- Chris Sale received a jarring welcome to postseason play, largely thanks to a three-homer performance from AL MVP candidate Jose Altuve. He led the Astros to a series-opening win against the Red Sox.
After a pair of exciting Wild Card games, the first game of the ALDS was decided fairly early. The Astros took an early lead and although the Red Sox kept pace at first, the best offense in baseball lifted Houston to an 8–2 win. The series resumes Friday at 2:38 p.m. in Minute Maid Park.
Here are three takeaways from the Astros’ Game 1 victory.
1. Welcome to the postseason, Chris Sale.
All week Red Sox ace Chris Sale has been answering questions about what it feels like to be starting his first postseason game. For much of the year he was the best pitcher in the American League, but October was a test he had not yet faced. (Although he’s 28, he had the misfortune to come up with the White Sox in 2010; until the December trade that sent him to Boston for a stable of prospects, he’d never been on a team that won more than 88 games.) He admitted yesterday that he wasn’t sure what to expect. “[I’ll] just try to treat this just like another game,” he said. “You get a little amped up sometimes and that can kind of go crazy.”
He appeared to be a little amped up Thursday. Sale’s slider velocity crept up through September—usually at 79 mph, he started averaging closer to 81 mph—and at the same time, hitters went from slugging .282 on it to .644. His 12th pitch against the Astros was an overthrown, flat 84-mph slider that rookie third baseman Alex Bregman deposited in the leftfield seats. His 15th pitch was a 97-mph four-seamer that second baseman and potential AL MVP José Altuve lofted to the same general area. He would eventually allow seven runs over five innings as the Red Sox lost the only game of the series in which they seem to have the pitching advantage. The bad news for the Red Sox is that they’re down 0–1 and will face Dallas Keuchel on Friday. The good news is that Sale will be available to start a potential Game 5, and maybe in relief for a potential Game 4—and he will know what to expect.
2. If Game 1 is any indication, Jose Altuve’s MVP-type season has carried over to October.
We knew this going into it, but it was fun to see it borne out so quickly: Altuve is the best (and most fun) player in this series, if not the whole playoff field. Two years ago, in his first postseason, he hit .136 as the Astros fell to the eventual champion Royals in the ALDS. “Now we know how it feels to be there,” he said on Wednesday. If experience is all he needed, the other seven teams have their work cut out for him. He became the ninth player in history—after the likes of Albert Pujols, George Brett and Babe Ruth—to hit three home runs in a playoff game, and he did not seem remotely cowed by the stage. Altuve shows no signs of slowing down after a dominant season in which he led the majors in hits for a fourth straight season.
“To be honest with you,” he said, “I already forgot about my batting title. This is a new season for me.” Good start.
3. The loss before the loss.
As if the Red Sox needed another handicap in a series which they’re already the underdog, they lost DH Eduardo Nuñez in the first inning when he appeared to aggravate a right-knee injury that had kept him off the field for most of September. Hanley Ramírez replaced him at DH. When Nuñez was in the lineup for Boston, he had an .892 OPS, and they thought highly enough of him to add him to the roster even when he was hobbled. If they substitute for him off the roster, Nuñez would be ineligible for the ALCS. He’d be a huge loss for a lineup that already lacks power.