HOUSTON -- Missed chances on offense early in the game were set to haunt the Astros. An abbreviated outing by starting pitcher Framber Valdez could have spelled doom. A costly fielding error by Jose Altuve was looming larger by the inning.
None of that wound up mattering to the Astros, who got huge swings by Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa -- two of the most clutch performers in postseason history -- to beat the Red Sox, 5-4, in a scintillating Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
“I just think this game was unbelievable,” Correa said. “I enjoyed it as a player, but also, as a fan of the game, I thought it was a well-played game, all around. I think they're a really hard team to beat, and just by one run we won this game, and I feel like we played really good.”
Altuve tied the game with a two-run homer in the sixth inning -- his 20th career playoff home run -- and Correa put Houston ahead with a two-out solo shot in the seventh -- his 18th career playoff homer -- as the Astros wiped out an early 3-1 deficit behind their superstar middle infield and 6 1/3 strong innings from their bullpen.
“I love our bullpen,” Correa said. “I have a lot of confidence. It's all about mixing and matching and having the right pockets for the guys. We got a lot of guys that can get the job done, and I truly believe that our bullpen was outstanding today, as you saw. The guys are very confident.”
In best-of-seven postseason series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams winning Game 1 at home have gone on to win the series 62 of 94 times (66 percent). This excludes 2020, when the LCS and World Series were played at neutral sites.
“They have a good team,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “They have a good offense, so, you know, we prepare. We did a good job today. I know they scored five, but they took advantage of two mistakes today in the ballpark. But overall, we made it a competition. They didn't do much [outside of the homers]. I think we made pitches in certain situations. Just one of those -- it just happened that they did damage, and they ended up winning the game.”
Altuve, who struck out with the bases loaded in the second inning and made a costly fielding error in the third, redeemed himself when he jumped on the first pitch -- a slider -- he saw from Red Sox reliever Tanner Houck in the sixth and sent it into the Crawford Boxes for a game-tying two-run homer. Correa took a Hansel Robles changeup deep in the seventh to make it 4-3.
“It feels good, obviously,” Altuve said, “especially in a playoff [game] and especially in the situation -- we were down by two runs. And just to tie the game and to give the team the chance to win the game is big. So I felt, even though I didn't do any bat flip or anything, I'm really happy about the homers I hit because I'm helping the team to win.”
Red Sox outfielder Kiké Hernández stole the show in the early stages of the game. He made a diving catch in center to end the second and strand the bases loaded, and he led off the third with a homer to tie the score. Boston plated two more in the third off Valdez, who lasted only 2 2/3 innings. Hernández added his second homer of the night in the ninth off Ryan Pressly to cut Houston's lead to 5-4, making Altuve’s eighth-inning sacrifice fly monumental.
“I hit the ball pretty hard, but with Kiké in center field, you never know,” Altuve said. “He plays amazing defense. He's got a really good arm. Ended up being kind of a close play, but Yuli [Gurriel] is pretty fast enough to score right there, and obviously we needed that one to win the game like we did.”
The Astros used seven relievers, who combined to give up one run on four hits and one walk with eight strikeouts. Cristian Javier got the game to the sixth by throwing two scoreless innings, striking out four, but Astros manager Dusty Baker said Yimi García’s strikeout of Christian Arroyo to end the third, stranding runners at second and third, may have been the biggest out of the night.
It’s not a sustainable path to success in the series for the Astros, but it got the job done in Game 1.
“Had he not [struck out Arroyo], the game could have been 5-1 instead of 3-1, and that gave us a chance to come back,” Baker said. “If you got a chance, a bona fide chance, then you still feel it, and you feel that you can -- it's not a mountain that's too high to climb. Boy, all I can say, that was some game.”