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ALCS: Altuve's dash lifts Verlander, Astros over Yankees in Game 2

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ALCS: Altuve's dash lifts Verlander, Astros over Yankees in Game 2

HOUSTON -- With each stinging line drive, Jose Altuve is putting his stamp on this October. Same with every pitch from Justin Verlander, no matter the inning or score.

Houston's longest tenured player and its durable new ace - an incomparable pair so far this postseason.

Altuve raced home on Carlos Correa's double in the ninth inning, Verlander struck out 13 in a complete game and the Astros beat the New York Yankees 2-1 Saturday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Correa also homered , but Houston needed a daring dash from the 5-foot-6 Altuve to get Verlander a win. Altuve, an AL MVP front-runner, reached with a one-out single against closer Aroldis Chapman, then sprinted around from first base on Correa's shot to right-center field. Shortstop Didi Gregorius' relay beat Altuve to the plate, but catcher Gary Sanchezmisplayed a short-hop, allowing Houston's dynamo second baseman to slide past safely.

"When I saw him running I was like, `Oh God,'" Correa said. "And then obviously he beat it out."

Altuve had two more hits and is 13 for 23 (.565) this postseason after hitting just 4 for 26 (.154) in the 2015 playoffs.

"He's unbelievable," Verlander said. "The guy does everything."

Verlander improved to 8-0 in eight appearances with Houston since agreeing to an Aug. 31 trade from the Tigers, including his Game 4 win in relief during a Division Series against Boston. He has a 2.04 ERA over a postseason-leading 17 2/3 innings.

"When I decided to say yes, these are the moments that you envision," Verlander said of agreeing to the trade. "You don't envision going 5-0 in the regular season once you get here, that's all fine and great, but that's not why I was brought here. I was brought here to help this team win a championship."

Verlander set a postseason career best for strikeouts and allowed five hits in his second career complete game in the playoffs. He threw a season-high 124 pitches and retired baby Bronx Bombers Aaron Judge, Sanchez and Greg Bird in the top of the ninth.

"This is such a big moment for our team, but he put us on his back today with his pitching," manager A.J. Hinch said.

Dallas Keuchel won Game 1 for the Astros - also 2-1 - pairing with Verlander to give the Astros perhaps the best 1-2 punch in these playoffs.

"That was one of the most impressive things I've seen in my professional career for sure," Keuchel said. "But that's why we got him - for his postseason pedigree."

In the bottom of the ninth, Judge picked up Correa's hit in right field and threw toward second base. Gregorius fielded there, and his throw beat Altuve to the plate by a few steps. Sanchez just couldn't squeeze the one-hopper.

"That's a play I'm used to making," Sanchez said through a translator. "Really thought I had a chance at making that play there. Unfortunately I dropped the ball and couldn't make that play."

The Astros mobbed Correa in shallow center field while Altuve pointed and smiled from near home plate.

Houston took its first ever 2-0 lead in a Championship Series in front of a crowd of 43,193 which included Houston Rockets stars James Harden, Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza in front-row seats. Minute Maid Park buzzed throughout, and fans let out huge cheer when Hinch sent Verlander back out to pitch the ninth.

"No words were necessary," Verlander said. "It was my game to win or lose."

Verlander got the first complete game by any pitcher this reliever-heavy postseason and his first nine-inning outing since his Tigers beat the Astros 3-2 on July 30, 2016. This was the seventh time Verlander had 10 or more strikeouts in the postseason, extending his major league record, and his seventh postseason game with 120 pitches or more.

The unshakable right-hander struck out the side in the eighth, and television shots showed fianc�e Kate Upton in a pink sequined shirt cheering and clapping wildly as he walked off.

Verlander, Keuchel and two relievers have combined to strike out 27 Yankees in the series.

"They're making pitches on these kids," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "And maybe are they trying a little bit too hard? Yeah, of course. But I think everyone out there's probably trying a little bit too hard."

Correa's homer in the fourth off starter Luis Severino sailed just out of reach of Judge and 12-year-old Carson Riley, who was sitting in the front row in right field. The ball bounced off Riley's glove and into the stands, and Girardi asked for a video review to check for fan interference. Umpires upheld the call.

Riley hopes to get the ball signed by Correa and called the moment: "A really cool one."

It was reminiscent of a homer by Derek Jeter in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS between the Yankees and Orioles. A 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached out and deflected Jeter's hit into the stands, but umpires ruled it a home run.

The 23-year-old Correa is the fifth player ever with five home runs in the postseason before turning 24.

Todd Frazier drove in New York's run with a ground-rule double in the fifth when his shot to left-center got stuck in the chain-link fence protecting the visitors' bullpen. Center fielder George Springer tossed his glove in the air several times attempting to knock the ball loose, but never got close.

Severino allowed two hits and a run in four innings. He was hit by a comebacker from Yuli Gurriel on the last out of the fourth, and Girardi said they lifted him as a precaution.

Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson threw two scoreless innings each for New York before Chapman allowed his first run in 18 2/3 innings.

Verlander got out of the third inning unscathed thanks to two big defensive plays. The first came when Josh Reddick made a leaping catch before crashing into the low wall in right field to rob Chase Headley of a hit for the second out of the inning.

Verlander raised his right fist into the air after the catch before pounding it into his glove several times to acknowledge Reddick's work.

Brett Gardner followed with a rip to the corner of right field, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. Reddick threw it to Correa, whose one-hop to third base was just in time for Alex Bregman to tag Gardner out. He was initially ruled safe, but Bregman was so confident in his tag that he walked off the field as soon as the play was done. Hinch challenged, and it was quickly overturned.

UP NEXT

YankeesCC Sabathia will start Game 3 on Monday in New York. It will be his third start this postseason and 21st career playoff start. The 37-year-old lefty allowed eight hits and six runs - four earned - with 14 strikeouts across 9 2/3 innings in two starts in the ALDS.

Astros: Charlie Morton is scheduled to pitch for Houston in Game 3. He allowed seven hits and two runs in 4 1/3 innings of Houston's 5-4 win over the Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALDS.

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Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

For the glass-is-half-full folks, there are those back-to-back Eastern Division titles. For the glass-is-half-empty folks, well, there are those two first-round playoff ousters (though both their conquerers made it to the World Series, and one of them won it). But, here on Thanksgiving night, there's plenty for Red Sox Nation to be thankful for, starting with . . . 


YOUR GOOD HEALTH

We know you don’t need the Red Sox to know you how important the most basic elements of life are. But sometimes, the typical fantasy land of baseball can grab our attention. The death of 17-year-old Sox prospect Daniel Flores (above) this month from complications because of cancer didn’t take away only a potentially great baseball career. It took away a beloved, hard-working young person from the people who loved him. He had just made millions of dollars in July for his talent on the field, but what does such a windfall matter compared to one’s health? His cancer was both rare and fast-moving, per the Boston Globe.

MOOKIE, JACKIE, XANDER, BENINTENDI, DEVERS

The kids deserve some love. They probably won’t be together on the Red Sox forever. Heck, the group could get broken up this winter. But while any of the Killer B’s (plus a D) remain on the Sox, there should be a sense of optimism. Two straight 93-win seasons may have resulted in a first-round exit, and 2017 didn’t meet expectations for some individual performances. But you know what? The youths are still damn good, and there’s time for them to show us they can be even better.

INSANELY GOOD PITCHERS IN CHRIS SALE AND CRAIG KIMBREL

Neither hogs the spotlight once the game ends or says too much. Sale doesn’t even have Twitter. But the righty closer and lefty starter both do two things exceedingly well: make batters swing and miss, and prevent runs. When both pitch, your seat at the park may well be worth the price of admission. (But we won’t ask what you paid for those seats.) Sale didn’t take down Pedro Martinez’s Sox single-season strikeout record this year, finishing with five fewer than Martinez’s 313 in 1999. But he could have done it. And with a little more rest next year, one can envision him plowing his way through playoff opponents too.

ALEX CORA'S NEW DIRECTION

A first-time manager’s not a sure thing, but as Sox owner John Henry noted, there was a feeling it was time for a change. It’s a little early to be thinking ahead to a New Year’s resolution, but a manager who better connects with his players and brings a different vibe to the day-to-day scene is reason to feel the Sox are following the right road map. Plus, if nothing else, Cora took that awesome picture walking toward Fenway.

A CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SPREE MAY BE AROUND THE CORNER

We don’t want to be too materialistic. But Uncle Dave Dombrowski couldn’t let you buy everything you wanted last year. The credit card companies needed him to step back for a year. Now he’s ready to spend. He might not close down Bloomingdale’s for the day for you to do your private shopping, but if you need a couple great jackets to complete your look, it sounds like he’s ready to get you some designer threads. He probably feels there won’t be too many chances to have a moment like this with you, at this stage of your life, and he wants to make the most of it.

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

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Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel.