MLB playoffs: Astros slug three homers off Yankees bullpen, take ALCS Game 1 behind Justin Verlander gem

The Astros walloped three home runs off the Yankees bullpen and Justin Verlander clicked into Cy Young form as Houston seized Game 1 of the ALCS, 4-2.

After an early exchange of runs, the teams entered the bottom of the sixth tied at one. Yankees manager Aaron Boone had already walked a tightrope in the fifth, with reliever Clarke Schmidt getting a double play to escape a jam after Boone left starter Jameson Taillon in to begin facing the Astros lineup a third time. Allowing Schmidt to come back out for the sixth proved too much. Yuli Gurriel and Chas McCormick each belted solo homers to build an Astros lead.

Rookie Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña — hero of Houston's 18-inning triumph over the Mariners in the ALDS — added another run with a skyscraping homer in the seventh of Frankie Montas — the Yankees trade deadline addition who was added to the ALCS roster and used out of the bullpen.

An Anthony Rizzo homer threatened to spark a Yankees comeback in the eighth, but Houston manager Dusty Baker called on closer Ryan Pressly, who quashed the rally and notched a four-out save.

The Astros — through all the self-inflicted turmoil in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal — have reached the ALCS for the sixth straight season. For the third time in that run, they're matching up with the Yankees. The first two times, Houston prevailed — much to the chagrin of Yankees fans. They are favored to come out on top again, in large part because their pitching depth appears to dwarf that of the injury-depleted Yankees staff.

Houston didn't even need much depth in Game 1. Verlander, the 39-year-old ace who will likely win the AL Cy Young, brushed off a rough start against Seattle with six innings of one-run ball. He struck out 11 and allowed only three hits, setting a new MLB record with his eighth career double-digit strikeout game in the postseason. You could almost see Verlander finding his groove in real time after allowing the one run early on. His curveball in particular looked sharper as the game went on.

The Astros will once again have the pitching edge on paper in Game 2. Yankees starter Luis Severino mostly returned to health and to strong results in 2022, with a 3.19 ERA in 19 starts. But on the opposite side, Framber Valdez has developed into one of the most reliable arms in baseball — logging a 2.82 ERA in over 200 innings.

That game is set for 7:37 p.m. ET Thursday on TBS.

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