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Astros bats overwhelm A’s arms in series opener. Correa crushes two 4-baggers

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Young Astros bullpen overwhelms A’s bats too

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Take that C.C.

“What are you going to say now?”

Carlos Correa, along with the whole Astros lineup, let their bats answer the haters today. Speaking softly but carrying big sticks, they hit three home runs runs en route to a 10-5 Game one ALDS smackdown over the Oakland A’s.

With the way the American League Division Series opener between the Astros and A’s was playing out on Monday afternoon, it appeared both teams were using a “home run or bust” approach in trying to take a 1-0 series advantage.

However, a switch flipped in the sixth inning. Houston, who has struggled to string clutch hits together all season long, erupted for a four-run rally after the bases were empty with two outs. The surprising outburst, combined with another superb bullpen effort, led the Astros to a 10-5 victory in Game 1 at Dodger Stadium, the neutral site for this set in a bubble environment.

The “core four” of George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa combined to finish 11-for-18 with three home runs and eight of the ten Houston RBI in the contest. That’ll play, folks. That’ll play.

It appeared for all the world that Oakland right-handed reliever J.B. Wendelken was going to cruise to a 1-2-3 frame in the road sixth, but a bobble by Semien on a ground ball hit by Josh Reddick kept the Astros alive. Martin Maldonado singled before Springer came up with his fourth hit in as many plate appearances, a double to cut the A’s lead to one run. Altuve then came up and ripped a line drive base hit to left field - scoring both Maldonado and Springer to put Houston ahead for the first time on the afternoon.

Altuve was able to move up to second on the throw, a baserunning play that proved smart because Michael Brantley followed by greeting Jake Diekman with a base hit to right, easily scoring Altuve and making it 7-5 in favor of the Astros.

Correa had already homered once in the contest when he stepped in against Lou Trivino in the seventh and crushed a solo shot to center for a three-run advantage. It was Correa’s third long ball in his last two games, dating back to the seventh inning of Game 2 of the Wild Card Series in Minneapolis.

The bullpen struggled so mightily during the regular season but has been lights-out during this postseason run. After Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier came through with incredible performances in back-to-back games at Target Field, Enoli Paredes was the rookie arm to shine today.

Paredes retired all six batters he faced, including a pair of strikeouts. He also came up with a defensive gem, falling to the seat of his pants on a comebacker hit by Semien but recovering to record the out to end the seventh.

Javier then entered for the eighth and walked Chad Pinder to begin the frame, but retired the next three hitters without incident (including two punchouts), preserving the 8-5 lead.

The Astros blew things wide open in the ninth, getting an RBI single from Correa and a very deep sacrifice fly off the bat of Yuli Gurriel to put them into double-digits for the first time in a playoff game since an 11-3 ALDS clincher in Cleveland on Oct. 8, 2018.

Ryan Pressly retired the side in order on seven pitches in the bottom of the ninth, meaning Houston’s bullpen did not allow a hit in five innings. Just remarkable when you consider the many struggles during the late summer and early fall.

On the other hand, the fearsome A’s bullpen allowed seven Astros runs. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. Rookies Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes and Cristian Javier completed four scoreless innings. Paredes was particularly impressive, throwing 15 strikes out of 21 pitches.

After a mundane first inning and half, the A’s struck first when the powerfully built Khris Davis took McCullers deep to right-center field for a two-run shot in the bottom of the second.

Sean Murphy is a major reason why Oakland is still playing, as his home run in Game 3 of the Wild Card Series against the White Sox was a dramatic turning point in their eventual victory. He did it again Monday, launching a solo shot over the center field wall to give the A’s a 3-0 third-inning advantage. Murphy became the first rookie catcher in major league history to homer in back-to-back playoff games.

However, McCullers was able to avoid a disastrous inning after Tommy La Stella and Marcus Semien followed with singles. Jake Lamb bounced into a double play after quality glovework by Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, then McCullers fanned Matt Olson to keep the deficit at three runs.

The Astros were squaring up balls off Chris Bassitt through the first three frames, picking up four hits and also suffering multiple well-hit balls right at defenders. Their fortune turned in the fourth, when Bregman crushed a no-doubt blast to left field to start the inning. In a remarkable stat, Bregman has now gone deep in four consecutive years on October 5, all postseason contests.

Kyle Tucker followed Bregman’s homer with a single, then Correa got hold of a Bassitt cutter, parking it over the left-center field wall for a two-run blast, tying the game 3-3.

The see-saw battle continued when Matt Olson came up with his first playoff hit of 2020, a solo shot to lead off the home fourth, putting Oakland right back in front at 4-3. Davis followed with a single and then ex-Astro Robbie Grossman ripped a double to put runners at second and third, but McCullers again delivered a Houdini act. He struck out Laureano, got Murphy to bounce out with the infield in, and whiffed La Stella on a nasty curve to get out of the inning.

In the bottom of the fifth, Bregman experienced an ultra rare defensive lapse at the hot corner. He barehanded a Semien chopper but threw the ball wide to first, allowing Semien to reach second base on the hit and error. It was Bregman’s first miscue since committing two against the Dodgers in one contest in the first week of the season. That play marked the end of the line for McCullers, and Blake Taylor gave up a sacrifice fly to Mark Canha to give Oakland a 5-3 lead.

Springer’s four hits tied a Dodger Stadium postseason record - previously held by seven others, including his manager Dusty Baker, who did so for Los Angeles in the 1978 NLCS against Philadelphia.

These two AL West rivals will be back at it Tuesday in Game 2, a 3:37 p.m. CT first pitch from Dodger Stadium. Valdez, who tossed five scoreless innings of relief in his postseason debut last week, will make the start for Houston opposite A’s southpaw Sean Manaea (4-3, 4.50).

Box score and videos HERE.