Jose Altuve finally provided Justin Verlander with run support in the fifth inning and the Astros seized the momentum to take the first game of the American League Division Series over the Tampa Bay Rays Friday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
Facing a 1-1 count against Rays’ starter Tyler Glasnow in the fifth inning, Altuve mentioned he was most certainly looking for a pitch up in the zone, similar to the one he popped out to the shortstop in his previous at-bat.
“I was looking for a pitch that I can handle,” he said. “He was throwing so good through the game. His fastball was almost invisible. I was looking for no one specific pitch but I was just looking up and I got lucky he threw it there and I could hit it.”
That trip around the bases served as his third straight season with a home run in Game 1 of an ALDS, joining only J.D Martinez (2014-18) and Jim Edmonds (2002-05).
That wasn’t the only damage dealt in that inning, however, as Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman followed with a single and double.
Yordan Alvarez made the second out with a strikeout but Yuli Gurriel lifted a high pop fly to no-man’s land between the first and second basemen and the right fielder and the ball tipped off of Brandon Lowe’s glove and fell to allow both runners to score, handing Verlander a 4-0 lead after five innings.
From there, he shut things down, allowing only one hit through seven scoreless innings pitched and racked up eight strikeouts in an effort he felt he was just getting started on.
When asked when he really felt like he was clicking: “If I’m being honest, the last inning,” he said. “I think I mixed in enough quality pitches to keep them off balance and made some pitches I got away with. As the game progressed, I started to lock it in more and more. Really the last couple innings, that’s when I really felt like my location and stuff was at its best.”
His manager, AJ Hinch, agreed that he continues to impress him and the coaching staff and sees him joining a select club once he's done pitching.
”Not everyone gets the opportunity (to pitch in October) so you can define aces a lot of different ways,” he said. ”He’s a star, he's a hall of fame pitcher. We’re going to look back and be very proud that we crossed paths with him.”
Also doing a bit of looking back was Altuve who talked about going through the lean years without much winning compared to today.
”I think you learn from being on the two sides of baseball,” Altuve said. ”I was here when we lost 100 games three years in a row and I don't think I would be the player I am now and we wouldn't be the team we are right now without losing 100 games three years in a row so I just try to live in the moment and try to learn every single day and work hard to stay in the team and keep winning some games.”
The next opportunity to win another game comes tomorrow night at 8 p.m. where Gerrit Cole gets the start looking to put the Astros in front, 2-0, in the ALDS.