BOSTON -- The crowd cheered with each ball out of the strike zone Justin Verlander threw in the fifth inning on Saturday night and grew louder with each Red Sox player who strolled to first base. Verlander, teetering and on the brink of unraveling, suddenly couldn't find the strike zone.By
BOSTON -- The crowd cheered with each ball out of the strike zone Justin Verlander threw in the fifth inning on Saturday night and grew louder with each Red Sox player who strolled to first base. Verlander, teetering and on the brink of unraveling, suddenly couldn't find the strike zone.
By the time he had walked in a run and allowed another to score on a wild pitch to tie Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox and their fans smelled blood. Fenway Park was rocking like it does in October. Verlander wasn't about to play the role of victim.
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Verlander escaped the mess by striking out Andrew Benintendi on a borderline pitch to strand a pair of runners on base, then breezed through the bottom of the sixth after the Astros took the lead as Houston pulled away late for a 7-2 win over the Red Sox.
"To be able to get out of that inning and keep us tied, not relinquish the lead, that was, for me, the ballgame," said Verlander, whose 13th career postseason victory trails only Tom Glavine (14), John Smoltz (15) and Andy Pettitte (19).
In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, teams that have won Game 1 on the road have gone on take the series 36 of 63 times (57 percent). Game 2 is set for Sunday night at Fenway Park.
"We came in here knowing we had to take at least one out of here, so now we have the chance to go back to our place and hopefully clinch it out," Astros outfielder Josh Reddick said. "Winning Game 1 was a huge step for us."
Verlander threw 33 pitches in the fifth inning and couldn't point to why his control betrayed him as the Red Sox scored twice to tie the game at 2. Astros manager AJ Hinch had no reservations about putting him back out there for the sixth. He didn't want to push Verlander beyond 90 pitches, though, and went to his bullpen, which allowed one hit in three scoreless innings.
"He was cruising along like this might be a game where he pitches almost the entire game, to being out of the game because of the way they worked him in that inning," Hinch said.
Carlos Correa, whose late-season struggles with a back injury plagued him at the plate, delivered the go-ahead hit in the sixth, a two-out single on a 100-mph Joe Kelly fastball high in the zone, scoring Alex Bregman from second base for a 3-2 lead.
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"That was huge," Correa said. "It stopped their momentum, which came from scoring two runs the previous inning. It was huge, but most importantly, it gives me a lot of confidence, which is key."
The Astros, who drew 10 walks and had three batters hit by a pitch, scored four in the ninth on a solo homer by Reddick and a three-run blast from Yuli Gurriel. They've homered in 13 consecutive playoff games, becoming the second team in history to do that.
"Being able to open the game up a little bit made it better for us and the bullpen," Gurriel said.
Correa wouldn't have even come to the plate had Red Sox third baseman Eduardo Nunez not made an error on a Gurriel grounder earlier in the inning that would have likely led to a double play. Leave it to the Astros to take advantage of another team's mistake.
"When you're given an opportunity, specifically in the playoffs and you can capitalize, it's huge," Hinch said. "Mistakes happen at times, but when mistakes happen in the playoffs and the momentum starts to shift to the other side, that's what you want to do."
The Astros got into the Red Sox's bullpen early, with starter Chris Sale lasting only four innings while he struggled with his control. Sale loaded the bases in the second on two walks and a hit-by-pitch, and George Springer -- who else? -- delivered a two-run single to put Houston ahead.
"Any time you're facing somebody like Sale, it's a grind from the first pitch on," Springer said. "So it's just kind of one of those things where you grind out an at-bat and hope for something good to happen."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Verlander's control problems in the fifth inning, when he issued three consecutive walks, including one to Mitch Moreland with the bases loaded, could have doomed the Astros. The tying run scored on a wild pitch, but Verlander regrouped to strike out Benintendi with runners on second and third on a close pitch that led to Red Sox manager Alex Cora's ejection.
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"That at-bat was a huge swing at-bat," Hinch said.
Springer's second-inning single extended his postseason hitting streak to 10 games, which tied Lance Berkman for the longest in franchise history.
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HE SAID IT
"I wasn't mad at Kelly at all. I looked back at the mound, that's just because I was shocked. One-hundred mph hit me and it kind of hurt. I knew he wasn't trying to hit me. He was competing up there, trying to go in with a fastball, and it just got away a little bit." -- Bregman, who looked back at Kelly after he was hit by a pitch in the sixth
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The only time Bregman didn't reach base safely in five plate appearances came in the first inning, when a forceout at second base took away a hit.
Bregman dropped a blooper into right field, and thinking the ball might be caught, Jose Altuve got a late start toward second base. Mookie Betts fielded the ball and threw to Xander Bogaerts covering second, but Altuve was initially called safe. After the Red Sox challenged and the play was reviewed, the call was overturned.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.