Astros ace Justin Verlander struck out 11 in six impressive innings to inspire Houston to a 4-2 victory over the New York Yankees in its AL Championship Series opener on Wednesday.
The 39-year-old pitcher set a major league record in the process, with his eighth postseason double-digit strikeout game of his career.
Now on 219, he is also the all-time leader in playoff strikeouts, overtaking Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
“As the game is going along, you just gain more confidence as you start making better pitches,” Verlander told reporters after Game 1.
“Once I started being able to execute my pitches the way I wanted, I feel like my confidence just kind of built upon that.”
The Astros, looking for their first World Series title since 2017 after reaching their sixth consecutive ALCS, also had Yuli Gurriel, Chas McCormick and Jeremy Peña to thank.
All three stepped up to hit solo homers, handing the Astros the series lead and demonstrating the depth of talent on the roster.
“We have a really good lineup and it seems like if the big guys aren’t going, then the bottom of the lineup can get going,” McCormick told reporters after the game.
“If the bottom of the lineup isn’t going, the big guys can get going. It just kind of talks about how complete this team is.”
This season’s record-breaking slugger Aaron Judge, who made a brilliant diving catch in the bottom of the first off a Alex Bregman swing, says his team is fully aware of what it’s up against.
“They’ve got a great staff, top to bottom,” Judge told reporters. “They’ve got great arms out of the ‘pen that are effective on both sides of the plate and good starting pitchers that can mix three to four pitches.
“It’s a tough match-up, but you want to compete against the best. That’s what we’ve got in front of us. We’ve got to go out and do our job.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is set for Thursday with the Yankees hoping to level.