Astros start repeat run with four homers in win

The Associated Press

HOUSTON — George Springer and the Houston Astros picked up right where they left off last postseason, hitting four home runs to power past the Cleveland Indians 7-2 Friday in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.

Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Martin Maldonado also connected for the Astros, who hit a World Series-record 15 homers last year in winning their first championship.

Much was made about the pitching prowess these teams possess in the days leading up to this game. But it was a bunch of longballs to put the Astros ahead in this best-of-five series.

Houston’s pop backed up a solid start by Justin Verlander, who bested Corey Kluber in a matchup of Cy Young Award-winning aces in the first postseason meeting between these teams.

Verlander took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and allowed two hits and two runs in 5 1/3 innings for his 12th career playoff win. The Indians finished with only three hits, all singles.

Kluber, a two-time Cy Young winner who was coming off his first 20-win season, was tagged for three home runs in 4 2/3 innings. It was a repeat performance from last October’s ALDS, when he made two starts against the Yankees and left with a 12.79 ERA.

Game 2 is Saturday in Houston. Gerrit Cole starts for the Astros against Carlos Carrasco.

The Astros hit 27 homers last postseason — Springer hit five in the World Series and set a record by connecting in four straight games on his way to winning the MVP award.

Bregman, coming off a breakout year, got Houston’s first hit with his drive to the Crawford Boxes in left field to start a two-run fourth inning.

The 103-win Astros were still up 2-0 when Springer led off the fifth with a full-count homer to left. That made him just the third player in major league history to homer in five straight postseason games.

Two pitches later Altuve, last year’s AL MVP, connected for his eighth career postseason homer when he also sent one to left field. He began last year’s playoffs with three home runs in the ALDS opener against Boston.

Kluber watched stone-faced as Altuve headed for first and shook his head slightly as he rounded the bases and the crowd roared with scattered chants of “MVP.”

Kluber followed up his splendid regular season with another playoff dud. A year after giving up four homers in two starts against the Yankees, the longball again proved to be a problem for him. He left with two outs in the fifth inning after allowing six hits and four runs while walking three.

Verlander was masterful through the first five innings, with Cleveland’s only baserunner in that span coming on a walk to Jose Ramirez with two outs in the first. The Houston right-hander set down 13 in a row after that, fanning seven, including striking out the side in the third.

Yan Gomes broke up the no-hitter with his single to shallow right field to start the sixth and Francisco Lindor singled with one out in the inning. When Verlander walked Michael Brantley to load the bases after that, manager AJ Hinch had seen enough and replaced him with Ryan Pressley.

The Indians cut the lead to 4-1 on a wild pitch by Pressly, who came to Houston in a July trade, and got within two when Lindor scored on a groundout by Ramirez.

Maldonado, making his playoff debut, connected off Cody Allen for a two-out homer in the seventh. Bregman made it 6-2 with an RBI single later in the inning.

Brewers lead 2-0

MILWAUKEE — It turns out there is way more to the Milwaukee Brewers than just Christian Yelich.

The rest of this Brew Crew can play, too. Especially those guys in that loaded bullpen.

Jhoulys Chacin pitched five sparkling innings on short rest, Mike Moustakas contributed two more big hits and the Brewers blanked the Colorado Rockies 4-0 Friday to take a 2-0 lead in their NL Division Series.

While the sweet-swinging Yelich had a quiet day by his lofty standards, the NL Central champions showed off their supporting cast on the way to their 10th straight win going back to an impressive finish to the regular season. Erik Kratz had two hits and two RBIs, and Milwaukee’s bullpen closed the door after Chacin delivered in his playoff debut.

“It’s been the story of the last six weeks for us for sure, really since the trade deadline, is we’ve become a team with a lot of depth, and that’s how we’re going to have to win,” manager Craig Counsell said. “They’re making an effort to be very, very cautious with Yelich. It’s pretty clear. So guys behind him are going to have opportunities.”

Game 3 is Sunday at Coors Field. Another win, and Milwaukee is into the NL Championship Series for the first time since its previous postseason appearance in 2011.

Sale strong, ‘pen shaky

BOSTON — Chris Sale struck out eight for his first postseason win, J.D. Martinez hit a three-run homer and the Boston Red Sox sweated out their shaky bullpen to hold off the New York Yankees 5-4 on Friday night in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.

One year after he was pounded by Houston in his playoff debut, Sale took a four-hit shutout into the sixth inning. The Yankees loaded the bases in the sixth and seventh, cutting the deficit to 5-3. Aaron Judge homered off Craig Kimbrel leading off the ninth before the Red Sox closer retired the next three batters, striking out Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit for the save.

Game 2 in the best-of-five series is Saturday night, with Boston starting another pitcher trying to overcome a history of postseason struggles: left-hander David Price is 0-8 as a starter in the playoffs. He’ll face Yankees righty Masahiro Tanaka.

In the first playoff matchup between the longtime rivals since 2004, the 108-win Red Sox took a 5-0 lead against Yankees starter J.A. Happ and then white-knuckled it after Sale left with two on and one out in the sixth.

New York, which won 100 regular-season games plus the AL wild-card game against Oakland, got three singles and two walks in the sixth, scoring two before Brandon Workman — the only player on the Red Sox roster with a World Series ring — struck out Gleyber Torres to end the threat.

Kershaw has excellent night

LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw tossed eight innings of two-hit ball in the Dodgers’ second straight playoff shutout, and Manny Machado slugged a two-run homer as Los Angeles beat the Atlanta Braves 3-0 on Friday night for a 2-0 lead in their NL Division Series.

The Dodgers used a nearly identical formula to win 6-0 in Game 1 behind Hyun-Jin Ryu, who allowed only four two-out singles over seven innings, and home runs by Joc Pederson, Max Muncy and Enrique Hernandez.

Kershaw was even better. The left-hander struck out three and walked none in remaining unbeaten against Atlanta throughout his illustrious career.

Los Angeles can sweep the best-of-five series in Game 3 on Sunday in Atlanta, where the Baby Braves will be looking to score for the first time this postseason.

Kershaw got bypassed as the Game 1 starter in favor of Ryu after the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner had started eight of the Dodgers’ past 10 postseason openers. Manager Dave Roberts said it was done to give both Ryu and Kershaw five days of rest between starts.

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