HOUSTON (AP) — Jose Altuve raced home on Carlos Correa’s double in the ninth inning, Justin Verlander struck out 13 in a complete game and the Houston Astros beat the New York Yankees 2-1 Saturday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.
Correa also homered, but Houston needed a daring dash from Altuve to get Verlander a win. The 5-foot-6 AL MVP front-runner reached with a one-out single against closer Aroldis Chapman, then sprinted around from first base on Correa’s shot to right-center field, sliding past catcher Gary Sanchez as he misplayed a short-hop. Altuve had two more hits and is 13 for 23 (.565) this postseason.
Verlander pitched another gem for the Astros, setting a postseason career best for strikeouts and allowing five hits in his second career complete game in the postseason. He threw a season-high 124 pitches and retired baby Bronx Bombers Aaron Judge, Sanchez and Greg Bird in the top of the ninth.
In the bottom of the inning, Judge picked up Correa’s hit in right field and threw toward second base. Shortstop Didi Gregorius fielded there, and his throw beat Altuve to the plate by a few steps. But Sanchez bobbled the one-hop as Altuve slid by, and the Astros mobbed Correa in shallow center field. Altuve pointed toward Correa and his teammates from behind the plate.
The Astros took their first ever 2-0 lead in a Championship Series in front of a crowd of 43,193 which included Houston Rockets stars James Harden, Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza in front-row seats. Minute Maid Park buzzed throughout, and fans let out huge cheer when manager A.J. Hinch sent Verlander back out to pitch the ninth inning.
“No words were necessary,” Verlander said. “It was my game to win or lose.”
Verlander got the first complete game by any pitcher this reliever-heavy postseason and his first nine-inning outing since his Tigers beat the Astros 3-2 on July 30, 2016. This was the seventh time Verlander had 10 or more strikeouts in the postseason, extending his major league record, and his seventh postseason game with 120 pitches or more.
The durable right-hander struck out the side in the eighth, and television shots showed fiancée Kate Upton in a pink sequined shirt cheering and clapping wildly as he walked off.
He improved to 8-0 over five regular-season starts and three playoff appearances with Houston since being traded from the Tigers on Aug. 31, including his Game 4 win in relief during a Division Series against Boston.
Correa’s homer in the fourth off starter Luis Severino sailed just out of reach of Judge and 12-year-old Carson Riley, who was sitting in the front row in right field. The ball bounced off Riley’s glove and into the stands, and manager Joe Girardi asked for a video review to check for fan interference. Umpires upheld the call.
Riley hopes to get the ball signed by Correa and called the moment: “A really cool one.”
It was reminiscent of a homer by Derek Jeter in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS between the Yankees and Orioles. A 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached out and deflected Jeter’s hit into the stands, but umpires ruled it a home run.
The 23-year-old Correa is the fifth player ever with five home runs in the postseason before turning 24.
Todd Frazier drove in New York’s run with a ground-rule double in the fifth when his shot to left-center got stuck in the chain-link fence protecting the visitors’ bullpen. Center fielder George Springer tossed his glove in the air several times attempting to knock the ball loose, but never got close to hitting it.
Severino allowed two hits and a run in four innings. He was hit by a comebacker from Yuli Gurriel on the last out of the fourth, but it was unclear if he was injured on the play.
Verlander got out of the third inning unscathed thanks to two big defensive plays. The first came when Josh Reddick made a leaping catch before crashing into the low wall in right field to rob Chase Headley of a hit for the second out of the inning.
Verlander raised his right fist into the air after the catch before pounding it into his glove several times to acknowledge Reddick’s work.
Brett Gardner followed with a rip to the corner of right field, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. Reddick threw it to Correa, whose one-hop to third base was just in time for Alex Bregman to tag Gardner out. He was initially ruled safe, but Bregman was so confident in his tag that he walked off the field as soon as the play was done. Hinch challenged, and it was quickly overturned.
Yankees: CC Sabathia will start Game 3 on Monday in New York. It will be his third start this postseason and 21st career playoff start. The 37-year-old lefty allowed eight hits and six runs — four earned — with 14 strikeouts across 9 2/3 innings in two starts in the ALDS.
Astros: Charlie Morton is scheduled to pitch for Houston in Game 3. He allowed seven hits and two runs in 4 1/3 innings of Houston’s 5-4 win over the Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALDS.
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