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 Sanchez misplayed 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 2-0 lead in a Championship Series in front of a crowd of 43,193 which included 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 right-hander struck out the side in the eighth, and television shots showed fiancée 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.
Correa, 23, 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.
L.A. Dodgers 5, Chicago Cubs 2: Chris Taylor hit a tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning, Yasiel Puig added a homer and an RBI double to his dynamite postseason, and the Los Angeles Dodgers overcame a short start by Clayton Kershaw for a in the NL Championship Series opener.
Charlie Culberson doubled, drove in the tying run and scored another while replacing injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager for the resourceful Dodgers, who improved to 4-0 in this postseason.
With another collective offensive effort and four innings of perfect relief pitching, Los Angeles calmly overcame an early two-run deficit and took the first game of this rematch of the 2016 NLCS, won in six games by Chicago on the way to its first World Series championship in 108 years.
Game 2 is Sunday, with Rich Hill starting at home against Chicago’s Jon Lester.
Kershaw pitched five innings of four-hit ball, but the Los Angeles ace fell behind 2-0 before getting pulled for a pinch-hitter during Los Angeles’ tying rally.
But after winning 104 games in the regular season and sweeping Arizona in the Division Series, the Dodgers have a lineup and bullpen equipped to handle it. They made Kershaw’s latest laborious postseason start irrelevant, just as they did after he gave up four homers in his playoff-opening start against the Diamondbacks last week.
Albert Almora Jr. hit a two-run homer in the fourth, but the final 18 batters failed to reach base for the weary Cubs, still bouncing back from a 10-hour cross-country flight after finishing off Washington late Thursday night.
Jose Quintana pitched five innings of two-hit ball for the Cubs one day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane in Albuquerque with a medical ailment. But the Dodgers tied it against him in the fifth and went ahead in the sixth with Taylor’s leadoff shot off loser Hector Rondon.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was ejected in the seventh after a call at the plate was reversed. Culberson initially was ruled out when he attempted to score from second, but was called safe after video review when catcher Willson Contreras was deemed to be in violation of blocking home plate without the ball.
Kenta Maeda got three outs and the victory in his latest standout relief effort, and Kenley Jansen struck out all four batters he faced for his third save this postseason.
Puig added a huge offensive game to his recent surge with his first career postseason homer — though in a postgame interview on TBS, he was convinced he had hit one before. The Cuban slugger also included his usual array of bat flips and portentous pauses at the plate.
He drove a double deep into the left-center gap in the fifth inning to score Los Angeles’ first run, and his sky-high homer off Mike Montgomery in the sixth barely got over the fence in left. Puig is 7 for 15 with six RBIs in the Dodgers’ first four playoff games.
Almora scored the winning extra-inning run in Game 7 of last year’s World Series against Cleveland, but his homer off Kershaw was his first career extra-base postseason hit. He had just eight homers in the regular season, but made no mistake when Kershaw left a full-count slider over the plate.
Kershaw’s inability to match his sublime regular-season performances in the playoffs is a central theme of his career. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner won the NLDS series opener last week despite giving up four homers at Dodger Stadium, and Almora’s shot made him the first Dodgers pitcher to yield five homers in a single postseason.
And despite pitching for the third time in six days after a start and a relief appearance against Washington, Quintana was outstanding from the beginning at Dodger Stadium, retiring 12 of Los Angeles’ first 13 batters.
Los Angeles finally got rolling in the fifth when Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes drew one-out walks. Puig hammered a double to left-center, but the ebullient Cuban slugger headed to second only after flipping his bat and spreading his arms wide at the plate.
Culberson then came through with a sacrifice fly that easily scored Barnes.