BOSTON — With temperatures dipping into the 40s, numbing their fingertips as they tried to grip the baseball, Justin Verlander and Chris Sale both struggled to get the ball over the plate.
Verlander recovered quickly.
Sale never did.
After walking in one run and giving up the tying score on a wild pitch, Verlander struck out Andrew Benintendi on a contested called third strike, and the Houston Astros pulled away to beat the Boston Red Sox 7-2 on Saturday night in the AL Championship Series opener.
The teams combined for just eight hits, but Red Sox pitchers walked 10 and hit three batters. Verlander walked four — tying a career postseason high, and more than he had in any outing in the regular season this year. Three of them and one of his two wild pitches came in a fifth inning that almost chased him from the game.
"That inning I had kind of lost my feel a bit. Couldn't point a finger to why," Verlander said. "The tying run scoring was a little disappointing. ... But once that happens, then you've got to reset and not relinquish the lead."
Verlander pitched six innings of two-hit ball , and Carlos Correa fisted a single into left field to break a sixth-inning tie. Josh Reddick hit a solo homer to lead off the ninth , and Yuli Gurriel curled a three-run shot into the front row beyond the Pesky Pole to give the defending World Series champions their fifth straight postseason victory.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Sunday night, with Boston left-hander David Price trying to end his postseason skid against Astros righty Gerrit Cole. Cora has expressed confidence in Price, a Cy Young Award winner who is 0-9 in 10 postseason starts, and the 108-win Red Sox will need him to be better than Sale was in the opener.
"We'll see tomorrow," Boston catcher Sandy Leon said.
In a rematch of last year's Division Series opener, when the Astros hit back-to-back homers in the first inning and pounded Sale for seven runs in all, Verlander improved to 13-2 in the AL playoffs. Houston only got one hit off of Sale, but he loaded the bases with two outs in the second on two walks and a hit batter before reigning World Series MVP George Springer singled in two runs past the glove of third baseman Eduardo Nunez , who slipped as he stretched for the ball.
"Anytime you get two quick outs then you load up the bases and give them two runs, that's not what you're looking for this time of year," Sale said. "I just went out there and lost it for a little bit. I felt like I was battling myself for a little bit. I was trying to limit the damage and get out there as quick as we can."
The Red Sox went down in order in the second, third and fourth innings before awakening the shivering, sold-out Fenway crowd in the fifth with Steve Pearce's single — just their second hit in the game — and two walks. Verlander walked a third batter in a row, forcing in a run.
Mookie Betts hit a hard grounder, and third baseman Alex Bregman threw home for the force and the second out . With Jackie Bradley Jr. dancing on third base, Verlander put a 1-2 curveball in the dirt and past catcher Martin Maldonado , allowing the runners to advance and tying the game 2-2.
Andrew Benintendi worked the count full before looking at a 3-2 pitch that appeared to catch the edge of the zone for the third out.
"You can look at it two ways," Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts said. "They pitched their way out of it, but we didn't hit our way into it."
Benintendi was less philosophical. He slammed down his helmet and bat down and jawed with plate umpire James Hoye before Red Sox coaches ran in to get between them.
Cora continued the argument and was ejected ; he handed over his lineup card to bench coach Ron Roenicke and headed down the tunnel.
"I guess Verlander executed his pitch, and he called it a strike," Cora said. "Andrew didn't agree. I didn't agree. It's a big pitch right there. It's ball four, bases loaded. ... Most likely Verlander comes out of the game.
"But you can't argue balls and strikes," he said. "And I did."
Houston took advantage of another hit batter in the sixth — this one by reliever Joe Kelly — and Nunez's fielding error on Gurriel's grounder to take a 3-2 lead. Reddick and Gurriel homered off Brandon Workman.
Verlander was charged with two runs and four walks while striking out six. He has allowed only nine hits in his past four postseason starts, matching Don Larsen (1955-57) as the only pitchers to allow nine hits over a span of four-postseason starts, according to STATS.
"The tying run scoring was a little disappointing," Verlander said. "But once that happens, then you've got to reset and not relinquish the lead."
Sale, who took the mound without long sleeves on the chilly night, left after the fourth inning — his only 1-2-3 inning of the game — having thrown 86 pitches. Sale gave up two runs, one hit, four walks and a hit batter , and his average fastball velocity of 92 mph was down 3 mph from the Division Series.
"I still like our chances," he said. "We've got D.P. on the mound and we got a bunch of guys in here that are fired up over tonight. We're not gonna hang our heads in the locker room. We're not gonna give up. This is the time when we kick in gear and start fighting."
Boston catcher Christian Vazquez hit second-base umpire Joe West on his right shoulder with a throw when Jake Marisnick stole second in the eighth.
Price, 16-7 in this year's regular season, has two postseason wins in relief in his career. Cora insisted that he had faith in Price, and he told the 2012 AL Cy Young winner as much after the Red Sox eliminated the Yankees in the previous round.
"Alex told me before we even got off the field that night" that he would get another start, Price said before the game. "So for him to tell me before we even took our jerseys off to put on our postseason shirts that we get when we win, that was special."
Cole was 15-5 with a 2.88 ERA in the regular season.
Sale, Cora make early exits as Red Sox lose ALCS opener
BOSTON — Red Sox ace Chris Sale and manager Alex Cora both made early exits in Boston's 7-2 loss to Houston in Game 1 of AL Championship Series on Saturday night.
Sale lasted just four innings, giving up two runs, one hit, four walks and a hit batter.
Cora wasn't far behind the lanky left-hander going back to the clubhouse. The rookie manager was ejected in the bottom of the fifth inning with the game tied 2-2 after arguing a called third strike on Andrew Benintendi that ended Boston's first rally of the game.
"You can't argue balls and strikes, and I did," Cora said. "It's kind of like embarrassing that it happens in the playoffs. That wasn't cool watching the game in the clubhouse. ... But sometimes you got to do what you got to do, and you've got to defend your players."
Sale opened the game with an eight-pitch walk to George Springer and struggled through the first three innings with subpar stuff and location.
"I just went out there and lost it for a little bit," Sale said.
Houston took advantage in the second. Sale got two quick outs, but then walked Carlos Correa, plunked Martin Maldonado on the hand with a fastball and walked Josh Reddick. Springer followed with a hard grounder past the glove of third baseman Eduardo Nunez for a go-ahead, two-run single. An error by Nunez led to the Astros' tiebreaking run for a 3-2 lead in the sixth.
Sale decided to go sleeveless despite a 48-degree temperature at first pitch, and it took too long for his fastball to heat up. His velocity has been a focus since a shoulder issue landed him on the disabled list in August. He returned in September but averaged just 90 mph in his final regular-season tuneup, well below his standard.
He jumped back up to about 95 mph in two effective outings against the Yankees in the Division Series, but was sitting a relatively sluggish 90-93 mph on Saturday.
His control was shaky, too, even as he perhaps took something off his fastball and slider after falling behind in counts. He threw one pitch behind Alex Bregman, and all four of his walks came in the first two innings.
Sale had just two swings and misses among 69 pitches in the first three innings before finding a groove with four among 17 pitches in the fourth. Cora then pulled Sale, who struck out Correa and Maldonado to end his outing, raising his strikeouts total to five.
"It's just one of those things that happen," Sale said. "Sometimes you get out there and you're just battling yourself. That was definitely the case."
The 29-year-old allowed five hits and two earned runs, striking out nine over 6 1/3 innings in his ALDS Game 1 win over Yankees. He also came on in relief with a perfect eighth inning during Game 4.
Saturday night's start harkened back to the rough outing he had in his postseason debut in Game 1 of last season's Division Series against Houston. Sale gave up seven earned runs in five innings, yielding a pair of home runs to Jose Altuve and another to Bregman in a loss.
Sale came on in a relief appearance in Game 4 of that series, as well, holding the Astros scoreless through four innings before allowing two runs in Boston's season-ending Game 4 loss.
Cora stuck around long enough to pull Sale and use Mitch Moreland as a pinch hitter in the fifth, then was tossed while protecting Benintendi.
There were two outs, two on and two runs already in when Justin Verlander threw a 98 mph fastball to Benintendi near the outside edge of the zone for strike three. Benintendi slammed his helmet and bat down and pleaded his case with plate umpire James Hoye before Red Sox coaches ran to get between them.
Cora continued to yell from the dugout and was tossed by Hoye. Cora gave the lineup card to bench coach Ron Roenicke and walked down the tunnel into the clubhouse.
"Andrew didn't agree. I didn't agree," Cora said of the strike call. "It's a big pitch right there. It's ball four, bases loaded. ... Most likely Verlander comes out of the game."
Instead, Houston took a 3-2 lead in the sixth and it remained that way until the ninth, when Brandon Workman gave up two homers and four runs while getting one out. Cora didn't want to use closer Craig Kimbrel with Boston trailing.
"A couple of calls went against us," right fielder Mookie Betts said. "But I think we have to dial it back and just understand that they not perfect. ... We're missing some good pitches."
-- By Kyle Hightower, AP
Astros 7, Red Sox 2
Houston AB R H BI BB SO Avg.
Springer cf 3 0 1 2 2 1 .333
Altuve 2b 4 1 0 0 1 1 .000
Bregman 3b 1 2 0 0 3 0 .000
Gurriel 1b 5 1 1 3 0 1 .200
White dh 3 0 0 0 0 2 .000
2-Marisnick pr-dh 0 0 0 0 0 0 ---
b-Kemp ph-dh 1 0 1 0 0 0 1.000
Gonzalez lf 4 0 0 0 1 2 .000
Correa ss 3 1 1 1 2 1 .333
Maldonado c 3 1 0 0 0 1 .000
Reddick rf 3 1 1 1 1 0 .333
Totals 30 7 5 7 10 9
Boston AB R H BI BB SO Avg.
Betts rf 4 0 1 0 0 0 .250
Benintendi lf 4 0 0 0 0 3 .000
Martinez dh 3 0 0 0 1 1 .000
Bogaerts ss 4 0 1 0 0 0 .250
Pearce 1b 4 1 1 0 0 2 .250
Holt 2b 4 0 0 0 0 3 .000
Nunez 3b 3 0 0 0 1 0 .000
Bradley Jr. cf 2 1 0 0 1 1 .000
Leon c 1 0 0 0 0 1 .000
a-Moreland ph 0 0 0 1 1 0 ---
1-Vazquez pr-c 1 0 0 0 0 0 .000
Totals 30 2 3 1 4 11
Houston 020 001 004—7 5 1
Boston 000 020 000—2 3 1
a-walked for Leon in the 5th. b-doubled for Marisnick in the 9th.
1-ran for Moreland in the 5th. 2-ran for White in the 8th.
E_Correa (1), Nunez (1). LOB_Houston 9, Boston 5. 2B_Kemp (1). HR_Reddick (1), off Workman; Gurriel (1), off Workman. RBIs_Springer 2 (2), Gurriel 3 (3), Correa (1), Reddick (1), Moreland (1). SB_Marisnick (1). CS_Bregman (1), Gonzalez (1).
Runners left in scoring position_Houston 4 (Altuve, Gurriel, Correa, Maldonado); Boston 2 (Benintendi 2). RISP_Houston 3 for 10; Boston 0 for 3.
DP_Houston 1 (Correa, Altuve, Gurriel); Boston 1 (Bogaerts, Holt, Pearce).
Houston IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA
Verlander, W, 1-0 6 2 2 2 4 6 90 3.00
Pressly, H, 1 1 0 0 0 0 2 18 0.00
McCullers, H, 1 1 0 0 0 0 2 13 0.00
McHugh 1 1 0 0 0 1 16 0.00
Boston IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA
Sale 4 1 2 2 4 5 86 4.50
Kelly, L, 0-1 1 2-3 1 1 0 0 1 33 0.00
Barnes 1 1-3 0 0 0 2 1 21 0.00
Brasier 1 0 0 0 1 1 12 0.00
Workman 1-3 3 4 4 2 1 26108.00
Hembree 2-3 0 0 0 1 0 10 0.00
Inherited runners-scored_Barnes 2-0, Hembree 1-0. HBP_Sale (Maldonado), Kelly (Bregman), Brasier (White). WP_Verlander 2.
Umpires_Home, James Hoye; First, Vic Carapazza; Second, Joe West; Third, Mark Carlson; Right, Mark Wegner; Left, Chris Guccione.
T_4:03. A_38,007 (37,731).
Astros second. Tyler White called out on strikes. Marwin Gonzalez lines out to shallow center field to Brock Holt. Carlos Correa walks. Martin Maldonado hit by pitch. Carlos Correa to second. Josh Reddick walks. Martin Maldonado to second. Carlos Correa to third. George Springer singles to left field. Josh Reddick to third. Martin Maldonado scores. Carlos Correa scores. Jose Altuve reaches on a fielder's choice to shortstop. George Springer out at second.
2 runs, 1 hit, 0 errors, 2 left on. Astros 2, Red Sox 0.
Red Sox fifth. Steve Pearce singles to left field. Brock Holt called out on strikes. Eduardo Nunez walks. Steve Pearce to second. Jackie Bradley Jr. walks. Eduardo Nunez to second. Steve Pearce to third. Mitch Moreland pinch-hitting for Sandy Leon. Mitch Moreland walks. Jackie Bradley Jr. to second. Eduardo Nunez to third. Steve Pearce scores. Christian Vazquez pinch-running for Mitch Moreland. Mookie Betts reaches on a fielder's choice to shallow infield. Christian Vazquez to second. Jackie Bradley Jr. to third. Eduardo Nunez out at home. On Justin Verlander's wild pitch, Mookie Betts to second. Christian Vazquez to third. Jackie Bradley Jr. scores. Andrew Benintendi called out on strikes.
2 runs, 1 hit, 0 errors, 2 left on. Astros 2, Red Sox 2.
Astros sixth. Alex Bregman hit by pitch. Yuli Gurriel reaches on a fielder's choice to third base. Alex Bregman to second. Fielding error by Eduardo Nunez. Tyler White pops out to shallow right field to Brock Holt. Marwin Gonzalez strikes out swinging. Carlos Correa singles to center field. Yuli Gurriel to third. Alex Bregman scores. Martin Maldonado grounds out to shallow infield, Matt Barnes to Steve Pearce.
1 run, 1 hit, 1 error, 2 left on. Astros 3, Red Sox 2.
Astros ninth. Josh Reddick homers to center field. George Springer called out on strikes. Jose Altuve walks. Alex Bregman walks. Jose Altuve to second. Yuli Gurriel homers to right field. Alex Bregman scores. Jose Altuve scores. Tony Kemp pinch-hitting for Jake Marisnick. Tony Kemp doubles to right field. Marwin Gonzalez walks. With Carlos Correa batting, Marwin Gonzalez caught stealing second. Carlos Correa lines out to shortstop to Xander Bogaerts.
4 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Astros 7, Red Sox 2.