Sports

Astros beat White Sox 6-1 in ALDS opener after 6 scoreless innings from McCullers

Lance McCullers Jr. pitched scoreless ball into the seventh inning and Yordan Alvarez homered to lead the Houston Astros to a 6-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox in Game 1 of their best-of-five AL Division Series.

Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. reacts after he got Chicago White Sox’s Adam Engel to ground out to end the top of the fifth inning in Game 1 of a baseball American League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Houston.

Houston Public Media’s Lucio Vasquez contributed to this report.

Lance McCullers Jr. was terrific. Yordan Alvarez delivered, and Jose Altuve scored on a nifty slide.

The Houston Astros sure love October.

McCullers pitched scoreless ball into the seventh inning, and the Astros beat Lance Lynn and the Chicago White Sox 6-1 in Game 1 of their AL Division Series on Thursday.

More than 40,000 Astros fans made their way downtown to Minute Maid Park, where before the game, Houstonians celebrated an opportunity to take in playoff baseball more than a year into a global pandemic.

Fans head to minute Maid Park in downtown Houston ahead of Game 1 of the AL Division Series on Oct. 7, 2021. The Astros beat the Chicago White Sox 6-1.

One of those fans was Larry Holmes, who brought his cousin out to the ballgame. He was one of thousands of people in downtown Houston celebrating the Astros with family and friends out in the community after more than a year of social distancing.

“The energy’s back in the city,” Holmes said. “Going through the pandemic, everybody was down, businesses was closed. It's giving the city some more little jumpstart we needed.”

Chris Walton, who saves up vacation days every year just to make sure he doesn't miss the postseason, said the the return of playoff baseball to Houston was a welcome relief.

“It's showing you the world will go on, everybody will come back to normal,” Walton said. “And like normal, the Astros will keep winning.”

A fan wears a Yordan Alvarez jersey outside of Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston on Oct. 7, 2021. Alvarez homered and doubled, driving in two runs in the Astros’ AL Division Series Game 1 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

And win they did, with Michael Brantley adding two hits and two RBIs as the AL West champions showed off their playoff experience in an impressive opening performance. McCullers allowed four hits in 6 2/3 innings in his eighth career postseason start.

While Houston is in the playoffs for the fifth straight season, winning the World Series in 2017 and making it to the AL Championship Series last year, Chicago is making a second straight playoff appearance for the first time in franchise history. It lost to Oakland in the first round in 2020.

Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Friday in Houston. The teams also met in the 2005 World Series, with the White Sox sweeping the Astros for the title.

That’s a point two White Sox fans outside Minute Maid drove home before Thursday’s game.

Kendrick Davis and Jerry Jones came in from Dallas to watch their favorite team, and said they were ready for a repeat of that World Series matchup.

“When your team is in the postseason, it’s always excitement,” Davis said. “If I had to travel across the world, I would have went to go see the White Sox.”

A dog named Arthur smiles outside of Minute Maid Park ahead of Game 1 of the AL Division Series, on Oct. 7, 2021.

But McCullers, playing the role of staff ace after the Astros lost Gerrit Cole in free agency and Justin Verlander to injury in recent years, shut down the visiting team, striking out four and walking none. He set career highs with 13 wins, a 3.16 ERA and 185 strikeouts during the regular season, but he also led the AL with 76 walks.

The 28-year-old McCullers didn't allow a hit until Yoán Moncada singled with one out in the fourth. The right-hander left to a standing ovation after giving up consecutive singles with two outs in the seventh. He waved to the cheering fans just before entering the dugout.

Alvarez hit an RBI double in the third and a solo homer in the fifth. Altuve wowed the crowd of 40,497 when he slid home and slapped the back of the plate just ahead of Yasmani Grandal’s tag in the third.

Lynn was making his first playoff appearance since 2018 after posting a career-low 2.69 ERA this season. But the burly right-hander relies on his fastball, and the Astros are one of the majors’ best fastball-hitting teams.

Lynn was tagged for five runs and six hits in 3 2/3 innings. Five of the six hits that he allowed came off his four-seam or cut fastball.

Rookie Jake Meyers had two hits and drove in a run for Houston. Brantley chased Lynn with a two-run single.

Chicago got on the board on José Abreu’s two-out single in the eighth. But Kendall Graveman retired Grandal on a liner to center for the final out.

Abreu was in the lineup after dealing with flu-like symptoms for the last few days. He did not travel with the team to Houston, instead arriving Wednesday night after multiple tests showed his illness wasn't COVID-19-related. The White Sox weren't sure if he'd be able to play before he went through pregame workouts, so they submitted two different lineups to the Astros — one with the 2020 AL MVP and one without him.

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