(The Sports Xchange) - Justin Verlander continued his masterful pitching in elimination games and the Houston Astros turned a breakthrough fifth inning into a 7-1 victory over the New York Yankees on Friday night at Minute Maid Park in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
Verlander (2-0) twirled seven shutout innings to help carry the Astros into a decisive Game 7 at home on Saturday night. He allowed five hits and issued one walk while recording eight strikeouts, extending his streak of consecutive scoreless innings in elimination games to 24.
Despite allowing a single in each of his first three innings, Verlander was largely untested until the sixth. By then he held a three-run lead, courtesy of an Astros rally in the bottom of the fifth.
After Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis sandwiched a pair of walks around a Marwin Gonzalez groundout, catcher Brian McCann delivered a ground-rule double to right field off Yankees right-hander Luis Severino. Three batters later, Jose Altuve delivered an even bigger blow, chasing Severino with a two-run single by hacking the first pitch into left for a 3-0 lead.
Altuve added a solo home run, his fourth of the postseason, leading off the eighth inning, a frame in which the slumping Houston offense finally broke through with four insurance runs.
Before the late surge, Verlander sidestepped danger in the sixth and seventh innings. He got Gary Sanchez to ground out with an excuse-me swing, stranding two baserunners in the sixth.
Running on fumes in the seventh, Verlander completed a 10-pitch battle against Aaron Hicks with a 3-2 slider that resulted in his eighth strikeout before inducing a groundout from Chase Headley, who was 2-for-2 to that point. That final out inspired a vigorous fist pump from Verlander.
For a spell, Severino (0-1) was up to the challenge of matching zeroes with Verlander. In fact, while Verlander allowed a hit in each of his first three innings, Severino kept Houston hitless until Carlos Correa lined a two-out single to right-center field in the bottom of the fourth.
Severino escaped that inning unscathed, but the Astros figured him out soon thereafter. And following their methodical rally in the fifth, they finally provided Verlander with needed run support.
Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge clubbed his fourth homer of the postseason off Astros right-hander Brad Peacock with one out in the eighth.
NOTES: Astros DH Evan Gattis got the start over Carlos Beltran in part because of how the Yankees have pitched Beltran this series. Beltran, a switch-hitter who typically starts against right-handed pitching, excels against high-velocity pitches. According to Astros manager A.J. Hinch, Beltran has seen just one fastball over his 12 plate appearances in the ALCS. ... With his second strikeout of the game, Yankees RF Aaron Judge matched the franchise record for strikeouts in one postseason with his 26th. Yankees 2B Alfonso Soriano recorded 26 strikeouts in 75 plate appearances in 2003. ... With his eight strikeouts, Astros RHP Justin Verlander passed Hall of Famer Randy Johnson for sixth place on the career postseason strikeouts list. Verlander has 134 career postseason strikeouts. Johnson recorded 132 over 121 innings.