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Astros - Yankees score: Houston takes ALCS Game 1 behind Justin Verlander, from unexpected sources

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The Houston Astros defeated the New York Yankees 4-2 in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series Wednesday night. The Astros lead a best-of-seven series 1-0, meaning they’re three games away from getting tickets to the World Series for the fourth time since 2017.

Harrison Bader kicked off a solo shot against Justin Verlander in his sixth postseason game this fall, with his fourth inning, while the Astros fell behind in the second half. Houston would tie things up in the lower half of the half. Backstop Martín Maldonado started a counter-court duo that covered Chas McCormick.

The two sides would swap zeros until the sixth inning. That’s when first baseman Yuli Gurriel rushed home to give Houston a 2-1 lead. The aforementioned McCormick would take the lead 3-1 by running in his own solo home after a few innings. Another home run, this time seventh from Jeremy Peña, making it 4-1.

The Yankees made an eighth-place comeback on Anthony Rizzo’s solo shot, cutting the lead to 4-2. The Yankees would threaten further in the eighth round, putting the tie-in run first with two outs. The score remained the same until the final, but the Astros were signed.

Here are six things you need to know about the Astros’ Game 1 win.

1. Verlander throws jewels, makes history

The Astros owe most of their victories to ace Justin Verlander. The AL Cy Young Award winner battled the Seattle Mariners in his first start this season. He fixed course on Wednesday and kept the Yankees for a run of more than six innings. Verlander relinquished three innings, a walk, and a batting shot, making 11 innings on 103 pitches.

As ESPN Stats and Info noted, Verlander beat Dodgers left-back Clayton Kershaw earlier in the night to become the all-time end-of-season leader in strikes:

Verlander’s 11 goalscoring was the second most hits he has ever scored in a single postseason game. The pinnacle of his career remains at number 13 against the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS. This is his 11th hit for the fifth and second time against New York. (To be fair, Verlander has now made nine postseason starts against the Yankees, giving him plenty of opportunity to achieve success.)

Verlander fired three more than 20 shots on Wednesday: his fastball, slider, and curveball. He produced a game-record 17 swinging hits, with at least four on each of these three pitches and only producing eight on his slider.

In many words, Verlander didn’t look like someone who wrote what was arguably the worst postseason start of his career last time.

2. Taillon keeps the Yankees in the game

Yankees right-hand man Jameson Taillon was by no means a Verlander-like performance. But it kept the game close, and that meant it exceeded the modest expectations it faced with the acclaimed Astros lineup.

Taillon surrendered to a run in four strokes and three walks with 4 1/3 strokes. 67 did not hit anyone on the field. Taillon’s streak almost looked worse, as manager Aaron Boone knocked him out for fifth after surrendering a double. Relaxing Clarke Schmidt, who will eventually get two home runs, loaded the bases with back-to-back walks (one deliberate) before creating a crucial double-play ball.

Regardless of what happens to Schmidt on the next inning, the Yankees would likely face Taillon 20 hits and come out with a draw.

3. Astros take home runs from unlikely sources

When people think of great power threats in the Astros series, they think of Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and maybe even Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman. Game 1: Gurriel, McCormick, and Peña are probably not considering the three who started the solo shots. This is for good reason.

Indeed, Gurriel finished the regular season with eight home runs in 584 visits to the plate, or once every 73 plate games. McCormick and Peña were much better in this respect, hosting the plate every 25 to 29 turns.

Moreover, Gurriel was in the midst of a long power shortage leading to the playoffs. After reaching his seventh home run of the year on July 1, he has scored just one more goal in his last 76 games. Naturally, Gurriel has since launched two home runs in his first four playoff games, showing that you can’t predict baseball.

4. Judge had a great success

It didn’t really matter, but Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge arguably had the best catch of the season in statistical terms early on. Bregman hit a ball to the right, right center, with two runners and one outside. It looked like Bregman would have some extra bases, but the Judge laid it out and made the grab.

Click here to read what makes the catch so rare and special.

5. What does history say about winning Game 1?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but winning Game 1 usually bodes well for the winner’s chance to win the entire series. Major League Baseball clubs that have won Game 1 of the best of seven sets have historically gone on to win 64.3 percent of those series, according to the website.

6. What’s next

The Yankees and Astros will continue the ALCS with Game 2 on Thursday night. The Yankees are expected to kick off Luis Severino, while the Astros face off against Framber Valdez. The first step is scheduled for 19:37 ET and the game will air on TBS. The Astros will try to take a 2-0 lead in the series.