HOUSTON — Lance McCullers Jr. had felt it earlier than, that buzz of nervous vitality at house in October, three decks of orange-clad followers begging for him to start out the present. For 3 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 saved followers away from all the American League playoff video games and shifted the video games to impartial websites.
While 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 primary time because the 2017 World Collection, shutting out the Chicago White Sox for six and two-thirds innings of a 6-1 victory in Recreation 1 of this A.L. division collection.
“The introductions whereas I used to be warming up, it was actually cool,” McCullers mentioned. “I feel I obtained the chills within the bullpen and simply needed to actually have a great sport for the gang and for our staff. It was a great 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 vital, as a result of McCullers led the majors in walks, with 76. He had a powerful yr regardless of that as a result of he’s so onerous 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 unique pitcher than he was in 2017, when he stifled the Yankees within the A.L. Championship Collection with 24 consecutive curveballs to shut Recreation 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 at present as a result of I had that plan, that focus; I needed to enter the sport and I needed to assault,” McCullers mentioned. “A whole lot of leverage counts — 1-2, 2-2 counts — the place I might have gone for the strikeout, however I used to be attempting to simply throw good pitches for weak contact, maintain the pitch depend low, attempt to go deep into the sport.”
He lasted into the seventh inning, longer than any of the starters within the wild-card video games this week. His opponent, Lance Lynn, was pulled with two outs within 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 staff apart from Toronto.
“They’re simply deep, they battle, they don’t strike out,” Lynn mentioned. “They choose and select instances after they need to be aggressive. That’s why they’ve had the success they’ve had lately. From prime to backside, they don’t make it straightforward on you.”
Alvarez, particularly, was a pressure within the early innings, drawing a stroll and scoring the Astros’ first run, then doubling in a run earlier than driving a homer into the appropriate subject bullpen off reliever Reynaldo Lopez.
Alvarez, the 2019 A.L. Rookie of the 12 months, 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 Collection in Dusty Baker’s first season as their supervisor.
“Life wasn’t too nice final yr with out Yordan,” Baker mentioned. “I didn’t even know what I had.”