The Houston Astros have taken a step toward advancing to the Championship Series.
Houston won 6-4 in the first game of the American League Division Series against the Minnesota Twins of the 2023 Major League Baseball held at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, on the 8th (Korean time). Minnesota, the third seed, was on the rise with two wins in the American League wild card game against the Toronto Blue Jays, but was unable to overcome the barrier of second seed Houston in the division series and suffered one loss.
Unstoppable ace Justin Verlander got into a fight. Verlander posted his 17th win (11 losses) in the postseason with four hits, three walks, six strikeouts and perfect pitching in six innings. He dominated Minnesota by mixing fastballs (40), curves (25), sliders (25), and changeups (3). He showed off his skills with a maximum speed of 95.8 miles (154.2 kilometers) and an average speed of 94 miles (151.3 kilometers).
Ahead of this season, Verlander left Houston on a two-year, $86 million (about 116 billion won) free agent contract with the New York Mets. He went 6-5 with a 3.15 ERA in 94 innings in 16 games while playing for the Mets. However, as the Mets, who have already decided to play fall baseball, reorganized the roster, Verlander, a highly rated veteran, became the number one target for reorganization. Verlander was traded to Houston again, marking the return of the ace with a 3.31 ERA in 11 games, 7 wins, 3 losses, and 68 innings, and proved his worth by performing more than 100% of his duties in his first postseason start.
Jose Altuve’s performance stood out in the lineup. Altuve is a veteran who has played 93 games in the postseason, including today. Altuve hit a home run in the first inning, solidifying his position as the most home run hitter in the Major League Baseball postseason. Altuve remained in the lead with eight, and doubled the gap with second-place Albert Pujols (6). He also hit his 24th home run in the postseason, ranking second after the all-time leader Manny Ramirez (29).
Houston seemed to secure an easy victory. In the bottom of the first inning, Altuve hit a left-field home run, quickly giving them a 1-0 lead. In the bottom of the third inning, Jordan Alvarez hit a home run. With one out and Alex Bregman on base on a bases-loaded ball, Alvarez hit a dominant two-run gun to extend the lead to 3-0.
As the score increased from the beginning, Minnesota replaced starting pitcher Bailey Over before the defense in the bottom of the fourth inning. Japanese major leaguer Kenta Maeda took over the baton.
Houston even attacked pitcher Maeda, who was replaced in the bottom of the 5th inning. Bregman’s hit and Alvarez’s walk resulted in a chance for one out and first and second bases. Jose Abreu hit a timely hit with an RBI to the left of left field, widening the gap to 4-0. Next, with 2 outs and runners on 1st and 2nd base, Chas McCormick hit a timely hit to left to make it 5-0.
Houston activated the bullpen by replacing Verlander, who threw 93 pitches, in the top of the 7th inning ahead of defense. Hector Neris, a sure-to-be winner who recorded an ERA of 1.71 with 6 wins, 31 holds, and 2 saves in 71 regular season games, took the mound.
However, the Neris I trusted completely collapsed. He sent out leadoff hitter Matt Wallner on a bases-loaded ball and allowed a hit to Ryan Jeffers, putting him in danger of reaching first and second base with no outs. Neris struck out the next two batters and held on to first and second base with two outs, but collapsed after being hit by Jorge Polanco with a three-run hit. Minnesota star Royce Lewis hit back-to-back home runs, quickly narrowing the score to 5-4. Houston had no choice but to quickly replace the mound with Brian Abreu, and got over the critical point without allowing any additional runs.
In the bottom of the 7th inning, Alvarez hit his second home run of the day, reviving the team’s mood that was almost sinking. After one out in the bottom of the 7th inning, Minnesota replaced pitcher Caleb Tilba to keep Alvarez in check, but it did not work. When the 3rd pitch sweeper came in flat at a ball count of 1-1, Alvarez did not miss and connected with a superior solo shot to widen the distance to 6-4.
Houston’s bullpen held on without collapsing any longer. Abreu took charge until the 8th inning, pitching 1⅓ scoreless innings. In the top of the 9th inning, closing pitcher Ryan Pressley came on the mound. He made 31 saves in the regular season and boasted 2 wins and 11 saves in a total of 41 postseason games. Pressley ended the game by cleanly eliminating the three remaining outs.
Meanwhile, in Game 1 of the American League Division Series between the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, Texas laughed first, winning 3-2.