HOUSTON -- The stars tend to rise to the occasion and shine the brightest in the postseason. They're somehow more fearless than others in the clutch. The big moments tend to find them and usher them into another level of immortality.
The Astros flaunted their star power in earnest in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Friday afternoon, with Alex Bregman, George Springer and Jose Altuve slamming home runs off Indians ace Corey Kluber to back Justin Verlander for a 7-2 win at Minute Maid Park.
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"The guys did a really good job of having a good at-bat and letting the next guy have a good at-bat," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "Obviously, we had some explosive at-bats with the home runs."
With Martin Maldonado going deep in the seventh, the Astros hit four home runs in a playoff game for the seventh time in club history, and they will carry a 1-0 lead into Game 2 of the best-of-five ALDS on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.
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"The MVP hit the first homer and put the team ahead, and Josh Reddick with the big hit and Springer with the big homer and Maldonado," said 2017 AL MVP Award winner Altuve, labeling Bregman as his pick for this year's award. "Everybody did something to help this team win today."
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In the history of five-game series with the 2-2-1 format, teams that have won Game 1 at home have gone on to take the series 27 of 36 times (75 percent).
"It's huge," Springer said. "For us to come back tomorrow up one, it makes it easier on us to go out and kind of attack them the way that we want to play and have some fun. Obviously, the goal is to get out of here with a sweep, but you never know. That's a great team over there. So I'm pretty sure that they're going to be fired up to play tomorrow."
Kluber needed only 33 pitches to throw three hitless innings before Bregman walloped a 2-1 pitch into the left-field seats to start the fourth inning with a homer. Yuli Gurriel followed with a walk and scored on Reddick's single to make it 2-0. Kluber threw 35 pitches in the fourth inning alone.
"Alex Bregman's been doing that for us all year, picking us up and getting the clubhouse and the dugout all hyped up," Reddick said. "That's exactly what he did tonight, and it just seemed to carry on for us."
Springer and Altuve led off the fifth with back-to-back home runs to left field to ignite the sellout crowd, putting the Astros ahead, 4-0, and Kluber on the ropes. He didn't survive the inning. He was pulled following a two-out single by Marwin Gonzalez.
"I think the first time through, we were aggressive," Reddick said. "I think it showed that we were a little off balance and getting away from our approach, but the second time through, we really made a good adjustment. I think he threw more sliders that second time through, so I think that helped out, too. Once Bregman homered, that was a little bit of a game-changer for not only them, but for us."
Verlander, who had struggled in his career against the Indians while with the Tigers, was pure dominance for five innings, sending down 15 of the first 16 batters while striking out seven. The Tribe didn't manage a hit until Yan Gomes led off the sixth with a single, starting a rally that led to two runs to slice the Astros' lead to 4-2.
"It felt like he was throwing a lot more heaters," Gomes said of Verlander. "He was just coming right at us. He's back to throwing 95-plus, and he's living in the top of the zone. At first, we weren't able to get that many good swings on him. We were trying to put good at-bats together, but he was just getting ahead. With a guy like that, when he's throwing strikes and using the top of the zone, it's kind of hard to get comfortable."
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Verlander didn't pitch as deep into the game as he would have liked, but his first five innings of dominance set up the Astros to have Thomas Pressly, Lance McCullers and Roberto Osuna cover the final 3 2/3 innings, allowing one hit.
"I think you want to set a tone," Verlander said. "You want to allow your team to go out there and kind of put up a couple runs and just relax. [I] was able to do that early in the game. First five innings was right where I wanted to be against a team that's kind of given me fits."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Indians loaded the bases with one out in the sixth against Verlander, forcing him out of the game after 102 pitches. Pressly allowed two of those runners to score on a wild pitch and a groundout, but he retired Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion to keep Houston's lead at 4-2. Pressley came back and threw a 1-2-3 seventh inning in his first postseason appearance.
"That feels like the game," Hinch said. "We had a little cushion there. JV got in a little trouble. That game could have easily been tied at the end of that, and we still would have felt like it was successful the way the inning was starting to spiral out of control. Press took control of it and goes and sits down. One of the hardest things for these relievers is to sit down for a bit and then go back out there. He goes back out there and gets three more big outs."
Springer is the third player in MLB history to homer in five consecutive postseason games, joining Carlos Beltran in 2004 for Astros and Daniel Murphy in '15 (six in a row) for the Mets. Springer homered in each of the final four games of the '17 World Series.
HE SAID IT
"We get Justin on the mound, we always expect him to go nine innings and throw no-hitters and all kinds of crazy stuff." -- Reddick
Right-hander Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA) starts Saturday's 3:37 p.m. CT Game 2 of the ALDS against the Indians at Minute Maid Park in his first playoff outing since the 2015 National League Wild Card Game. Cole finished second in the AL this year with 276 strikeouts. Carlos Carrasco (17-10, 3.38) starts for Cleveland.