Red Sox

Astros beat up on Sale, Red Sox in ALDS opener, 8-2

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Astros beat up on Sale, Red Sox in ALDS opener, 8-2

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve had just arrived in the Astros dugout after launching his third home run of the game when George Springer grabbed his right biceps and examined it, as if searching for an explanation for his teammate's extraordinary pop.

"He makes sure he stays on top of his gym routine, whatever it is," Springer said. "The dude is just a joke."

The major league batting champion put on an unprecedented show of power Thursday as Houston roughed up Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox 8-2 in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.

Buoyed by chants of "MVP" in each trip to the plate, the 5-foot-6 Altuve hit solo homers in the first and fifth innings off Sale. He connected again in the seventh off reliever Austin Maddox to give Houston a quick boost in the best-of-five series.

"As soon as I cross the white line, I feel the same size as everyone else," Altuve said.

It was just the 10th time a player hit three homers in a postseason game, and first since Pablo Sandoval for the Giants in the 2012 World Series opener against Detroit. Babe Ruth did it twice.

"I told him the last time I've seen three home runs in a game was Pablo Sandoval and I gave up two of them, so I'm glad there's somebody new that's done it," winning pitcher Justin Verlander said.

Altuve became the first Astros player to hit three homers in one game since 2007, when Carlos Lee did it in the regular season. He seemed as surprised as anyone else that he was now in a category with the Sultan of Swat, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols.

"I hit one and I was like: `Wow,'" he said. "And the second one is like: `Wow, what's going on here?"

And his thoughts after the third?

"I got to wake up," he said, flashing a huge grin.

After he finished talking to Springer following his third shot, Altuve's teammates goaded him into exiting the dugout for a curtain call. And as he tipped his hat to the crowd, one fan near the dugout held a sign that proclaimed in blue block letters: "That Kid Can Hit."

Verlander pitched six effective innings and improved to 6-0 since Houston got him in late trade with Detroit. He is 5-0 with a 2.24 ERA in nine career starts in the division series.

Sale, the major league strikeout leader, was tagged for seven runs in five-plus innings of his postseason debut.

Game 2 is Friday, with Dallas Keuchel starting for the Astros against Drew Pomeranz.

Among the shortest players in the majors, Altuve couldn't be a bigger leader for the Astros. He's one of the few players remaining who languished through a rebuilding process that led to three straight 100-loss seasons from 2011-13, and is perhaps the main reason this team ran away with the AL West title this year.

"First off, how good is Jose Altuve?" Houston manager A.J. Hinch asked. "It's incredible to watch him step up and be every bit the star that we needed today for sure. It's hard to describe in different ways."

Altuve hit .346 this year, his fourth straight 200-hit season. He had 24 home runs this year - this was his third career multihomer game, and the first time he'd hit three all at once.

Quite a comeback from his only previous postseason - in 2015, he batted just .154 (4 for 26) without an extra-base hit.

Alex Bregman and Altuve hit back-to-back homers in the first inning , making Sale look a bit rattled. The Red Sox tied it up by scoring a run each in the second and fourth innings before Marwin Gonzalez lined a two-run double in the fourth for a 4-2 lead.

There were two outs in the fifth inning when Altuve connected again to push the lead to 5-2 and make him the third player in franchise history with a multihomer game in the postseason, joining Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran.

The crowd of 43,402, which included Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, waved bright orange towels as Altuve trotted around the bases.

Sale never got into a rhythm and was chased after walking Josh Reddick with no outs in the sixth. The left-hander was tagged for nine hits and matched a season high for most runs allowed.

"Anytime he mislocated, particularly in the middle of the plate, they made him pay for it ... And then his slider was hit and miss today," manager John Farrell said. "Some were flat, some had good depth, but the inconsistency to the location pitch to pitch is a difference in this one against a team that makes you pay."

After fanning 308 in the regular season, Sale struck out six. But he allowed three homers and three doubles, marking just the second time in his career that he's given up six extra-base hits.

"Never really gave my team a chance to win. Put them in a hole early," Sale said. "They fought back and they fought back hard and I gave it right back to them. It happens (but a) terrible time for it to happen."

Verlander, a playoff veteran who was starting his 17th postseason game, yielded six hits, struck out three and walked two to help the Astros take the early lead in the series.

Sandy Leon had two hits and drove in a run and Rafael Devers added an RBI for the AL East champs.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox designated hitter Eduardo Nunez was carried off the field in the first inning with a right knee injury and did not return. He pulled up running to first base on a groundout in the first inning before falling to the ground. Nunez missed 19 of Boston's last 20 regular-season games with what the team called a sore knee. The Red Sox said he had re-aggravated his knee injury and he was replaced by Hanley Ramirez.

"We have got to go through a protocol here to determine his inactivity before we make a roster move," Farrell said. "But I think it's pretty safe to say, given how he went down today, he would not be available."

UP NEXT

Red Sox: Pomeranz will make his first career postseason start after going 0-0 with a 4.91 ERA in two relief appearances in the playoffs.

Astros: Keuchel believes that the experience he got pitching - and winning - two games in the 2015 playoffs will help him in his second trip to the postseason. "I'm grateful that we got some experience in 2015 and hopefully that will carry us to the championship series," he said.

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

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AP Photo

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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