HOUSTON - Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.
Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.
After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.
Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
HOUSTON -- The weight on Chris Sale, the pressure on a bubble of insulation he maintains better than most, is immense.
There is the most basic element entering Thursday’s Division Series at Minute Maid Park, that he is pitching Game 1, on the road, opposite Astros ace Justin Verlander. A win feels close to a must.
“It's going to be a grind. It's kind of like the first person to blink,” Verlander said Wednesday. “As a starting pitcher, you love those battles.”
But Verlander has an otherworldly offense behind him. Sale does not. Sale is the closest thing to certainty the Red Sox have
A year ago, the Sox offense was baseball’s best, and was immediately silenced come the postseason. The starting pitching didn’t exactly help matters, but the bats were what carried the Sox in 2016, and they disappeared until it was too late.
This year’s Sox team is about pitching. It’s about Sale more than any other individual.
Less than 12 months into his time in Boston, the lefty’s success in his first career playoff outing -- or lack thereof -- could have a disproportionate effect on his public standing. It should not, because he accomplished so much already. But it probably will.
"It's exciting. A lot of hard work goes into this," Sale said. "Ups and downs of the season, battling the travel and all this other stuff. So to be sitting here right now is pretty fulfilling."
Sale already quieted talks of the first-year jinx with the Sox. He had no trouble adjusting to the market that loves to consider itself the market. That’s a prime reason John Farrell believes Sale won’t look different in his first postseason outing.
“I think this somewhat compares to the way he came into Boston following the trade,” said the Sox manager. “He has handled it without distraction. He’s handled it with I think a consistency to his routine and being true to himself, who he is as a performer, as a pitcher. I would venture to say, knowing Chris the person, that the same approach will be applied tomorrow.
“And I think the beauty inside of Chris Sale is that he focuses solely on the things that he can control, something as simple as command in the count. Strike one. Keeping it pretty much to the basics. He's done such an excellent job of that coming in with all the expectations and the highlight from the trade. He's handled it beautifully and I would suspect at this stage, this next set of games in which he's going to experience for the first time will be handled the same way.”
It’s easy to imagine the adulation for a win. It’s easy to hear the scorn that would follow a loss -- particularly if the Sox then dropped the Division Series . . . or, worse, were swept.
Sale has said the right things since being traded from the White Sox. He’s performed as well as anyone, better than anyone, could hope. He wants the ball on short rest in Game 4, if need be.
“Three days' rest, I'm in,” Sale said. “This is what I live for. I'm throwing until my arm falls off.”
In Sale, the Sox have arguably the best pitcher in the majors, the reincarnation of Randy Johnson. He may win the American League Cy Young.
But his 300 strikeouts will be so quickly forgotten if he doesn’t do well. It’s a battle David Price faced to an extent last year and into this year, albeit in a different scenario.
Price’s overall effectiveness in 2016 was not fully recognized because of his poor postseason start and a higher-than-expected ERA in the regular season. Sale was a much better pitcher in 2017 than Price was in 2016, and Price was no slouch.
It’s almost sad, if you think about the potential for perception to be skewed based on one game. Sale should be regarded as excellent no matter what. His ability to pitch under pressure should not be judged on one outing.
Yet, that does seem to be the nature of the beast when one is an ace for the Red Sox. You can start go through an offseason, make 35 starts, be king of the world as expected -- and then no one cares. Or too few care.
BOSTON - In a surprise to no one, Red Sox manager John Farrell announced that Chris Sale will be the Game 1 starter when the Sox open the ALDS Thursday in Houston.
It'll be the first career postseason start for Sale, the left-hander acquired from the White Sox in the offseason who helped pitch the Sox to the A.L. East title and put himself in Cy Young Award conversation by going 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA and 308 strikeouts, five shy of Pedro Martinez's franchise record.
Right-hander Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.36), the Astros' late-season acquisition from the Detroit Tigers, is Houston's likely Game 1 starter. Verlander has started 16 career games in the postseason (7-5, 3.39 ERA), including Game 1 of the 2006 and '12 World Series.
Farrell is undecided on the rest of his rotation. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz (17-6, 3.32) has been talked about as the Game 2 starter with lefty Eduardo Rodriguez and right-handers Rick Porcello and Doug Fister in the starting mix as well.
Sale is 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 12 career starts on three days' rest.
The rest of the best-of-five series schedule, with times to be determined:
Game 2, Friday, at Houston
Games 3, Sunday, Oct. 8, at Fenway Park
Game 4 (if necessary), Mon., Oct. 9, at Fenway
Game 5 (if necessary), Wed, Oct. 11, at Houston