Houston — Asked what went wrong for his Tampa Bay Rays, manager Kevin Cash invented a word.
“We got Verlandered,” Cash said.
Justin Verlander looked every bit the October ace, Jose Altuve polished his postseason resume and the Houston Astros kept rolling, beating the Rays, 6-2, Friday to open their AL Division Series.
The Astros, who won a franchise-record 107 games for the best record in the majors, began their quest for a second World Series title in three years against a Rays team that downed Oakland 5-1 in the wild-card game this week.
Verlander, a former Tiger, kept up his dominant run this year when he posted an MLB-most 21 wins and fanned 300, allowing just a soft single in seven shutout innings. He struck out eight and improved to 8-0 in 12 career ALDS appearances — he’s 14-7 overall in postseason play.
He cracked up when told Cash used his performance to turn his name into a verb.
“It’s a pretty great compliment,” Verlander said. “I don’t know what else to say, other than that.”
Tampa Bay got its only hit off Verlander when Brandon Lowe singled to start the fifth. Verlander ended his day by striking out the side in the seventh, pounding his fist into his glove as he walked off the mound after fanning Lowe.
Manager AJ Hinch was asked about Verlander’s knack for getting stronger late in games.
“He’s got an incredible instinct for the moment,” he said. “He leaves some gas in his gas tank at the end of his outings … like a good sprinter, like at the finish line, he’s going to win. He’s going to win the race at the end of his outings.”
Rays starter Tyler Glasnow had given up just three singles when he walked Josh Reddick on four pitches to begin the fifth. He struck out George Springer, but Altuve then tagged him for a two-run homer, lining a fastball into the left field seats.
“I just left that pitch up and it was a two-run home run,” Glasnow said. “Hindsight, I would go back and change some things, but can’t do anything about it now.”
The sellout crowd of 43,360, which included Astros Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Craig Biggio, erupted into deafening cheers and fans twirled bright orange towels as Altuve trotted around the bases, a huge grin plastered on his face.
Altuve has homered in Game 1 of the ALDS for three straight years — including three against Boston in the 2017 opener — and the small-but-powerful second baseman now has nine home runs in 33 career postseason games.
“Just breaking through with the big swing for Jose doesn’t surprise me,” Hinch said. “It’s like clockwork, every ALDS it seems like he busts out with a really good game.”
Game 2 is Saturday when Gerrit Cole, who has won 16 straight decisions and led the majors in strikeouts, starts against Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell.
Altuve’s homer touched off a four-run inning. Brendan McKay took over for Glasnow and allowed a single to Michael Brantley before Alex Bregman knocked one off the wall in left for a double.
Chaz Roe relieved with two outs and Yuli Gurriel hit a high popup to shallow right field that Lowe chased from second base as right fielder Austin Meadows also dashed in. Lowe looked to have it, so Meadows pulled up — but the ball glanced off Lowe’s glove for an error that allowed two runs to score to push the lead to 4-0.
“I have to catch it plain and simple,” Lowe said. “I called it and I dropped it. Next time I just have to keep going for it and make a play on it.”
The Astros added two more runs in the seventh after Bregman walked and stole second base. AL Rookie of the Year candidate Yordan Alvarez and Gurriel followed with RBI doubles to make it 6-0.
Tampa Bay hit four home runs in its wild-card win Wednesday at Oakland, but did nothing until Verlander left. Pinch-hitter Eric Sogard had an RBI single of Ryan Pressly with two outs in the eighth and scored on a double by Meadows to cut the lead to 6-2.
Glasnow, who came to the Rays in last year’s trade for Chris Archer that also netted Meadows, looked strong early and Houston’s powerful offense had trouble stringing anything together off him until Altuve’s shot. The Astros loaded the bases with two outs in the third, but the big right-hander struck out Alvarez to end the threat.
The 26-year-old Glasnow, who was making his playoff debut had missed almost four months with a strained right forearm before his return on Sept. 8, seemed to run out of gas in the fifth. He allowed four hits and two runs with five strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.
Yandy Díaz, who starred with two homers and three hits in the wild-card game, was 0 for 4 with a strikeout.
(At) N.Y. Yankees 10, Minnesota 4: DJ LeMahieu (Birmingham Brother Rice) homered and drove in four runs, Gleyber Torres broke a tie with a two-run double and the Yankees extended their October mastery of the Twins in the opener.
Aaron Judge made two diving catches in right field as the AL East champions handed Minnesota its major league-record 14th consecutive playoff defeat — 11 of them to the Yankees since 2004. The second grab thwarted a potential rally and left grateful reliever Zack Britton with both hands on his head to end the top of the seventh, when the Twins were still within striking distance.
Brett Gardner also went deep for the Bronx Bombers in a playoff matchup between teams that finished neck-and-neck this year for the most home runs in baseball history. Minnesota’s Bomba Squad socked 307, one more than New York as both clubs blew away the previous mark of 267 set by the Yankees last year.
Minnesota, the AL Central champion for the first time in nine years, was hurt by eight walks and hasn’t won a playoff game since Johan Santana beat Hall of Famer Mike Mussina 2-0 in the 2004 Division Series opener at Yankee Stadium. The Boston Red Sox also lost 13 straight postseason games, from 1986-95.
(At) Atlanta 3, St. Louis 0: Mike Foltynewicz threw seven crisp innings before pinch-hitter Adam Duvall hit a two-run homer that carried the Braves over the Cardinals, evening the series at one game apiece.
Foltynewicz, who spent a good chunk of his summer in Triple-A after a miserable start, has been a different pitcher since returning from the minors. He went 6-1 with a 2.65 ERA over his last 10 starts — a dominating run that carried right into the postseason.
The best-of-five series now shifts to St. Louis, where Mike Soroka gets the ball for the Braves in Game 3 Sunday against Adam Wainwright.
Washington 4, (at) L.A. Dodgers 2: Stephen Strasburg turned in another dominant October outing, former Tiger Max Scherzer overpowered Los Angeles for an inning out of the bullpen and the Nationals held off the Dodgers to even their NL Division Series at a game apiece.
Scherzer struck out the side in the eighth, but Washington’s shaky bullpen still ran into trouble. Daniel Hudson labored through the ninth, loading the bases with two outs before striking out Corey Seager for the save. The tense final inning also included a twisting, falling grab by third baseman Anthony Rendon on Cody Bellinger’s pop fly in shallow left field, as well as a gutsy intentional walk by manager Dave Martinez that brought the winning run to bat.
Pitching on the shortest rest of his career, Strasburg took a perfect game into the fifth inning while outdueling Clayton Kershaw. Strasburg pitched one-run ball for six innings and struck out 10, lowering his career postseason ERA to 0.64 — the best in playoff history for players with at least four starts. He edged out Dodgers great Sandy Koufax (0.95 ERA), who watched from the front row.