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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LOS ANGELES: Yordan Alvarez hit two home runs and Houston pitcher Justin Verlander delivered another post-season gem on Saturday as the World Series champion Astros beat Minnesota 6-4 to open their Major League Baseball playoff series.
The Astros had struggled at home this season, becoming the first team to win a division with a losing home record since the 2001 Braves.
But their post-season dominance at Minute Maid Park continued, with Verlander tossing six scoreless innings in his 17th career playoff win — two shy of Andy Pettitte for the most in history.
“Obviously there was that narrative that we didn’t play well at home,” Alvarez said in a post-game interview with Fox Sports. “Winning today we were able to change that.”
The Astros took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five American League second-round series, with game two on Sunday in Houston.
In other series openers on Saturday, The Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles 3-2 while the Philadelphia Phillies shocked the Braves 3-0 in Atlanta.
The Los Angeles Dodgers hosted Arizona in the night’s final game.
Jose Altuve set the tone in Houston with a leadoff home run, crushing the first pitch he saw from Twins starting pitcher Bailey Ober.
“I think that changes the energy of the team,” said Alvarez, who made it 3-0 with a two-run blast in the third and added a solo home run in the seventh of left-handed relief pitcher Caleb Thielbar.
Minnesota had cut a 5-0 lead to 5-4 in the top of the seventh with back-to-back home runs from Jorge Polanco and Royce Lewis.
“I think (Alvarez is) the best hitter in baseball right now,” Altuve said. “He’s going to hit a lot of homers this post-season, and he’s going to help us win another World Series.”
In Atlanta, the Phillies silenced the potent Braves offense, Philadelphia’s bullpen surrendering just five hits, all singles, against Braves batters who racked up a major-league record 307 home runs in the regular season.
Bryce Harper’s two hits included a solo homer that gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead in the sixth. Harper had scored in the fourth on Bryson Stott’s single.
Trea Turner had two of Philadelphia’s five stolen bases and the Phillies added an insurance run in the eighth on a catcher interference call against Atlanta’s Sean Murphy.
The bases were loaded when Murphy was called during a J.T. Realmuto at-bat, so a run scored on the call after the Braves unsuccessfully challenged — the incident prompting Braves fans to toss drink cans and other debris on the field.
In Baltimore, Josh Jung homered and Jonah Heim snuffed out a rally in the ninth inning as the Rangers seized a 1-0 lead in their AL series, with game two set for Sunday.
The Rangers and Orioles are making their first playoff appearances since 2016, both having rebuilt after losing more than 100 games two seasons ago.
Rangers outfielders Adolis Garcia and Evan Carter hit back-to-back doubles in the fourth to open the scoring and catcher Heim followed with a single to drive in Carter and put Texas ahead 2-0.
The Orioles pulled back a run in the bottom of the inning on Ryan Mountcastle’s double, but Jung homered off Orioles reliever Jacob Webb in the sixth for a 3-1 lead.
Anthony Santander answered for Baltimore with a solo homer in the sixth.
But the Orioles’ bid to rally against Texas reliever Jose Leclerc ended in the ninth.
Leclerc surrendered a single to Gunnar Henderson, but Henderson was thrown out by Heim trying to steal second base — the steal attempt the result of “miscommunication” according to Orioles manager Brandon Hyde.
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