Road Warriors Take ALCS Opener
Bats Explode Late To Support Solid Pitching

Verlander: Wild in fifth
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
When the game was over, the fans joyously hugged and swayed to Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" in the chilly fall air as they basked in victory. That was the scene in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday where the Iowa State Cyclones upset sixth-ranked West Virginia in a Big XII thriller. The scene at Boston's Fenway Park was much different.

That's because the Road Warrior Houston Astros snapped a 2-2 tie then poured in on in the ninth for a (7-2) triumph over the Red Sox in the opener of the ALCS to snatch home field advantage away from the team with baseball's best record.

Justin Verlander allowed just two hits over six innings to collect his 13th postseason victory although a spate of wildness cost him the game-tying runs in the fifth. Ryan Pressly, Lance McCullers and Collin McHugh applied the sleeper hold over the final three frames to seal the win.

George Springer slapped a bases-loaded single in the second for the game's first two runs. Boston starter Chris Sale lasted just four innings as the patient Astros ran up the lefty's pitch count. Verlander had his own issues with James Hoye's strike zone in the fifth as a single and three walks brought home Boston's first run and a wild pitch tied the score.

Springer and Alex Bregman walked against Joe Kelly in the sixth and a single by Carlos Correa put Houston back in front. That's how it stayed until the top of the ninth when Josh Reddick took a 1-0 fastball from reliever Brandon Workman and sent it over the right field fence for an insurance run. Later, Yuli Gurriel finished the uprising with a three-run shot that snuck around the right field foul pole.

The game featured more walks (14) than hits (8) and more strikeouts (20) than either so, as an artistic success, this game wasn't one. The Champs won't care. Once again, they found a way to win on the road and are now playing with house money for Sunday night's Game Two. Getting a split in the first two games is huge as it forces Boston to win at least one game in Houston and hold serve the rest of the way at home. The pressure is all theirs.

Gerrit Cole (15-5, 1-0 in the playoffs) will try to keep the pressure on for Sunday's 6:09 p.m. Central second game. David Price (16-7, 0-1) will take the ball for Alex Cora's BoSox. The Astros are now 4-0 in this year's postseason and their closer is rested should he be needed.

In other news, the Astros made two roster changes for the ALCS. They added veteran relievers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon to the roster while leaving out reliever Will Harris and outfielder Myles Straw for this series. Having three consecutive games necessitated carrying 12 pitchers this time instead of the 11 hurlers they carried in the division series.

- Bob Hulsey