Red Sox

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

astros_alcs_jose_altuve_101417.jpg

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.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Red Sox score three in ninth inning to top Rays, 4-1

Red Sox score three in ninth inning to top Rays, 4-1

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox didn't need much offense to win their fourth straight game Wednesday night.

The 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays was accomplished with six strong innings from David Price and a three-run ninth sparked by an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts. The Rays, who have lost 9 of 12 to the Red Sox this season, contributed an error, a wild pitch and a passed ball to the big inning.

"That's us coming together as a team," said Mookie Betts, whose three-run homer won Tuesday night's game. "Today we had great pitching. I don't think there were many good swings on [Price's] pitches. He did everything today."

Price pitched three-hit ball, allowing a run while striking out nine. Joe Kelly (3-0) got the win and Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 15th save.

It was 1-1 when Bogaerts got up to bat in the ninth after a throwing error by shortstop Willy Adames. Bogaerts doubled into the left field corner off Alex Colome (2-5) to drive in J.D. Martinez. After a wild pitch, Eduardo Nunez drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and Boston tacked on another on a passed ball.

"You know it's my fault in the ninth making that error," said Adames, who was playing only his second major-league game. "It's a tough for me with that error and getting the L for the team."

Adames had thrown out Nunez at the plate after a two-out double by Jackie Bradley Jr. in the fifth, preserving a scoreless tie.

The Rays did not get a runner into scoring position until the sixth, when C.J. Cron doubled off the center field wall, their third and final hit. That hit drove in Denard Span, who had led off the inning with a walk.

Price, who had won his two preceding starts, left after throwing 90 pitches in six innings.

"The last inning was a high-leverage, stressful inning and we felt good with the six," explained manager Alex Cora.

Christian Vazquez got Boston on the board in the sixth, singling off starter Chris Archer and later scoring when Hanley Ramirez bounced into a bases-loaded double play.

Archer has won only one of his last 20 starts against Boston. He gave up one run, four hits and three walks in six innings, striking out six.

The game featured eight hits and 24 strikeouts, including four in a row by Rays reliever Jose Alvarado.

11-MAN BULLPEN DAYS

With the loss of RHP Jake Faria to an injury and Wednesday's call up of LHP Vidal Nuno, the Rays are down to two starting pitchers on a 13-man staff, setting up the possibility of "bullpen days" for all three of the upcoming weekend games against Baltimore.

"I imagine we'll be revisiting Sergio [Romo] starting again," manager Kevin Cash said. "Maybe he'll start all three games this time."

Last weekend, Romo became the first pitcher since 2012 to start on consecutive days.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: A decision will be made on the status of 2B Dustin Pedroia (recovering from left knee surgery) after Thursday's game at Triple-A Pawtucket. Pedroia could be activated for this weekend's series at Fenway Park.

Rays: Faria went on the 10-day disabled list after straining his left oblique Tuesday night, and the Rays expect him to miss at least two months. ... C Wilson Ramos, who left Tuesday's game early with a left hand contusion, was available but did not start. ... RHP Nathan Eovaldi (loose bodies in right elbow) gave up eight runs on 10 hits in four innings in his fourth rehab start for Triple-A Durham. Eovaldi is eligible to come off the disabled list Monday.

UP NEXT

RHP Rick Porcello (8-3, 2.43 in 13 careers starts at Tropicana Field) will pitch for Boston in Thursday night's series finale. Rays LHP Blake Snell (2-3, 4.13 in in six career starts against the Red Sox) has given up two runs or fewer in eight of his 10 starts this season.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Can Red Sox replace Carson Smith's style internally?

Can Red Sox replace Carson Smith's style internally?

Entering Tuesday night, opposing hitters had swung and missed at Joe Kelly’s changeup 82 percent of the time.

Last season, he barely threw the pitch, at about 2 percent. Now, per BrooksBaseball.net, Kelly’s using the change more than 9 percent of the time.

Carson Smith’s shoulder injury creates obvious “next-man-up” scenario for the Red Sox bullpen, just as any injury to a significant player would. It's likely that no matter how excellent Kelly or Matt Barnes or Heath Hembree are going forward, the Sox will need to add a reliever midseason if they want to make a deep run into the postseason. 

MORE RED SOX

There's also the Red Sox debut of right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg, who has been rehabbing at Pawtucket, on the horizon. 

Nonetheless, with Smith down, there are opportunities for Barnes, Kelly and Hembree to not only step up into bigger roles, but perhaps to evolve stylistically as well. Just a tad.

Smith was a sinker-slider pitcher. Kelly, Barnes and Hembree rely more on power fastballs. Outs are outs and remain the bottom line, but part of what made Smith appealing was that different look he offered.

“It’s awful what happened, really,” Barnes said recently. “We’re all praying for him and hoping that it’s not too bad that he can come back and do fine . . . It definitely hurts. He was throwing really well the last month. He was a guy who’s dominant against righties and adds a different feel than the other righties we have in the bullpen. We got a good group down there. We’re fortunate that we have some depth: guys that have pitched in a lot of different roles over the years and are really comfortable in any role.”

Indeed, over the winter, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski pointed to Smith as something of a separator amongst his righty relievers. None of the Sox relievers should change just for the sake of it. Their effectiveness is what matters most.

Kelly, though, might be most effective if he transitions a little. His stuff might allow the most wiggle room and he's very willing to experiment, be it with timing mechanisms or otherwise. 

https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/boston-red-sox/podcast-how-make-people-miss-100-mph-interviews-joe-kelly-and-brian-bannister

One of the perplexing things about Kelly has been how hard he throws and how few swings and misses his high-90s (and sometimes triple-digit) fastballs garner. Enter the changeup, as well as his slider and curveball. Kelly’s not throwing his breaking balls more than he used to overall, but they’re both creating more swings and misses in 2018. 

There hasn’t been an uptick in ground balls, as one would expect with a sinkerballer such as Smith. Still, as Kelly’s secondary stuff seems to take on better life, his identity need not be wrapped up so much in that fastball and whether or not it gains swings and misses.

As they move on without Smith, Sox relievers are comfortable in varied roles.

"It’s based on the conversations we have with [pitching coach Dana Levangie]," Barnes said of usage. "If you look at kind of the way things have played out the last three weeks to a month, we have an idea when I'm going to pitch based on the lineup, innings, scores of games. So, in a sense, we might not be the typical, old-fashioned [build where] you have your set eighth inning, you have your set seventh inning, and that kind of role. But there is definitely a role that we kind of each understand."

From there, if one of them can distinguish themselves slightly in terms of approach — Kelly seems the best candidate — a little variation could go a long way.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE