Clutch homers from Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa power Astros past Red Sox in Game 1 of ALCS



HOUSTON — The withering attacks from their peers did not stop them. The trash cans tossed on the field, the long, lusty boos, the chants of “Cheater!” from fans coast to coast did not stop them.

Perception is that the 2017 Houston Astros were and always will be cheaters, and perhaps, from a purely character standpoint, a case could be made.

But it’s now 2021, with safeguards apparently in place to guard against schemes such as the ’17 Astros’ electronic sign-stealing, yet one thing hasn’t changed: The historic dominance of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in October.

With the Boston Red Sox on the verge of capturing Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, Houston’s postseason stalwarts responded yet again, slugging a pair of home runs off Boston relievers to spearhead a 5-4 victory.

Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa reacts after hitting a go-ahead solo home run in the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox.

Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa reacts after hitting a go-ahead solo home run in the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox.

The 4 hour, 7 minute game set the tone for this series: A slog and, at times, a slugfest. Starting pitchers Chris Sale and Framber Valdez failed to complete three innings, and a combined 15 relievers kept the game close, if not aesthetically pleasing.

Leave it to the Astros sluggers for that.

Altuve went first, atoning for a crucial third-inning error to provide a familiar sight: A line drive disappearing into a bobbing throng of orange in the Crawford Boxes in left field. His two-out, two-run shot off Tanner Houck – who’d given up just three hits in seven innings of postseason work – tied the score 3-3 in the sixth and ended a four-inning stretch in which the Astros stranded seven runners.

Correa provided the decisive two-out dagger an inning later, with a towering fly down the left field line that prompted him to drop his bat on contact and bathe in the adoration of 40,534 fans that filled the place like a historic scandal followed by a pandemic never happened.

Nope, they love Altuve and Correa here like they love their rugged individualism, and if they’re cheats, well, they’re definitely Houston’s cheats.

Yet with every passing game, the pre- and post-scandal Astros are practically imperceptible.

Correa had three hits off three Red Sox pitchers, and eight in 17 at-bats this postseason. His go-ahead home run was the 18th of his career, tying him with Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson and Nelson Cruz for seventh all time.

Altuve walked and scored, homered and tacked on a sacrifice fly that proved to be the decisive run; his 20 career postseason home runs tie him with Derek Jeter for third all time.

Both players have slugged seven home runs in the 2020 and ’21 postseasons, the mental strain of playing with their secrets long revealed – and their sign-stealing security blanket presumably expunged – apparently no hurdle.

Their Game 1 heroics overshadowed a command performance from Boston center fielder Kiké Hernández, whose leadoff homer in the third kick-started a three-run inning that put his club up 3-1, and whose ninth-inning homer cut the deficit to one.

An inning before his first homer, Hernández made a spectacular diving catch of a sinking fly ball off Michael Brantley’s bat, corralling the ball inches above the grass to save at least two runs.

Hernández is now 14 for 28 with four homers this postseason, and his 30 total bases are more than halfway to the all-time record of 50, set by St. Louis’ David Freese in 2011.

The way this series is going, Hernández should have plenty of chances to pile onto that total.

Boston’s Sale again struggled, allowing six baserunners while retiring just eight batters, and he left the Boston bullpen in a compromised position.

Meanwhile, Astros lefty Valdez battled his command over 2⅔ innings, walking three and forcing a seven-man bullpen relay that held Boston at bay until Hernández’s ninth-inning shot off closer Ryan Pressly.

But Pressly hung on, and Houston is just three wins away from a return trip to the World Series. A familiar result, with familiar protagonists.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Astros beat Red Sox in ALCS Game 1 as Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve homer


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