HOUSTON (AP)Alex Bregman, Framber Valdez and the Houston Astros are off to a perfect start this postseason.
Taking the formula that won them 106 games in the regular season – strong pitching and hitting home runs – the Astros kept rolling against the New York Yankees.
Bregman connected for an early three-run homer, Valdez threw seven strong innings and the Astros edged the Yankees 3-2 Thursday night to take a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.
The Astros improved to 5-0 this postseason after a sweep to begin this best-of-seven matchup.
”We got a few guys hot. We would like to get everybody hot before it’s over with,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
Yankees slugger Aaron Judge just missed a two-run homer in the eighth when his drive was caught just in front of the short wall by right fielder Kyle Tucker. The ball would’ve landed in the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium, Statcast showed – with the roof open at Minute Maid Park, the wind might’ve knocked down Judge’s bid.
”I think the roof open kind of killed us,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, later adding, ”I didn’t think like he smoked it like no-doubter, but it felt like his homers to right.
A night after Justin Verlander fanned 11 in a 4-2 win in Game 1, Valdez turned in another solid pitching performance and Bregman’s third-inning homer was all the offense Houston needed.
”They got a really tough pitching staff over there,” Bregman said. ”They’re really good. So just trying to scratch and claw and battle and try and fight.”
Valdez allowed just four hits, walked none and struck out nine. The only runs New York mustered were unearned, coming in the fourth after a flustered Valdez committed two errors on the same play.
But he quickly moved past the gaffe and shut down the powerful Yankees lineup the rest of the way. Valdez allowed just one baserunner after that inning on a single to Harrison Bader with two outs in the fifth and retired the last seven hitters he faced, capped by striking out the side in the seventh.
Valdez, who often talks about his maturation, said he would have been undone by his fourth-inning miscues a few years ago.
”Back in 2019 I probably would have been done with the game,” he said in Spanish through a translator. ”I probably would have lost all focus there at that moment. But those are all things that we work on and just continue working hard to be able to focus better and get better in the game.”
Featuring a mix of pitches, Valdez got 25 swings and misses. He also helped end the Yankees’ record run of 23 straight postseason games with a home run.
Bryan Abreu pitched a scoreless eighth. Ryan Pressly walked one in a scoreless ninth, striking out three for his second save of the series.
There was a slight delay before Pressly threw his first pitch after a fan got on the field and appeared to try and hug Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and take a selfie with him. Security and police officers quickly descended on the man and pulled him away from Altuve before wrestling him to the ground, handcuffing him and escorting him off the field.
The series shifts to New York for Game 3 Saturday where the Yankees will try to dig themselves out of a hole to avoid being eliminated by Houston in the ALCS for the third time in six years. Former Houston ace Gerrit Cole will start for New York.
Houston is 7-2 overall against the Yankees this year.
Yankees starter Luis Severino plunked Martin Maldonado on the left forearm to start Houston’s third before the slumping Altuve struck out. Jeremy Pena singled to center before Yordan Alvarez grounded into a forceout at second.
Bregman then knocked a fastball beyond the wall in left field for his second home run this postseason to make it 3-0. It was his 14th career home run in the playoffs to move him past Justin Turner for most homers by a third baseman in MLB history.
It was a bit windy at Minute Maid Park in a rare game where the retractable roof was open, and it was unclear how much the conditions impacted flyballs. Judge, who set an AL record with 62 home runs during the regular season, gave the Houston fans with his drive that Tucker grabbed before knocking into the wall.
The Yankees are hitting .138 in the two games against the Astros and have struck out 30 times to Houston’s eight. The Astros hit three home runs in the opener.
The Astros, who swept Seattle in the AL Division Series, are winning without any help on offense from Altuve, long a postseason powerhouse.
The three-time batting champion went 0 for 4 Thursday to fall to 0 for 23 in the playoffs this year, which is the longest hitless streak to begin a postseason in MLB history. He passed Dal Maxvill, who went 0 for 22 in the 1968 World Series for the Cardinals.
”I woke up today, and my goal was to win the game, and we did it, and that’s the only thing that’s on my mind right now,” Altuve said.
Judge got his first hit of the series with a single to get things going for the Yankees in the fourth.
Then came a nightmare of a play for Valdez where he made both a fielding and a throwing error. Giancarlo Stanton hit a chopper toward Valdez, and he grabbed it, possibly with time to start a double play, but then dropped it.
Valdez picked up the ball but fell backwards to the ground as he threw to first. His toss was offline, allowing Judge to advance to third and Stanton to reach second on the play.
Valdez remained on his back on the grass for a few seconds after seeing the ball roll past first base and put a hand to his face and shook his head before gathering himself and returning to the mound.
Anthony Rizzo followed with a groundout that scored Judge to make it 3-1.
A single by Gleyber Torres sent Stanton home to get the Yankees within 3-2. But Valdez struck out Josh Donaldson and Kyle Higashioka to limit the damage.
Severino allowed five hits and three runs with six strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.
Cole (2-0, 2.03 ERA this postseason), who helped the Astros to the 2019 World Series before signing with the Yankees, will start for New York in Game 3 Friday. Houston has yet to name its starter, but it will likely be Lance McCullers.
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