George Springer and the Houston Astros picked up right where they left off last postseason, hitting four home runs to power past the Cleveland Indians 7-2 Friday in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Martin Maldonado also connected for the Astros, who hit a World Series-record 15 homers last year in winning their first championship.
Much was made about the pitching prowess these teams possess in the days leading up to this game. But it was a bunch of longballs to put the Astros ahead in this best-of-five series.
Houston’s pop backed up a solid start by Justin Verlander, who bested Corey Kluber in a matchup of Cy Young Award-winning aces in the first postseason meeting between these teams.
Verlander took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and allowed two hits and two runs in 5 1/3 innings for his 12th career playoff win. The Indians finished with only three hits, all singles.
Kluber, a two-time Cy Young winner who was coming off his first 20-win season, was tagged for three home runs in 4 2/3 innings. It was a repeat performance from last October’s ALDS, when he made two starts against the Yankees and left with a 12.79 ERA.
Game 2 is Saturday in Houston. Gerrit Cole starts for the Astros against Carlos Carrasco.
The Astros hit 27 homers last postseason — Springer hit five in the World Series and set a record by connecting in four straight games on his way to winning the MVP award.
Bregman, coming off a breakout year, got Houston’s first hit with his drive to the Crawford Boxes in left field to start a two-run fourth inning.
The 103-win Astros were still up 2-0 when Springer led off the fifth with a full-count homer to left. That made him just the third player in major league history to homer in five straight postseason games.
Two pitches later Altuve, last year’s AL MVP, connected for his eighth career postseason homer when he also sent one to left field. He began last year’s playoffs with three home runs in the ALDS opener against Boston.
Kluber watched stone-faced as Altuve headed for first and shook his head slightly as he rounded the bases and the crowd roared with scattered chants of “MVP.”
Kluber followed up his splendid regular season with another playoff dud. A year after giving up four homers in two starts against the Yankees, the longball again proved to be a problem for him. He left with two outs in the fifth inning after allowing six hits and four runs while walking three.
Verlander was masterful through the first five innings, with Cleveland’s only baserunner in that span coming on a walk to Jose Ramirez with two outs in the first. The Houston right-hander set down 13 in a row after that, fanning seven, including striking out the side in the third.
Yan Gomes broke up the no-hitter with his single to shallow right field to start the sixth and Francisco Lindor singled with one out in the inning. When Verlander walked Michael Brantley to load the bases after that, manager AJ Hinch had seen enough and replaced him with Ryan Pressley.
The Indians cut the lead to 4-1 on a wild pitch by Pressly, who came to Houston in a July trade, and got within two when Lindor scored on a groundout by Ramirez.
Maldonado, making his playoff debut, connected off Cody Allen for a two-out homer in the seventh. Bregman made it 6-2 with an RBI single later in the inning.