“He hugged me all three homers. Like, ‘Wow, hey, that was great.’ I think that’s who we are. One thing that makes us really good is that the chemistry between every single player.” — Altuve, on George Springer