Astros put AL on notice with romp over A's
So much for the Astros' offense missing in action. So much for Carlos Correa's sudden lack of power. So much for the Astros taking a back seat to the A's.
The Astros were back to being the free-swinging, full-of-swagger bunch that baseball fans have come to love -- and more recently, hate -- through the last four Octobers. The names everybody knows -- Correa, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve -- shone brightly in the fall spotlight Monday afternoon as the Astros served notice they're still a force to be reckoned with in the American League.
The Astros' resurgence erupted at Dodger Stadium behind two homers from Correa, one from Bregman, four hits from Springer and a go-ahead two-run single by Altuve in the sixth that sent them to a resounding 10-5 win over the A's in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
"October baseball, the energy is just different," said Correa, who has the most playoff homers (14) and RBIs (38) by any player before his 27th birthday. "I know there's no fans this year, but the energy in being able to win, knowing you win or go home, that's what drives me every single day."
The Astros, who finished seven games behind the A's in the AL West standings with a 29-31 record, won their sixth consecutive playoff game on the road to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Game 2 is on Tuesday afternoon.
In the history of best-of-five postseason series, the winner of Game 1 has gone on to take the series 98 of 136 times (72%). That includes 30 of the last 40 best-of-five LDS played since 2010.
A Houston team that posted a .205/.259/.326 slash line and averaged 2.5 runs per game against Oakland in the regular season, bashed out 16 hits -- the second most in a playoff game in club history, trailing only the 17 that the Astros tallied in 2004 National League Division Series Game 5 against the Braves.
Springer, Correa, Altuve and Bregman combined to go 11-for-18 with six runs scored and eight RBIs after combining for 20 hits against the A's in the regular season. Each drove in at least one run for the fourth postseason game of their shared careers. Per STATS LLC, no other group of four teammates has combined for that many such games in postseason history.
"The way they had at-bats today was crazy impressive," Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. said. "When you see our guys and they start to feel dangerous and look dangerous in the box like they did today is when you have to have a lot of confidence. It's huge to get a big Game 1 victory over a quality team."
With the ball flying out on a hot day at Dodger Stadium, the Astros and A's each homered three times, with all three of Oakland's coming off McCullers, who threw four-plus innings. But it was a keep-the-line-moving rally in the sixth after two outs that allowed Houston to wipe out a 5-3 deficit.
"Lance held us in the game," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "That was big. Runners on second and third [with no outs in the sixth], he left them out there or else they would have been off to the races."
A two-out fielding error by Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien kept the sixth alive, and Martín Maldonado, Springer (4-for-5), Altuve and Michael Brantley followed with two-out hits off reliever J.B. Wendelken. Altuve's two-run single put Houston ahead, 6-5, and Brantley followed with an RBI single for a 7-5 lead. The Astros were off and running.
"I think for us to score off a guy who's pretty much been unhittable the whole month of September and all year is huge," Springer said. "As the game got deeper, the at-bats got better."
Houston's bullpen took it from there. After McCullers gave up up five runs (four earned) and eight hits, Astros relievers Blake Taylor (one inning), Enoli Paredes (two innings), Cristian Javier (one inning) and Ryan Pressly (one inning) held the A's hitless in the final five innings, retiring 15 of the final 16 Oakland hitters.
"They pitched pretty well," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "They have some guys with some velo, too, and matched up a little bit. We just didn't have the at-bats we typically do at the end of a game. You feel like no matter where you are in the late innings, we have a chance to come back. We just couldn't do it."
And so the Astros danced in the dugout, gestured at each other while they ran the bases and looked like a team playing with as much confidence as anyone could when it matters the most.
"I just think our team likes to have a lot of fun," Springer said. "We liked to enjoy the game with each other and I think we slowed it down finally. I understand it's the playoffs. You don't know if you're ever going to get back here or not. You might as well enjoy it."