On Friday the 13th, anything less than a Game 1 win for the Houston Astros would’ve been a nightmare on Crawford Street, considering all the favorable factors heading into the ALCS contest.
The Astros came through with the win, but not in the way anyone was expecting.
With the New York Yankees boasting a white-hot offense and the momentum of a come-from-behind ALDS win over the regular-season AL-best Cleveland Indians, most expected a high-scoring shootout with the Astros’ best-in-baseball offense.
Instead, the Astros gutted out a gritty 2-1 victory in what has to be considered a statement win.
In Game 1, the Astros declared that they have the arms to shut down even the best and brightest hitters, they showed that they can scrape together a win without their trademark power hitting, and they proved again they can win a close playoff game following their 4-3 ALDS-clinching win over the Boston Red Sox on Monday.
Most Astros faithful were teeming with confidence heading into the ALCS opener and with good cause. All the stars seemed to be aligned in the Astros’ favor.
First, there was Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel’s dominance both in the postseason and against the Yankees.
Heading into the game Friday, Keuchel was a perfect 3-0 in his previous three playoff starts with a 2.29 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 19.2 innings pitched — the only pitcher in club history to win his first three postseason starts.
After another masterful playoff performance in Game 1, Keuchel became the eighth pitcher in MLB history to win their first four playoff starts. Keuchel also is now only the third-ever Astro to post a double-digit strikeout game
In his seven career starts (including one previous playoff start in 2015’s Wild Card playoff) against the Yankees prior to Game 1, Keuchel was 5-2 with a 1.24 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 50.2 innings.
On Friday, Keuchel was again completely locked in, throwing seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and just four hits and one walk surrendered
Then, there was the fact that the Astros’ top three hitters — second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer — had all hit spectacularly off of Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Leading into the ALCS, Correa was .500 with two home runs and five RBIs in 10 at-bats, Springer was .444 with two home runs and three RBIs in nine at-bats, and Altuve was .364 with a solo home run in 11 at-bats against Tanaka.
But this is where Friday’s game showed that ALCS playoff baseball is a totally different animal, although two of the big three did deliver when the team needed them. But, it wasn’t with the towering extra-base hits this team has become accustomed to.
Altuve, who finished 3-for-4 with three singles, flew down the line on a slow grounder for a one-out infield single in the fourth inning. The MVP candidate then stole second base before being driven home on a Correa RBI single.
First baseman Yuli Gurriel, who has been a revelation in the playoffs with a .500 postseason batting average, smacked a two-out RBI single for the key second insurance run in the bottom of the fourth.
Friday’s ALCS Game 1 delivered one of those great playoff pitchers’ duels where it was almost a shame one had to lose. It was an instant classic — just one that no one expected delivered by the unlikeliest of teams.
But, that’s playoff baseball for you. Its unpredictability is what makes it great.
In Game 2 at 3 p.m. today, the Astros’ other ace pitcher Justin Verlander takes the mound. Who knows what’ll happen, but Astros fans will be optimistic on their chances for take a 2-0 lead in the series before things shift to New York.