Sean Pendergast

Houston Astros 5, Boston Red Sox 4 — Four Thoughts On A Thrilling Game 1 Win

Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa were one again the story of the victory on Friday night.
Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa were one again the story of the victory on Friday night. Photo by Jack Gorman
Friday night, the Boston Red Sox found out the same thing the rest of baseball is learning throughout the last couple weeks. The rest of the American League West learned it over 162 games. The Chicago White Sox found out last week. And yes, the Red Sox found out, at least for one night — this 2021 edition of the Houston Astros is just wired differently than any other team, born for the big moments.

Jose Altuve was the heart, Carlos Correa was the soul, and Dusty Baker, for all the criticism of his ability to handle the small chess moves in postseasons past, was again the brains, as he pushed all the right buttons again on Friday night, as the Houston Astros took a 1-0 need in the American League Championship Series, with a scintillating 5-4 win on Friday night.

As we ready ourselves for Game 2 on Saturday afternoon, and buckle up for what will likely be a mip and tuck series the whole way (if Friday is any indicator), here are the four most crucial things that happened on Friday night in what was perhaps the most important opening game in an ALCS for the Astros in their recent run of five straight ALCS's:

4. Framber Valdez just didn't have it, so thank the baseball gods that Cristian Javier DID
With Lance McCullers on the shelf for at least the ALCS (and possibly the World Series, if the Astros make it that far), it is crucial that Framber Valdez step into the role of "number one starter" as seamlessly as possible. Friday night was a poor start to that endeavor, as Valdez struggled with his control all night, and eventually gave way to the bullpen in the third inning. NOT ideal! Thankfully, the unsung hero in this game, starter-turned-reliever Cristian Javier, came in for two innings of shutout ball in the fourth and fifth that steadied things after the Red Sox had taken a 3-1 lead off of Valdez. Keeping the Red Sox from breaking the game open in that middle portion was so crucial, and Javier, who'd struggled down the stretch this regular season, was lights out. Good for him!


3. Dusty Baker, for the second straight game, was masterful handling the bullpen.
Against the White Sox, in the close out game on Tuesday this past week, Dusty Baker was dealt a rough hand with the McCullers forearm injury forcing the Astros' skipper to pull his starter after four innings. Baker then went on to navigate five relievers to five innings of scoreless baseball in that 10-1 win. On Friday night, it wasn't injury, but inconsistency that led to yanking the Astros' starter, Valdez. All Baker did from there was chess-move SEVEN different relievers to this stat line — 6.1 innings pitched, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 1 walk, and 8 strikeouts. That's two games now with a combined line score for the bullpen that goes like this — 11.1 innings pitched, 6 hits, 1 earned run, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts. I have to admit, I did not see ANY of this coming, both Dusty's management of the bullpen, and the bullpen's performance itself.

2. Credit another unsung hero, outfielder Chas McCormick
It's hard enough to face this Astros lineup when the one through seven hitters start off with Jose Altuve and finish with Kyle Tucker, who led all of baseball in batting average after May 1. (NOTE: The six-hole hitter is Yuli Gurriel, who led all of baseball in batting average for THE WHOLE FREAKING YEAR.) So how must it feel for Astros' foes when the eight-hole hitter, a rookie outfielder, goes out and gets three hits? Brutal, that's how it feels. Let's take a paragraph here to pay tribute to Chas McCormick, who came in cold off the bench DURING Game 4 of the White Sox series to get on base twice and score a couple runs. On Friday night, all he did was tack on three more hits. The trust shown McCormick and Jake Meyers by GM James Click, who trade the Astros' starting centerfielder Myles Straw at the trade deadline, is one fo the more under-discussed storylines with this team.

1. The heart and soul of this team did their thing, and it was glorious
I can't think of a more appropriate way to launch this team's record setting fifth consecutive ALCS appearance than to have Altuve's two run home run tie the game in the sixth, and Correa's solo home run the next inning give the Astros a lead they would never relinquish. Altuve's home run, in particular, was sweet, because Altuve had an uncharacteristically bad inning earlier in the game, both at the plate and in the field, leaving the bases loaded with a strikeout in the second inning, and then botching a ground ball that might have ended the third inning, only to allow the Red Sox to score two more runs. You just knew Altuve would atone for his sins, and he did. As for Correa, with every big moment this postseason, with more to come for sure, it feels like he's adding another million onto his future annual salary, which might dwarf the GNP for some small countries by the time the World Series is over. Enjoy this ride, Astro fans. Most fan bases NEVER experience a run by a core group like the one we are witnessing.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast