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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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Pedroia, healing well, says he could have handled 2017 differently

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Pedroia, healing well, says he could have handled 2017 differently

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Often, Dustin Pedroia is not one to expound on his feelings publicly. His interviews with media can be amusing and witty, but they also can be terse. In 2017, they tended toward the latter. 

A welcome-to-spring session with reporters on Saturday brought out 20 minutes of another side of Pedroia, one that seemed almost eager to expound. He was cast in a poor light last season, the year's troubles started to compound early.

Pedroia said Saturday the knee he had repaired in the offseason had been bothering him since April. He called the surgery “the best decision I could have made.” 

“My knee doesn’t hurt,” Pedroia said. “Last year, waking up and walking around was painful. It’s not fun to live your life like that. Having the surgery, I could tell immediately that I was feeling better. Not one time did I have any pain in the entire process. Now, it’s just building strength and getting back to being athletic and things like that and your body picks that up quick.”

Pedroia, 34, didn’t share a timetable. The initial expectation, at the point Pedroia went for the surgery, was that he would be out until at least May.

He shared how he thinks the Red Sox need greater leadership as a group, not just from one individual.

"I’ve thought a lot about this, you know and I’m thinking, man, you know, you guys write all these stories about how we don’t have enough leadership and all this stuff,” Pedroia said. “I’m like, thinking about it, I’m like, when did the Red Sox start getting successful? From 2002 or whatever on. You know, they had Tek [Jason Varitek]. But not only did they have Tek, but they had David [Ortiz], they had Trot Nixon, they had Johnny Damon. There was a ton of core players that were leaders. 

“And then you look at the next championship they won, they had David, Tek, Mike Lowell, Alex [Cora]. There’s multiple leaders. And then ’13, there’s multiple leaders. So I think our core group, our guys that [are young], it’s my responsibility, I need them and they need me and we all have to work together. Because it’s not one leader. And everybody always says that, it’s not one guy in baseball. 

“We have to go be together and know that. I know David’s gone, but you know when Tek was done, we were okay. Because he built that into David, and David’s built that into me to where I got to do a better job of finding a way to get everybody to realize that it’s not one guy, it’s everybody. And that’s — after thinking about it — that’s what it is."

There was more. A lot more. The team, Pedroia said, became too results-oriented in the short term last year.

“It was more ‘Hey, what are our results today? We’ve got to do good today,’” Pedroia said. “‘Bogey’s got to get four hits today. Mookie’s got to live up to huge expectations,’ instead of being who you are, and that’s especially in this environment that’s how you have to be. You have to understand you’re going to be bad and you’re going to be great.”

Twenty minutes in, the second-to-last question was a brief return to last year’s form. Terse.

Pedroia was asked whether there was a team discussion about the handling of the Manny Machado and Dennis Eckersley incidents.

"Yeah, we talked about those things,” Pedroia said, matter of factly. 

It was by far the shortest answer he gave Saturday and stood out for that reason.

Pedroia and everyone else listening knew well that the question, which he did technically answer, was meant to provide some level of insight into those discussions. 

The conclusion: last year still isn’t easy to talk about. Which may be a positive sign. Consider: Pedroia’s reputation as a team leader was questioned. A prideful person who believes in his work, who cares about his standing and his reputation, would be made uncomfortable by last year’s proceedings.

A follow-up question came, and it was something of a breakpoint. Did those discussions resolve the issues quickly, was anything lingering?

He could have given a similar yes-no answer again. 

He didn’t.

“Yeah, no, I mean, I think as a team, no, we were together all the time. You know, those things happen,” Pedroia said. “I mean it’s baseball. I think when you sit back and look at it. Could it have been handled differently? Without question. I mean, 100 percent. It’s like everything in life. You make mistakes and then you don’t make mistakes. So, you know you learn from it, you move forward, you understand if you’re in another situation like that, if you want to do something different, do something different. And that’s what we all took out of it.”

On Saturday, he did something different.

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Hanley Ramirez follows Tom Brady's plan, looks less like Ray Lewis

Hanley Ramirez follows Tom Brady's plan, looks less like Ray Lewis

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The 2018 Red Sox could be an episode of Hanley vs. Time.

Hanley Ramirez , the presumed Red Sox designated hitter — and perhaps more often this year, first baseman — said Friday at JetBlue Park he’s lost 15 pounds thanks to The TB12 Method. Ramirez was listed in the 2017 media guide at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds.

“More [TB12] bands,” Ramirez said. “I went on the Tom Brady’s diet. I think it’s 100 percent, everything he says in the book and the work he does, it makes a lot of sense.

“The good thing about Tom Brady is winning. He’s about winning and making his team better. When you’ve got a guy like that, who inspires people to get better and to show to others that age is just a number when you do the little things right, that’s what he does.”

Ramirez is still a big man, but now he's thinking more about little muscles. 

"When you’re young, you need the big muscles to get stronger,” Ramirez said. “When you get in that age past 30, you’ve got to concentrate on the little muscles. You get that power from the big muscles. When you get hurt, most of the time those little muscles stop working. So you’ve got to keep working on those little muscles, which is what those [exercise] bands do.”

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Not a bad entrance for Ramirez, invoking the GOAT publicly. But Ramirez is loud normally. Friday was his first day at Sox camp.

“He made sure we knew he was here. He was loud in that clubhouse,” manager Alex Cora said. “That’s always good. I visited with him in December and he talked to me about his workout program, his offseason program, his new one. I saw him today and he looks a lot different than what I saw the last two years. The last two years he reminded me a lot of Ray Lewis, as far as how big he was. Now he’s going to be more mobile, flexible and he’s upbeat.”

Ramirez is 34 and in what could be the final year of his Red Sox contract. He needs 497 plate appearances to trigger a $22 million contract option for 2018, an option the Red Sox like don’t want to kick in — particularly given the current state of the free-agent market. Of course, if Ramirez is absolutely mashing, they might feel differently.

He wasn’t mashing a year ago.

The drop in offense from the 2016 Red Sox to 2017 was remarkable, considering how many players’ numbers fell in concert. Ramirez was in that group. He hit seven fewer home runs (23) in 2017 while playing 14 fewer games than he had the year before, and saw 44 points fall off his batting average, from .286 to .242. 

Ramirez was bothered by his shoulders all of last year, both of them, and had the left one surgically repaired. How bad was it?

“Literally, I was hitting with one arm last year and I hit 23 [homers],” Ramirez said Friday. “Now that I feel good, there are not going to be excuses. Better go out there and hit 30."

His throwing shoulder, his right, was not repaired. But that shoulder is said to be better as well. He said he’s been throwing for three weeks, and that includes some long toss. If his shoulders stay strong he should be more readily available at first base. He played 133 games there in 2016, but just 18 games in 2017.

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