Verlander Dominant, Astros Take 1-0 Series Lead

Altuve powers Astros behind masterful start from Verlander

Shaun Bijani
October 04, 2019 - 4:30 pm

HOUSTON (SportsRadio 610) -- The Astros journey to bring a World Series Championship to the city of Houston for the second time in three seasons began with one of Justin Verlander's most masterful postseason performances in his illustrious 15-year career, as the Astros topped the Tampa Bay Rays 6-2, taking game one of the American League Division Series. 

As focused and emotionally measured as Verlander can be prior to a start, it must have been near impossible as to not let the emotion and energy emanating from the sellout crowd of 43,360 get to him before throwing his first pitch Friday afternoon to start the ALDS. 

Verlander, making his 26th career postseason appearance and 25th start, walked Rays leadoff hitter Austin Meadows on five pitches, all 93-94 fastballs, to start the game. The hard-throwing righty got the next batter, Tommy Pham to rollover on a slider, grounding into a 6-4-3 double play. Verlander, settling down quickly after the double-play ball, got Ji-Man Choi looking at strike-three to end the top of the first on a 95-mph heater over the outer-half to set the tone early for the Astros. 

George Springer worked a one-out walk in the bottom of the third inning. Following Altuve's pop-out, Springer stole second-base on a 1-1 pitch to Michael Brantley. The 32-year old, 11-year veteran, Brantley, not known for his speed anymore, legged out an infield single to second base, moving Springer to third with two outs in the frame. Bregman loaded the bases after working a walk, setting the table for Astros rookie sensation Yordan Alvarez. 

Rays starter Tyler Glasnow was able to escape the inning without any damage though, getting Alvarez to look at strike three with a 99-mph fastball on the outside corner to end the frame. 

The Rays put the leadoff guy on in the fifth, breaking up Verlander's no-hitter at that point, on Brandon Lowe's single to right-center. With tension building in a scoreless ballgame, Verlander was able to get Travis d'Arnaud to pop-out before striking out both Joey Wendle and Kevin Kiermaier to end the inning. 

With the Astros having missed a couple of opportunities in both the second and third inning with runners in scoring position, Josh Reddick led off the bottom of the fifth, working a four-pitch walk from Glasnow, who was just missing on the corners with fastballs. Glasnow, settling down after the walk, got Springer down on strikes but the leadoff walk was enough to get the Rays bullpen stirring. 

Jose Altuve made certain the Astros wouldn't miss their opportunity to scratch a run across in the fifth, bending the third-pitch he saw from Glasnow, a 97-mph fastball, around the left-field foul pole for the first two-runs of the game and a 2-0 Astros lead. 

Brendan McKay, a lefty, relieved Glasnow with one out in the fifth and surrendered a first-pitch single to Brantley to continue the Astros rally in the frame and set the table for Alex Bregman. 

Bregman, who in recent weeks has walked up to the plate to chants of "MVP" from the home crowd, showed the baseball world once again why he is certainly worthy of the regular season award with his stealth patience and confidence at the plate, lacing a 96-mph heater off the left-field scoreboard to advance Brantley to third, setting the table once again for Alvarez to capitalize with runners in scoring position.

McKay, serving up a steady dose of upper-90's fastballs, fired three straight past Alvarez to record the second-out of the inning and the rookie's second strikeout of the ballgame.

The Rays again went to their bullpen, opting for right-handed reliever Chaz Roe to face Gurriel with runners on second and third with two-out in the fifth.  

Gurriel popped up to shallow right-field, but Rays second baseman Lowe, calling off an incoming Meadows from right-field, as they both charged toward the foul line, miss judged the ball as it fell into fair territory, scoring both Brantley and Bregman to give the Astros a 4-0 lead.

It blew the game open and gave Verlander and the Astros some much-needed breathing room in a tense ballgame. 

After issuing a one-out walk in the top of the sixth, Verlander again buckled down and got out of the inning thanks to a nifty inning-ending 5-4-3 double play. 

In the seventh, Verlander struck out the side on just 13-pitches, working his most efficient and effective inning of the day, which was spectacular, keeping Rays hitters off-balance with his fastball-slider combo.

Verlander finished his outing with eight-strikeouts, allowing just one hit and three walks in seven innings of work. With the eight punchouts, Verlander moved into third place on the all-time list for most strikeouts in a postseason career with 175, passing Roger Clemens (173) and is now just 24 strikeouts away from tying Hall-of-Famer John Smoltz (199) for the all-time lead for postseason strikeouts. 

The Astros, looking for a little insurance after another stellar performance from Verlander, struck again in the home-half of the seventh. 

After striking out a couple of times earlier in the game with runners in scoring position, Yordan Alvarez drove in Alex Bregman with an RBI-double to right-centerfield, giving the Astros a 5-0 lead and snapping an 0-17 slump in the process.

Following Alvarez's first career postseason hit and RBI, Gurriel sent his second hit of the day into the right field stands for an RBI ground-rule double, scoring Alvarez from second and making it a 6-0 ballgame.

Ryan Pressly came on to pitch the eighth inning for the Astros and the Rays were able to scratch a couple of runs across with a two-out rally. 

After surrendering three consecutive hits, four total and allowing two runs to cross the plate, making it a 6-2 ballgame, Pressly was pulled for Will Harris, who was able to induce a groundball from Ji-Man Choi to end the stressful inning for the Astros. 

Roberto Osuna, who saved 38 games during the regular season, pitched the ninth-inning for the Astros in a non-save situation, despite it absolutely feeling like it should've been. 

Osuna set the Rays down in order, helping the Astros take a 1-0 series lead in the best of five ALDS, setting the stage for Gerrit Cole Saturday evening, as he and the Astros look to take a commanding 2-0 series lead to Tampa Bay for a game 3 next week.