Interspersed amid the relentless barrage of hitting by Houston for the second straight October afternoon, starter Dallas Keuchel mesmerized the Boston batters.
Say what? The Astros have pitching, too?
As a matter of fact, a lot of it. Former Cy Young winners at that.
Is that even legal? Or fair?
It might not be fair, but it’s fact.
While Houston might have an unseemly glutton of weapons, it should not go unnoticed that for the second day in a row of this lopsided American League Division Series the Astros have had efficient pitching to keep Boston at bay. One day after new acquisition Justin Verlander held the Red Sox in check, Keuchel did likewise as his teammates bludgeoned Boston’s pitchers again for 12 hits, five of them for extra bases.
The result was almost an exact replica of Game 1, this one another 8-2 beatdown by the Astros to take a commanding 2-0 lead in this best-of-five series that will shift to Fenway Park on Sunday when an outstanding Brad Peacock is ready to take the mound for the Astros.
Oh, and Houston’s bullpen is rested, too.
The Astros jumped on Boston’s starter, 17-game winner Drew Pomeranz, in the bottom of the first when Carlos Correa followed Jose Altuve’s first-pitch single with a two-run home run over the left-field wall. It was the second straight day the Astros put up a 2-spot in the opening inning and the third homer by the Astros in the first frame over two games.
“There’s many ways they can do damage up and down their lineup,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. Altuve has been “dynamite. We had a couple opportunities early that might have changed the complexity of this game. (Keuchel) was trying to establish his own rhythm. Once he did settle in, and they gave him two runs, he was able to pitch with a little bit more freedom.”
Houston pounced on Pomeranz and friends for two more in the third before a dam-breaking, four-run rally in the sixth ended any suspense. A.J. Hinch’s club is showing once again that there’s not a hole in his lineup. In fact, a 6-year-old could fill out a Houston lineup card with the same outcome. They are that dangerous, that potent.
“You’re seeing what’s possible,” Hinch said. “Altuve still had a pretty good day. Four times on base. But other guys in our lineup are here to hit, too. It’s nice to have that many threats throughout the order any given day.”
Without question. Correa and George Springer both went hitless in Game 1, and both homered in Game 2.
You want dominance? In two games, Houston has scored 16 runs and collected 24 hits, six of them homers. Boston’s pitchers have retired Houston’s batters in order twice in 16 innings.
In the meantime, Keuchel was masterful.
What else would you expect from a former Cy Young winner and three-time Gold Glover? Besides, he’s been terrific at home, going 37-21 with a 2.94 ERA at Minute Maid Park over his 66 career starts. Together with Verlander, Keuchel has continued this dream season.
“We couldn’t really script it any better,” Keuchel said.
Astros fans expect brilliance and got it as the 29-year-old left-hander held the Red Sox to three hits and a single run over 5 2/3 innings. He could have gone longer, but hey, Houston’s relievers need the work, too. They deserve an assist since Chris Devenski, Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles combined to get the final 10 outs of the game, allowing just one run in the ninth.
But the real crunch came early when Keuchel escaped jams in the first two innings, striking out Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia to limit the damage to one run in the second.
“He had to pitch through a lot of mess,” Hinch said. “I think he was under duress from the very beginning. They put him in some stressful situations, but him being able to control the game in that one inning was the difference in the game. He didn’t unravel.”
From that point, he retired 13 straight, inducing seven ground-ball outs overall and striking out seven. Some of the time, the Red Sox were swinging at balls in the dirt against the lefty, who mixes his speeds and locations and doesn’t seem to throw to the same spot twice. When Pedroia struck out in that second inning with two Red Sox aboard, he slammed his bat to the ground in disgust.
“I went to Plan B,” Keuchel said. “I decided to go extreme with the cutter and slider and attacked them and put ’em back on their heels.”
Keuchel’s karma seemed obvious when fellow beardman James Harden of the Rockets showed up at the park, sitting behind home plate.
Asked whose beard is better, Keuchel smiled and said, “Mine is, don’t you think?”
Everything about the Astros seems to be better.