Verlander, Altuve power Astros past Rays in playoff opener

Houston pitcher Justin Verlander threw seven scoreless innings and Jose Altuve belted a two-run homer to propel the Astros to a 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in game one of their Major League Baseball playoff series on Friday.

Verlander took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and eventually departed having allowed just one hit and three walks while striking out eight in his 14th career playoff win.

Altuve also lived up to his reputation as a playoff performer, breaking a scoreless tie in the fifth inning when he smacked a fastball from Rays starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow into the left field stands for a home run that also scored Josh Reddick.

“I was looking for a pitch that I can handle,” Altuve said. “He was throwing so (well) through the game. His fastball was almost invisible.

“He got some cut with something, I don’t know. I was looking for no one specific pitch. I was just looking up and I got lucky. He threw it there and I could hit it.”

Glasnow had allowed just three singles through the first four innings before waking Reddick to open the fifth. Glasnow then struck out George Springer to bring up Altuve, who has homered in the first game of the American League Division Series for three straight years.

The Astros scored two more runs in the inning, after Rays relief pitcher Brendan McKay put two more runners on base and both scored on a fielding error.

Run-scoring doubles from Yorand Alvarez and Yuli Gurriel made it 6-0 after seven, the Rays putting two runs up off reliever Ryan Pressly after Verlander left the mound.

The Astros, trying to capture their second World Series title in three years, host game two of the best-of-five series on Saturday.

The winner of the series will take on either the New York Yankees or Minnesota Twins, who opened their best-of-five set later Friday.

In National League Division Series action, Mike Foltynewicz threw seven solid shutout innings as the Atlanta Braves rebounded from a loss to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-0 and even their series at one game each.

Foltynewicz earned his first career playoff win, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out seven batters.

Foltynewicz threw strikes on 51 of his 81 pitches as he effectively interchanged his fastball with his slider.

He won the battle between two of the NL’s top pitchers over the last two months as Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty took the loss.

Foltynewicz was an all-star in 2018 but his game dropped off and he spent two months earlier this season in the minor leagues. Since being recalled he is 4-1 with a superb 1.73 ERA.

Flaherty allowed three runs on eight hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

The Los Angeles Dodgers take the field later Friday as they try to grab a commanding 2-0 lead when they host game two against the Washington Nationals.

The Dodgers are trying to get back to the World Series for a third straight year, after falling in the championship showpiece to the Astros in 2017 and the Boston Red Sox last year.

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