HOUSTON — Lance McCullers Jr. had felt it earlier than, that buzz of nervous power at dwelling in October, three decks of orange-clad followers begging for him to start out the present. For three years he had yearned to really feel it once more, however every time, one thing new held him again.
In 2018, his aching elbow shifted him to the bullpen. In 2019, he was recovering from Tommy John surgical procedure. In 2020, the pandemic stored followers away from all of the American League playoff video games and shifted the video games to impartial websites.
When you play for the Houston Astros, although, the alternatives simply maintain coming. McCullers began a postseason sport at Minute Maid Park on Thursday for the first time since the 2017 World Series, shutting out the Chicago White Sox for six and two-thirds innings of a 6-1 victory in Game 1 of this A.L. division collection.
“The introductions while I was warming up, it was really cool,” McCullers mentioned. “I think I got the chills in the bullpen and just wanted to really have a good game for the crowd and for our team. It was a good day.”
It was an ideal day, actually, for the Astros and their 40,497 paying followers. Yordan Alvarez doubled and homered, and three teammates — Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa and Jake Meyers — additionally had two hits apiece. The White Sox superior just one runner previous second base, didn’t have an extra-base hit and drew no walks off McCullers.
That was important, as a result of McCullers led the majors in walks, with 76. He had a robust 12 months despite that as a result of he’s so arduous to hit; he led the A.L. in fewest hits allowed per 9 innings, with 6.8, whereas going 13-5 with a 3.16 earned run common.
McCullers is a distinct pitcher than he was in 2017, when he stifled the Yankees in the A.L. Championship Series with 24 consecutive curveballs to shut Game 7. He added a slider this season and makes use of it for roughly 1 / 4 of his pitches. His confidence was apparent Thursday.
“I didn’t have any walks today because I had that plan, that focus; I wanted to go into the game and I wanted to attack,” McCullers mentioned. “A lot of leverage counts — 1-2, 2-2 counts — where I could have gone for the strikeout, but I was trying to just throw good pitches for weak contact, keep the pitch count low, try to go deep into the game.”
He lasted into the seventh inning, longer than any of the starters in the wild-card video games this week. His opponent, Lance Lynn, was pulled with two outs in the fourth. Lynn gave up 5 runs and 6 hits to a Houston offense that led the majors in runs whereas compiling fewer strikeouts than each workforce moreover Toronto.
“They’re just deep, they battle, they don’t strike out,” Lynn mentioned. “They pick and choose times when they want to be aggressive. That’s why they’ve had the success they’ve had in recent years. From top to bottom, they don’t make it easy on you.”
Alvarez, particularly, was a power in the early innings, drawing a stroll and scoring the Astros’ first run, then doubling in a run earlier than driving a homer into the proper discipline bullpen off reliever Reynaldo Lopez.
Alvarez, the 2019 A.L. Rookie of the Year, performed solely two video games final season earlier than having surgical procedure on each of his knees. He missed the playoffs and the Astros completed one win shy of the World Series in Dusty Baker’s first season as their supervisor.
“Life wasn’t too pleasant last year without Yordan,” Baker mentioned. “I didn’t even know what I had.”