Homer Happy Astros Pummel Tribe Pitching for Game 1 Win; Astros 7, Indians 2
Bob Toth | On 05, Oct 2018
It is rarely a good sign when the opposing team has more homers than you have total hits, and that was the case for the Indians on Friday afternoon as the Houston Astros hit four long balls on the way to a 7-2 victory over Cleveland in Game 1 of the American League Division Series from Minute Maid Park.
The Indians offense just could not get going in a tough matchup with a familiar foe, Justin Verlander, who looked to help lead the Astros back to the World Series for the second straight season. He got the club off to a good start by starting the game with five no-hit innings and the Tribe mustered just three base hits throughout the day against Verlander and three pitchers out of the Houston ‘pen to fall behind a game in the best-of-5 series.
The first few innings were dominated by a battle of former Cy Young winners in Verlander and Corey Kluber, as both teams were held hitless through three frames. That changed in the fourth, after Verlander retired the side in the top half to give him ten straight Tribe hitters set down. Kluber returned to the mound to face Alex Bregman, who walked on six pitches in the first, but on the tenth pitch that he saw on the day, he caught a 2-1 sinker over the middle of the zone and drilled it to left for a leadoff homer to put the Astros up, 1-0. Kluber followed with an uncharacteristic second walk in the game, issuing a free pass on eight pitches to Yuli Gurriel. Marwin Gonzalez and Carlos Correa were each retired on outs in the air, but the two at bats combined to exhaust Kluber for 13 more pitches. Tyler White kept the inning alive with a single to center to put runners on first and second and three pitches later Josh Reddick drove a single to right to give the Astros a 2-0 lead.
Verlander made it 13 straight retired with two strikeouts and a flyout in the fifth before his offense tacked on two more runs in a three-pitch span. George Springer, facing Kluber for the third time after a pair of groundouts in the first and third, worked the count full before catching a hanging cutter over the plate and sending it over the wall in left-center to make it a 3-0 game. Two pitches later, Jose Altuve made it 4-0 with a home run of his own. Kluber left the game after a two-out base knock by Gonzalez, but Yan Gomes got the Tribe out of the inning on a caught stealing to end the inning.
The Indians ended the offensive drought in the sixth, when Gomes led off the frame with a single to right off of Verlander. After a tough called third strike on Jason Kipnis for the first out, Francisco Lindor dropped a single to right. Michael Brantley worked a walk to load the bases, bringing AJ Hinch out of the dugout for reliever Ryan Pressly. His first pitch to Jose Ramirez missed to the backstop, allowing Gomes to score from first to make it a 4-1 game. Ramirez grounded to first for the second out, but Lindor scored from third to cut the deficit to 4-2. A third potential run was stranded at third.
The score remained the same until the bottom of the seventh, when the Astros put up their third two-run inning of the game. Cody Allen came back out for the inning after retiring the final batter of the sixth, but he lost a 2-2 battle with Martin Maldonado, who hacked a high four-seam fastball deep to the cheap seats in left. Springer singled to right-center, bringing Terry Francona back to the center of the diamond for Trevor Bauer. He got Altuve to ground out to third for the first out, but Bregman came through with a base knock that scored Springer before he was thrown out trying to advance to second. Gurriel kept the inning alive with a double to left-center, but Bauer stopped the bleeding by striking out Gonzalez.
Lance McCullers Jr. pitched a perfect eighth before Houston added another run. With Dan Otero on the mound, White doubled with one out and Reddick drove in the pinch-runner Myles Straw with a single to center to give the Astros a commanding 7-2 lead.
Down to their final three outs against closer Roberto Osuna in a non-save situation, the Indians got their third hit of the game on a single to right by Brantley, but Ramirez struck out, Edwin Encarnacion flied out, and Josh Donaldson grounded into a force at second.
Verlander pitched five no-hit innings until giving up a pair of hits in the sixth. He retired one out, but he was charged with two earned runs after Pressly allowed two inherited runs to score. Verlander struck out seven and walked a pair while throwing 102 pitches.
Kluber was on a roll through three, throwing just 33 pitches in that span. But over the next inning and two-thirds, he needed 54 pitches as the Astros tallied four runs on six hits with a pair of walks and just two strikeouts. Making matters worse, the bullpen allowed three more runs to let the game slip away. Indians pitchers combined to strike out just three batters on the game, the same number of strikeouts that Yonder Alonso had in his three trips to the plate.
Bregman and Reddick each had two hits and two RBI on the day. Springer and White also had two hits, with Springer scoring a pair of runs.
Game 2 from Minute Maid Park is scheduled for a 4:37 PM ET start on Saturday afternoon before the series heads to Cleveland for Game 3 and 4. Right-hander Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros in his fourth career playoff start and his first since 2015. He led baseball with a 12.4 K/9 rate this season in his second All-Star campaign. Carlos Carrasco (17-10, 3.38) will look to even the series at one game a piece in his second career start in the postseason. His first one was a good one, even though he came away with a no-decision after allowing three hits and three walks in five and two-thirds innings in Game 3 of last season’s ALDS against the Yankees.
Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images