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Astros clip Twins 6-4 behind 2 HRs from Yordan Alvarez

HOUSTON — By every statistical measure, opting to insert a left-handed pitcher to face Yordan Alvarez is the logical move. The concern is the reality of Alvarez rendering that logic moot.

Alvarez homered twice while Justin Verlander threw six shutout innings as the Houston Astros beat the Minnesota Twins 6-4 in Game 1 of this American League Division Series on Saturday.

Alvarez finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs, three runs scored and a walk as the Astros secured a 1-0 lead in this best-of-five series with Game 2 set for Sunday at Minute Maid Park.

Alvarez increased the Astros’ lead to 3-0 with his two-run homer to right field off Twins right-hander Bailey Ober (0-1) with one out in the third inning, a 379-foot blast that followed Alex Bregman being hit by a pitch.

Alvarez was in the middle of a two-run inning in the fifth that enabled Houston to stretch its lead to 5-0 when he walked and scored on a Chas McCormick single.

When the left-handed-hitting Alvarez homered again with one out in the seventh, this time off Twins lefty Caleb Thielbar, his solo shot off the right-field foul pole proved critical. Minnesota had rallied to within 5-4 courtesy of a four-run seventh off Astros right-hander Hector Neris.

Alvarez produced a 1.044 OPS against right-handers during the regular season. However, his robust .892 OPS against southpaws frequently leaves opposing managers facing dilemmas.

“I think, when I’m in there hitting, I don’t think about whether I’m facing a lefty or righty,” Alvarez said. “They’ve got to throw the ball over the middle of the plate.”

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said: “I would say he’s a good hitter against everyone. It’s funny, you don’t normally talk about good players like this. He’s probably really good against righties on average and also very good against lefties.”

Stymied by Verlander, the Twins mounted a rousing comeback in the seventh against Neris, who arguably served as the most reliable reliever for Houston this season. But Matt Wallner (hit by pitch) and Ryan Jeffers (single) put Neris on the defensive immediately, and after rallying with two strikeouts, Neris surrendered a three-run homer to Twins third baseman Jorge Polanco.

Royce Lewis followed by hitting his third homer this postseason, drilling a 1-0 fastball from Neris 409 feet to left. Reliever Bryan Abreu smothered the lingering threat despite allowing a two-out double to Max Kepler in the seventh and a leadoff double to Carlos Correa in the eighth.

Astros closer Ryan Pressly retired the side in order in the ninth for the save.

Verlander (1-0) used a pair of 6-4-3 double plays to navigate a rocky start, including a 23-pitch first inning that included only 10 strikes. But after allowing a leadoff double to Edouard Julien in the third, Verlander bore down. He surrendered two more baserunners and allowed four hits and three walks and posted six strikeouts. Verlander induced eight swings and misses on 25 sliders.

“I think what feels really good is that, when you start off struggling and are able to make some adjustments and find it,” Verlander said, “and the third, fourth and fifth, obviously, was able to have some things click and make some better pitches and get some easier outs.”

Jose Altuve belted his 24th postseason home run on the first pitch in the bottom of the first.

–MK Bower, Field Level Media

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