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Enrique Hernandez tallied four hits, including a pair of solo homers, to cement his status as the hottest hitter in baseball right now, but it wasn’t enough on Friday evening as Jose Altuve crushed a game-tying two-run homer in the sixth inning, and Carlos Correa clobbered a go-ahead solo shot in the seventh inning, leading the Astros to a dramatic 5-4 comeback victory over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the best-of-seven ALCS at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
There’s no truth to the rumor that Hernandez was bitten by a radioactive spider earlier this month, but he’s experienced a dramatic metamorphosis at the dish, blossoming into a one-man wrecking crew this month, racking up a staggering 13 hits -- including eight of the extra-base variety -- over his last four playoff games, the most over a four-game stretch in major-league postseason history. His 13 hits across six games to open the postseason are the most in Red Sox’ franchise history, just ahead of David Ortiz, who posted 12 hits over the first six games of his legendary run during the 2004 playoffs.
Despite their center fielder’s heroics, the Red Sox wound up losing a battle of the bullpens in the series opener as both starting pitchers failed to complete three frames. Chris Sale was lifted after throwing just 61 pitches (37 strikes) over 2 2/3 innings, but managed to hold the Astros to a single run, courtesy of a sacrifice fly from Yordan Alvarez in the opening stanza. The 32-year-old lefty loaded the bases with one out in the second inning, but managed to wriggle out of the jam completely unscathed by whiffing Jose Altuve and retiring contact-oriented Michael Brantley when Hernandez made a phenomenal diving catch in shallow center field to retire the side.
Naturally, Hernandez led off the ensuing frame with a game-tying solo shot to left-center field against Valdez, who lasted just 2 2/3 innings in this one before being pulled. The Red Sox took the lead later in the third inning when Altuve botched a potential inning-ending double-play ball off the bat of J.D. Martinez, which kept the inning alive and allowed Xander Bogaerts to cross the plate. Hunter Renfroe tacked on an RBI double before the Astros lifted their dynamic young southpaw from the contest.
The bullpens took over from there as Adam Ottavino, Josh Taylor and Ryan Brasier kept the Astros off the scoreboard into the middle innings, trading zeroes with Cristian Javier and Phil Maton, before Jose Altuve walloped a game-tying two-run homer to left field off righty Tanner Houck with two outs in the sixth inning. It was the 20th postseason homer of his legendary career. Correa supplied the go-ahead shot in the ensuing frame, connecting on a 91 mph changeup from righty Hansel Robles with two outs in the seventh inning. Altuve managed to plate a key insurance run in the top of the ninth inning with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly, and Astros stopper Ryan Pressly managed to hang on, despite surrendering a leadoff homer to Hernandez -- his fourth round-tripper of the postseason -- in the bottom of the frame.
It’ll be a quick turnaround for both squads as Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Garcia will square off on Saturday afternoon in Game 2 at Minute Maid Park.
Braves and Dodgers Set For NLCS Showdown
It’s unclear who will take the ball for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday afternoon, especially since Max Scherzer threw 13 pitches in relief on Thursday night to close out a Game 5 victory over the Giants, but whoever it ends up being will lock horns with left-hander Max Fried in a highly-anticipated series opener. The 27-year-old left-hander blossomed into one of the premier starters in the game over the last few months, posting a sparkling 2.44 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 144/36 K/BB ratio across 154 2/3 innings over 25 starts after May 1. He played a key role in the Braves’ dispatching of a loaded Brewers squad in their previous series, striking out nine batters over six scoreless innings in the Braves’ Game 2 victory last week.
MLB Quick Hits: Lance McCullers has been left off the Astros’ roster for the ALCS, but his right forearm injury is muscular in nature, not structural … Cubs officially announced the hiring of Carter Hawkins as their next general manager … Keston Hiura will undergo a minor cleanup surgery on his right elbow … Reyes Moronta, Brandon Drury, Neftali Feliz, Kyle Barraclough, Luke Farrell, Andrew Albers, Nik Turley, Sean Kazmar, Tyler Webb and Troy Stokes Jr. have elected free agency.