HOUSTON — The withering attacks from their peers did not stop them. The trash cans tossed on the field, the long, lusty boos, the chants of “Cheater!” from fans coast to coast did not stop them. 

The perception is that 2017 Houston Astros are cheaters.

But it’s now 2021, with safeguards apparently in place to guard against schemes such as the ’17 Astros’ electronic sign-stealing, yet one thing hasn’t changed: The historic dominance of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in October.

With the Boston Red Sox on the verge of capturing Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, Houston’s postseason stalwarts responded yet again, slugging a pair of home runs off Boston relievers to spearhead a 5-4 victory.

This series was set up by the 7-hour, 4 minute long game. It was a grind and sometimes a battle. Chris Sale and FramberValdez, the starting pitchers, failed to make it through three innings. A total of 15 reliefrs helped keep things close.

It’s up to the Astros sluggers.

Altuve took the lead, atoning himself for an important third-inning error. The familiar sight was a line drive that disappeared into a bobbing mass of oranges within Crawford Boxes. His two-out, two-run shot off Tanner Houck – who’d given up just three hits in seven innings of postseason work – tied the score 3-3 in the sixth and ended a four-inning stretch in which the Astros stranded seven runners.

Correa delivered the crucial two-out hit inning later with a majestic fly to the left field line. He was prompted by the admiration of 40.534 fans, who surrounded him like an historic scandal that followed by a pandemic.

Nope, they love Altuve and Correa here like they love their rugged individualism, and if they’re cheats, well, they’re definitely Houston’s cheats.

The pre-scandal and post-scandal Astros become almost invisible with each passing game.

Correa scored three runs against three Red Sox pitchers and had eight hits in his 17 postseason at-bats. He was tied for seventh with Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Nelson Cruz by his go-ahead hit.

Altuve was able to score, walk and homer and then put on a sacrifice fly. This proved decisive. Altuve’s 20 career home runs in the postseason tied Derek Jeter for third place.

Both players have slugged seven home runs in the 2020 and ’21 postseasons, the mental strain of playing with their secrets long revealed – and their sign-stealing security blanket presumably expunged – apparently no hurdle.

Their Game 1 heroics overshadowed a command performance from Boston center fielder Kiké Hernández, whose leadoff homer in the third kick-started a three-run inning that put his club up 3-1, and whose ninth-inning homer cut the deficit to one.

An inning before his first homer, Hernández made a spectacular diving catch of a sinking fly ball off Michael Brantley’s bat, corralling the ball inches above the grass to save at least two runs.

Hernández is now 14 for 28 with four homers this postseason, and his 30 total bases are more than halfway to the all-time record of 50, set by St. Louis’ David Freese in 2011.

The way this series is going, Hernández should have plenty of chances to pile onto that total.

Boston’s Sale again struggled, allowing six baserunners while retiring just eight batters, and he left the Boston bullpen in a compromised position.

Meanwhile, Astros lefty Valdez battled his command over 2⅔ innings, walking three and forcing a seven-man bullpen relay that held Boston at bay until Hernández’s ninth-inning shot off closer Ryan Pressly.

Pressly persevered and Houston is now just three wins from returning to the World Series. It’s a familiar outcome, and the same protagonists.

Source: USAToday.com

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