Astros vs.  Yankees score: Houston takes ALCS Game 1 behind Justin Verlander, homers from unlikely sources

Astros vs. Yankees score: Houston takes ALCS Game 1 behind Justin Verlander, homers from unlikely sources

The Houston Astros defeated the New York Yankees, 4-2, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night. The Astros lead the best-of-seven series 1-0, meaning they’re three games away from punching a ticket to the World Series for the fourth time since 2017.

The Astros fell behind in the second inning, as Harrison Bader delivered his fourth home run in his sixth postseason game this fall, launching a solo shot against Justin Verlander. Houston would tie things up in the bottom half of the inning. Backstop Martín Maldonado launched an opposite-field double that plated Chas McCormick.

The two sides would trade zeroes until the sixth inning. That’s when first baseman Yuli Gurriel hit a home run to left field to put Houston up 2-1. The aforementioned McCormick would hit his own solo home run a couple batters later, building the lead up to 3-1. Another home run, this time from Jeremy Peña in the seventh, made it 4-1.

The Yankees would get a run back in the eighth on an Anthony Rizzo solo shot, cutting the lead to 4-2. The Yankees would threaten further in the eighth, putting the tying run on first with two outs. The score remained the same until the final out, however, sealing the deal for the Astros.

Here are six things you need to know about the Astros’ Game 1 win.

1. Verlander throws gem, makes history

The Astros owe much of their victory to ace Justin Verlander. The frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award struggled in his first start this postseason against the Seattle Mariners. He course-corrected on Wednesday, holding the Yankees to one run over six innings of work. Verlander gave up three hits, one walk, and one hit by pitch, he struck out 11 batters on 103 pitches.

As ESPN Stats and Info noted, Verlander became the all-time postseason leader in strikeouts, surpassing Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw early in the night:

Verlander’s 11 strikeouts tied for the second most he’s recorded in a single postseason game. His career-high remains the 13 he punched out against the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS. This is the fifth time he’s struck out 11, and the second time he’s done so versus New York. (To be fair, Verlander has now made nine postseason starts against the Yankees, giving him ample opportunity to accomplish the feat.)

Verlander threw three pitches more than 20 times on Wednesday: his fastball, slider, and curveball. He generated a game-high 17 swinging strikes, generating at least four on each of those three pitches, and eight on his slider alone.

In so many words, Verlander did not look like someone who had authored arguably the worst postseason start of his career last time out.

2. Taillon keeps the Yankees in the game

Yankees right-hander Jameson Taillon didn’t have a Verlander-like performance by any means. He did keep the game close, however, and that meant he surpassed the modest expectations placed upon him facing the vaunted Astros lineup.

Taillon threw 4 1/3 innings, surrendering one run on four hits and three walks. He didn’t strike out anyone on 67 pitches. Taillon’s line almost looked worse, as manager Aaron Boone removed him in the fifth after he surrendered a double. Reliever Clarke Schmidt, who would eventually yield two home runs, loaded the bases with back-to-back walks (one intentional) before generating a pivotal double-play ball.

Regardless of what would happen with Schmidt in the subsequent inning, the Yankees likely would’ve signed up for Taillon facing 20 batters and exiting with a tied score.

3. Astros receive home runs from unlikely sources

When people think about the big power threats in the Astros lineup, they think about Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and perhaps even Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman. They probably don’t think about the three who launched solo shots in Game 1: Gurriel, McCormick, and Peña. That’s for good reason.

Indeed, Gurriel finished the regular season with eight home runs in 584 trips to the plate, or one every 73 plate appearances. McCormick and Peña were far better in that respect, homering between every 25 and 29 trips to the plate.

What’s more is that Gurriel had been in the midst of a lengthy power drought heading into the playoffs. After hitting his seventh home run of the year on July 1, he homered just once more over his final 76 games. Naturally, Gurriel has since launched two home runs in his first four playoff games, showing that you can’t predict baseball.

4. Judge makes huge catch

It didn’t end up mattering, not really, but Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge made arguably his best catch of the season from a statistical perspective early on. Bregman hits a ball to right, right-center with two runners on base and one out. It looked like Bregman was going to have extra bases, yet Judge laid out and made the grab.

You can click here to read about what made the catch so rare and special.

5. What history says about winning Game 1

It should not come as a surprise, but winning Game 1 usually bodes well for the victor’s chances of winning the entire series. According to the website WhoWins.com, Major League Baseball clubs who have won Game 1 of a best-of-seven set have historically gone on to win 64.3 percent of those series.

6. What’s next

The Yankees and Astros will continue the ALCS with Game 2 on Thursday night. The Yankees are expected to start Luis Severino while the Astros counter with Framber Valdez. First pitch is slated for 7:37 pm ET and the game will be broadcast on TBS. The Astros will attempt to build a 2-0 lead in the series.

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