HOUSTON -- The stunning trade the Astros pulled off in the waning minutes of July to add Zack Greinke to their rotation and put him alongside American League Cy Young Award candidates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole was done with October in mind. More specifically, Greinke was brought to Houston to help the Astros beat the Yankees.
Because the Astros needed five games to put away the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Division Series -- meaning Cole had to be used in Game 5 -- Greinke’s first crack at the Yankees came in Saturday’s Game 1 of the AL Championship Series. He performed better than his clunker against the Rays in the ALDS, but the Yanks shut down the Astros and stole a 7-0 win in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series at Minute Maid Park.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” Astros second baseman José Altuve said. “Tomorrow we have Justin and we all know how confident and good we feel about him. It’s just one game. It’s a seven-game series. We still have a lot of baseball to play.”
In postseason history, Game 1 winners in a best-of-seven series have won the series 112 of 176 times (64 percent). In all series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams winning Game 1 on the road have gone on to take the series 36 of 64 times (56 percent). Last year, the Astros won Game 1 in Boston before losing four in a row.
“We don't have time for frustration,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “They threw the first punch in Game 1. We get to the next day. We can punch right back tomorrow. I don't think they're going to be too comfortable tomorrow coming to the ballpark thinking they've got an easy game ahead of themselves.”
Greinke, facing the Yankees for the first time since the day he was traded from the D-backs on July 31, worked six innings and allowed three runs and seven hits, including solo homers to Gleyber Torres and Giancarlo Stanton in the sixth inning that made it 3-0. Torres had an RBI double in the fourth to start the scoring, then added a two-run single in the seventh and an RBI groundout in the ninth.
“I thought Zack did a good job giving us a chance to win and we just didn’t do anything offensively,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said.
Houston's offense, which sputtered through the ALDS, was shut down by New York starter Masahiro Tanaka, who needed just 68 pitches to face the minimum through six innings while allowing one hit and one walk. Kyle Tucker singled and was erased on a double play in the third, and Bregman was tagged out trying to get back to first base on a screaming line-drive out to right fielder Aaron Judge off the bat of Yordan Alvarez in the fifth.
The three hits by the Astros tied their season low, which came on March 31 at the Rays. Even in that game, they managed a solo homer by Jake Marisnick.
“I think everything was pretty good tonight,” Hinch said of Tanaka. “That's probably the best that we've seen him in a small sample to execute his game plan, his pitches, his tempo. Just about everything was working for him. We couldn't create a ton of traffic for him. When he did, he got some double plays. He was just really, really good tonight.”
The Yankees, who lost all four games in Houston in the 2017 ALCS, may have snatched home-field advantage away from the Astros, but Houston has its horses lined up for the next two games and in position to start four of the final six games, should it come to that. Verlander will start Game 2 on Sunday night at Minute Maid Park and will try to even the series heading to New York, where Cole -- who hasn’t lost in five months -- will get the ball in Game 3 on Tuesday in the Bronx.
“Any time you can hand the ball to Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, you always believe in them,” George Springer said.
Still, the Astros are going to have to find a way to get their stumbling offense reignited. Houston set a Major League record in the regular season with a .495 slugging percentage and led the Majors in batting average and on-base percentage. The offense hasn’t come close to that kind of offensive production through six postseason games
“When you’re facing really good pitching, it makes hitting even harder,” Springer said. “Hitting’s hard. But that being said, we’re a good team and we understand that, so we’ve got to grind and string together some at-bats and we’ll see what happens.”
The Astros didn’t get a runner past second base Saturday until the seventh inning when they were trailing 5-0. Brantley had a one-out single and Altuve rolled a single past two Yanks infielders who couldn’t decide who should field the ball. It didn’t matter, though. Bregman hit into an inning-ending double play.
“Greinke did a good job early in the game of keeping us off balance and keeping us off base,” Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner said. “When Masahiro is able to go out there and put up zero after zero, it allows us to feel like we're going to score and take the lead at some point. Masa was at his best today.”