LOS ANGELES — A home run derby broke out during a hot, dry day at Dodger Stadium, and suddenly the Houston Astros have their swing and swagger back.
Carlos Correa homered twice and drove in four, Jose Altuve hit a go-ahead, two-run single during Houston’s four-run sixth inning and the Astros rallied to beat the Oakland Athletics 10-5 in the opener of their AL Division Series on Monday.
“I love October baseball,” Correa said. “The energy is just different. I know there’s no fans this year, but the energy to know you win or go home is what drives me.”
George Springer, MVP of the 2017 World Series, had four hits for Houston, which trailed 3-0 and 5-3.
“To get down early and not quit and fight hard and come out with a win in the first game is obviously huge,” Springer said.
The Astros rallied with two outs in the sixth against Oakland’s vaunted bullpen to take control of Major League Baseball’s first neutral-site postseason game resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Houston pounded out 16 hits in all as the A’s ran through eight pitchers.
“As the game got deeper,” Springer said, “the at-bats got better.”
The teams combined for six home runs in daytime conditions that were ripe for the ball to carry at the stadium where the Dodgers hit a major league-leading 118 homers. The temperature was 91 degrees at game time under sunny skies and with little breeze, although tricky shadows crept toward the mound during the final innings. The entire best-of-five series will be played during the day. At night, the air is cooler and often thicker, an environment less favorable to hitters.
“I’ve never seen the ball carry like that here,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, an All-Star player for the Dodgers in the 1980s.
Houston’s hitters hadn’t looked quite the same this year, the first since their sign-stealing scheme was unveiled. Altuve, Correa and others slumped during the regular season, and the team hit a combined .194 during a two-game sweep of Minnesota in the wild-card round.
“You can’t judge this offense by 60 games,” Correa said. “When you get the leadoff guy (Springer) getting on base every single time, good things are going to happen. When he goes, we go as a team.”
The Astros’ strut emerged at the same ballpark where they beat the Dodgers to win the 2017 World Series in seven games, helped by their sign-stealing scandal that rocked baseball and drew the ire of rival players and fans.
“The way people want to perceive us is fine,” starter Lance McCullers Jr. said. “People are allowed to feel any way about the Houston Astros.”
After two quick outs in the sixth, Houston’s Josh Reddick reached when shortstop Marcus Semien booted a grounder for a costly error that allowed the Astros to extend the inning.
“They played the later innings better than we did,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “We just didn’t have the at-bats that we typically do at the end of the game.”
Martin Maldonado followed with a single. Springer doubled to shallow left for his 25th career postseason extra-base hit in the leadoff spot, moving past Derek Jeter for most ever, according to Stats Perform. The ball zinged down the third-base line past a diving Chad Pinder, pulling Houston to 5-4.
Altuve’s line-drive single to left scored Maldonado and Springer to put the Astros back in front, 6-5. Altuve moved up on the throw home and scored on Michael Brantley’s single to right.
Correa’s second home run — a blast to center in the seventh — had Ramon Laureano climbing the wall in pursuit. His spikes dug a hole in the wall covering as the Astros led 8-5. Correa cupped his ear with his hand as he rounded the bases, a taunt aimed at those who have criticized Houston for its cheating system.
“When Carlos Correa is right there’s nobody better,” McCullers said. “He’s been coming up huge for us.”
Houston added two runs in the ninth on Correa’s RBI single and Yuli Gurriel’s sacrifice fly.
Blake Taylor got the victory with one inning of relief. J.B. Wendelken took the loss, allowing four runs and three hits in two-thirds of an inning.
YANKEES 9, RAYS 3
SAN DIEGO — Giancarlo Stanton and the Bronx Bombers made themselves right at home in Petco Park on a warm October evening in Southern California.
Stanton hit a grand slam in the ninth inning for New York’s fourth home run of the game, and the Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays 9-3 on Monday in the opener of their AL Division Series at Petco Park.
Stanton homered to straightaway center field on a 2-2 pitch from John Curtiss. The slugger took several steps with his bat still in his hands as he watched the ball sail through the pleasant San Diego evening air before beginning his trot.
A few fans chanted “Let’s Go Yankees!” from a balcony on an office building just beyond right field of the mostly empty ballpark.
“That SoCal air, man. That SoCal weather. That’s what it is,” said Stanton, who is from Los Angeles and won the Home Run Derby at Petco Park in 2016. He spent his first eight seasons with the Marlins and has nine homers in 20 games at Petco Park.
Kyle Higashioka, another SoCal native, and Aaron Judge hit the tying and go-ahead home runs off Blake Snell in the fifth to back winner Gerrit Cole. Clint Frazier hit an impressive shot into the second deck in left in the third.
The Bronx Bombers became the first team in American League history to hit a grand slam in back-to-back playoff games. Gio Urshela connected in Game 2 of the first-round sweep against Cleveland. Two NL teams have done it, the 1977 Dodgers and 2011 Diamondbacks.