MLB playoffs: Astros hit three home runs from Yankees bullpen, win ALCS opener behind Justin Verlander gem

The Astros homered three times outside the Yankees bullpen and Justin Verlander took on Cy Young’s form as Houston took Game 1 of the ALCS, 4-2.

After an early exchange of points, the teams entered the bottom of the sixth tied at one. Yankees manager Aaron Boone had already walked a tightrope in the fifth, with reliever Clarke Schmidt getting a double play to escape a jam after Boone left starter Jameson Taillon to start facing the Astros lineup a third. time. Allowing Schmidt to return for the sixth proved too much. Yuli Gurriel and Chas McCormick each hit solo home runs to create a lead for the Astros.

Rookie Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña — hero of Houston’s 18-inning triumph over the Mariners in the ALDS — added another run with a skyscraper homer in Frankie Montas’ seventh — adding the Yankees trade deadline that was added to the ALCS roster and used out of the bullpen.

An Anthony Rizzo homer threatened to spark a Yankees comeback in the eighth, but Houston manager Dusty Baker called in closer Ryan Pressly, who called off the rally and made a four-out save.

The Astros — through all the self-inflicted turmoil in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal — reached the ALCS for the sixth straight season. For the third time in this race, they face the Yankees. The first two times, Houston prevailed — much to the chagrin of Yankees fans. They’re favored to come back in the lead, largely because their throwing depth seems to eclipse that of the injury-worn Yankees staff.

Houston didn’t even need much depth in Game 1. Verlander, the 39-year-old ace who will likely win the AL Cy Young, swept away a tough start against Seattle with six one-point innings. He struck out 11 and allowed just three hits, setting a new MLB record with his eighth career double-figure batting in the playoffs. You could almost see Verlander finding his rhythm in real time after giving up a run early on. His curve ball in particular seemed sharper as the game wore on.

In total, the Yankees hit 17 times, where the Astros hitters only hit twice. Sarah Langs of reported it was the biggest differential in playoff history.

The Astros will have the advantage on paper again in Game 2. Yankees starter Luis Severino has mostly returned to health and strong results in 2022, with a 3.19 ERA in 19 starts. But on the other side, Framber Valdez has become one of the most reliable arms in baseball – recording a 2.82 ERA in over 200 innings.

That game is scheduled for 7:37 p.m. ET Thursday on TBS.

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