HOUSTON -- For three innings on Friday afternoon, both starting pitchers involved in the opening game of the American League Division Series looked to be on their way to justifying the hype surrounding this matchup.By the time it was over, however, only one of those starters -- Houston's Justin Verlander
HOUSTON -- For three innings on Friday afternoon, both starting pitchers involved in the opening game of the American League Division Series looked to be on their way to justifying the hype surrounding this matchup.
By the time it was over, however, only one of those starters -- Houston's Justin Verlander -- had pitched well enough to earn the win. The other, Cleveland's Corey Kluber, had become a victim of the Astros' vaunted offense, allowing three of Houston's four homers on the day in a game the defending World Series champs won handily, 7-2.
:: ALDS schedule and results ::
"This is what it's all about," Alex Bregman said. "This type of baseball is a blast."
Unsurprisingly, it was Bregman, Houston's stalwart hitter all season, who got the offense going. After Kluber had thwarted the Astros' offense for three innings, Bregman led off the fourth with a 396-foot solo homer. The homer marked the first hit for either team.
Bregman, who hit 31 home runs during the regular season, recorded an exit velocity of 107.1 mph on his solo shot off Kluber, the highest of the third baseman's career.
The Astros added a second run in that inning on an RBI single by Josh Reddick that scored Yuli Gurriel, and Houston pulled away in the fifth on the strength of back-to-back homers by George Springer and Jose Altuve. Martin Maldonado added a fourth big fly in the seventh inning off reliever Cody Allen.
"Really, just left the balls elevated, over and out the middle of the plate for the home runs," Kluber said. "The wrong three guys to do that to. Gotta be able to keep the ball in the ballpark in these games."
Springer became the third player to homer in five consecutive postseason games. His streak began in the World Series last year, when he went deep in Game 4 off Alex Wood.
For the Astros, the offensive outburst was a welcome development. Though they were one of baseball's best road teams this year, they had several long stretches during the regular season where they did not hit well at their home ballpark.
That it was Bregman -- recently named team Most Valuable Player after leading the Astros in homers and RBIs -- who got things rolling on Friday was no surprise to his teammates.
"Of course, the MVP with the first homer," Altuve said. "Everybody did something to help this team to win today."
Including his homer off Kluber, Bregman has five career postseason home runs: two off Chris Sale in last year's ALDS, one off Clayton Kershaw and one off Kenley Jansen, both hit in the 2017 World Series.
Is it any surprise Bregman was the one to spark the offense this time?
"I think he's got a calm heartbeat," manager AJ Hinch said. "That's pretty much proven in the really quick career he's had so far. He's very calm. I love how he describes pressure. He describes pressure as a privilege. That, to me, shows someone that gets it, someone that is going to be able to handle the moment."
Bregman is one of the youngest players to have accomplished so much in the big leagues, yet he oozes the confidence of a grizzled veteran. The higher the stakes, in his mind, the better.
"Everybody in that clubhouse is living and dying on every pitch," Bregman said. "It's fun to play these types of games. All the fans here were unbelievable today. They were in [on] every pitch -- loud. … You've got to love to have the bat in your hands in these situations. You have to."
Bregman's five postseason home runs are the most in franchise history by a third baseman, and he joined Hall of Famer Chipper Jones as only the third third baseman to hit three homers in Division Series play prior to turning 25.
Hinch may have foreshadowed Houston's homers just a half-inning prior to Bregman's long ball when he mentioned to TBS' Hazel Mae that his club's approach early in the game hadn't been effective against Kluber.
"We've got to find a way to get the ball off the ground," Hinch said. "[Kluber's] ball moves and he kind of gets you into swing mode where you can put the ball in play. But the ball on the ground is not our friend, so we've got to find a way to get the ball up a little bit, hopefully in the air."
Soon after, the offense got rolling. The game marked the seventh time the Astros hit four or more homers in a postseason game. The record is five, set last year, during Game 5 of the World Series.
"Earlier in the year, they said our offense really wasn't clicking; and they're right, it wasn't," Bregman said. "We weren't really putting the level of quality at-bats that we normally do. Today, one through nine, it was quality at-bats. When we do that, we're really tough."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.