Astros-Red Sox ALCS Game 1 takeaways: Kike’ Hernandez keeps rolling, Houston’s middle infield stays clutch


If there is ever a game in a league championship series that can be counted on to be low-scoring, it’s Game 1. The two teams usually hand the ball to their best arms, hoping to shut down the opposing bats to take the upper hand in the series.

But the Red Sox and Astros gave an early indication Friday that their ALCS will be high-scoring. The two powerhouse offenses each racked up double-digit hit totals, and only by going a combined 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position and leaving 18 runners on base were they able to keep the score at 5-4, with the Astros prevailing.

The Astros’ pitchers settled in after allowing three runs in the top of the third, and Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa delivered key blows in the sixth and seventh innings to spark Houston to the Game 1 win.

There was a lot to take in during the series opener. Here are three takeaways from it.

MORE: 2021 MLB postseason schedule

Kiké Hernandez continues to dominate

Hernandez made his mark in the ALDS against the Rays when he helped spark a 14-6 win in Game 2 with a five-hit performance. He homered, hit three doubles, drove in three runs and scored three times. He finished the series hot with an absurd .450/.429/.900 slash line.

He showed no signs of slowing down Friday.

Hernandez led off the game with a single over the head of Correa, launched a game-tying solo homer in the top of the third, blooped a double to left in the top of the fourth and homered again in the top of the ninth for one last Red Sox gasp.

His OPS in the ALCS after Game 1 is 3.000. Yeah, that’ll play.

This isn’t just a tear that players go on during the postseason. According to Stathead, Hernandez’s 13 hits in four ALDS games and one ALCS game are tied for the most of any player in MLB history in a five-game span in the live-ball era, and he joins Albert Pujols, George Brett and Robin Yount as the only players in MLB history with multiple four-hit games in their postseason careers.

MLB’s Sarah Langs has more on his impressive run.

Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa still Houston’s spark

It’s safe to say that the Astros would be a long way from where they are now without Altuve and Correa.

Altuve has been with the team since the dark ages — his first two full seasons in the big leagues, Houston lost 107 and 111 games in back-to-back seasons — but it was clear he was going to be a spark for the franchise moving forward. Correa was considered the turning point in the rebuild; in his rookie campaign of 2015, the Astros reached the playoffs for the first time since losing the World Series in 2005.

Now deep into their Astros tenure, and in perhaps Correa’s last run with the club, the two are still coming through in the clutch.

MORE: La Russa says Astros have a ‘character problem’

Altuve scored Houston’s first run on a sacrifice fly in the first inning. He coughed up an error in a key moment that led to Boston taking the lead in the third, but he made up for it with a two-run, no-doubt homer to tie the game 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth.

And then Correa hit a towering shot to left in the seventh to give Houston a 4-3 lead. Altuve hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth that proved to be pivotal; it gave Houston a two-run lead, enough to survive Hernandez’s homer in the ninth.

These players have proved time and again that they won’t get stage fright in the spotlight. Altuve’s homer moved him ahead of Albert Pujols and George Springer on the all-time postseason home run list with his 20th, good for a tie with Derek Jeter for third-most all-time. His two runs scored moved him past Chipper Jones into fifth place all time with 60 in the playoffs. His career 2.2 win probability added in the postseason ranks 10th all time.

Correa has been just as clutch. His career 2.6 WPA puts him fifth all time. His homer moved him past Pujols into fifth all time with 55 postseason RBIs and into a tie with Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Nelson Cruz for the seventh-most home runs with 18.

These two are making their sixth trip to the postseason together and delivering more thrills to Houston fans. They also showed in Game 1 that, as far as Boston pitching is concerned, they will be the two bats to beat in this series.

Chris Sale labors again

Sale has been one of the league’s very best pitchers throughout his career, and that remained true toward the end of the 2021 regular season as he was coming back from Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2020 season and most of this past season.

But he has not been himself in the playoffs.

In his first postseason start, he lasted just one inning as he gave up five runs — four coming on a grand slam — on four hits and a walk with two strikeouts against the Rays.

He didn’t fare much better Friday. Sale was removed in the third inning with runners on first and second and two out. Reliever Adam Ottavino bailed him out by recording the final out of the inning to maintain Boston’s 3-1 lead.

MORE: How Sox’s Alex Cora was involved in Astros’ sign-stealing scandal

Sale again didn’t have any issues with walks (just one free pass), but he gave up five hits and struck out only two to go with the one run allowed. Five batted balls against him were considered “hard hits” (exit velocity of 95 mph or higher), according to Baseball Savant.

Part of his issues stem from his pitch mix. Sale has never had a dominant changeup, but it has been especially bad this season. Batters slugged .667 against the pitch during the regular season, and he all but eliminated it from his repertoire in the first two postseason games after throwing it over 20 percent during the regular season and nearly that rate for his career. He used it once against the Rays and only four times against the Astros.

The result is that batters have become better at anticipating what he will throw next. While his slider whiff rate was 33 percent against Houston, right on pace with his 32 percent clip from the regular season, batters came up empty on the fastball only 16 percent of the time, well below the 27.5 percent from the regular season, according to Baseball Savant.

Even with his slider, he wasn’t getting the types of chases out of the zone he is typically used to. Sale has predominantly focused that pitch down and in to right-handed batters — away from lefties — and found his spot with it. But of the 13 sliders outside the zone Friday, only two were whiffed on while two were put in play for hits.

If he’s going to get back to being the Sox’s ace, he’s going to need to get his deception back.




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