The Cleveland Indians and the Houston Astros drew first blood with respective wins over the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series.
Runner-up in the MLB World Series last season, the Indians – with LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers team-mates watching in the crowd – took down the Yankees 4-0 on Thursday.
In the early going at Progressive Field, it was a duel between the Yankees' big trade deadline acquisition Sonny Gray and the Indians' surprise pick to start the first game, Trevor Bauer.
As the night wore on, Cleveland worked more counts, moved up repeatedly on wild pitches, and were able to stretch their lead against a tired Yankees bullpen.
After the elation of their wildcard win on Tuesday, the Yankees are now in danger of failing to move on in the postseason with AL Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber waiting to take the mound for the Indians in game two on Friday.
The Astros jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the ALDS with an 8-2 win over the Red Sox.
In a game that was touted as a battle of aces, it was Jose Altuve and the Astros' offence that stole the show in Houston from Justin Verlander and Chris Sale.
ALTUVE SEES JUDGE'S HOMER AND RAISES HIM TWO
Altuve is one of the two leaders in the AL in the MVP race. He leads MLB in batting average (.346), was second in base hits (204), was fourth in WAR (7.56), sixth in runs scored (112) and ninth in OPS (.957). He sometimes gets overshadowed by Yankees rookie Aaron Judge, but he has been as good as any player in MLB this year.
Altuve went three for four with three solo home runs in the win, becoming the first in MLB history to hit three home runs in the team's opening postseason game.
There is a reason Cleveland's Bauer was the number three overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. He threw 5.3 hitless innings to start things off. He finished with 6.6 scoreless while allowing two hits and striking out eight.
ASTROS JUMP ON SALE EARLY, JUDGE FIZZLES
Astros manager A.J. Hinch had a couple of goals for his team against AL Cy Young Award candidate Sale. One was that he wanted his team to jump on him early and that is exactly what they did.
In the first inning, Alex Bregman got Houston on the board first with a home run to left field. Altuve followed it with a home run of his own to left-centre.
Sale gave up just one first-inning homer this season. He gave up two on Thursday and finished the night at just five-plus innings with seven runs on nine hits, one walk and six strikeouts.
Judge had Yankee Stadium rocking on Tuesday night in the wildcard game, but had the New York faithful shaking their heads on Thursday.
The 25-year-old right fielder went 0 for four with four strikeouts, and looked lost at the plate. He did reach base once, coming on courtesy of a wild pitch from Bauer on a strikeout.
BRUCE JUSTIFYING TRADE, GRAY NOT SO MUCH
The Indians acquired Jay Bruce from the New York Mets in August for virtually nothing. The Yankees had to give up three of their top 10 prospects for Gray. On Thursday, it looked like the Indians got a better deal while the Yankees were fleeced by the Oakland Athletics.
Bruce went two for three on the night with a home run, double, sacrifice fly and three RBIs. His two-run home run in the fourth inning made Cleveland's lead look astronomical with Bauer dominating on the hill.
In the meantime, Gray lasted just 3.3 innings, gave up three hits, three runs and four walks while striking out two. Since coming over to New York, Gray went 4-7 during the regular season and is now 0-1 in postseason play.
ASTROS DUO COMBINE
Bregman and Altuve hit back-to-back home runs in the playoffs for just the second time in Astros history.
Some were surprised when Jason Kipnis got the start in centre field for the Indians. Any doubt they had about his ability to play the position went out the window in the third inning.
RED SOX, YANKEES LOOK TO BOUNCE BACK
It is a battle of the lefties on Friday as 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel (14-5, 2.90 ERA) takes on Red Sox starter Drew Pomeranz (17-6, 3.32 ERA). Houston have had trouble with Pomeranz this year as the 28-year-old has gone 2-0 with a 1.48 ERA against them this season. He has allowed just two runs and seven hits in 12 1/3 innings.
The Indians will now play their ace-in-the-hole in Kluber (18-4, 2.20 ERA). Terry Francona decided to pitch him in game two and the Yankees will now try to get to a pitcher they have had a lot of trouble with so far this season. Kluber is 2-0 with a 1.58 ERA in 17 innings against New York this year. He struck out 18 while walking just two. CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69) will be on the bump for the Yankees.
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