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Powered by the Crowd, McCullers Mowed Down the White Sox

HOUSTON – Lance McCullers Jr. bunu daha önce hissetmişti, Ekim ayında evindeki o gergin enerji vızıltısını, üç deste turuncu giysili hayran gösteriye başlaması için ona yalvarıyordu. Üç yıl boyunca bunu tekrar hissetmek istemişti ama her seferinde yeni bir şey onu geri tutuyordu.

2018’de ağrıyan dirseği onu boğa güreşine kaydırdı. 2019 yılında Tommy John ameliyatından iyileşiyordu. 2020’de pandemi, taraftarları tüm Amerikan Ligi playoff oyunlarından uzak tuttu ve oyunları tarafsız sitelere kaydırdı.

Houston Astros için oynadığınızda, fırsatlar gelmeye devam ediyor. McCullers, Perşembe günü Minute Maid Park’ta 2017 World Series’den bu yana ilk kez bir sezon sonrası maçı başlattı ve bu AL bölümü serisinin 1. Oyununda Chicago White Sox’u 6-1’lik bir galibiyetin altı ve üçte ikilik vuruşuyla kapattı.

“The introductions while I was warming up, it was really cool,” McCullers said. “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 a perfect day, really, for the Astros and their 40,497 paying fans. Yordan Alvarez doubled and homered, and three teammates — Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa and Jake Meyers — also had two hits apiece. The White Sox advanced only one runner past second base, did not have an extra-base hit and drew no walks off McCullers.

That was significant, because McCullers led the majors in walks, with 76. He had a strong year in spite of that because he is so hard to hit; he led the A.L. in fewest hits allowed per nine innings, with 6.8, while going 13-5 with a 3.16 earned run average.

McCullers is a different pitcher than he was in 2017, when he stifled the Yankees in the A.L. Championship Series with 24 consecutive curveballs to close Game 7. He added a slider this season and uses it for roughly a quarter of his pitches. His confidence was obvious 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 said. “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 games this week. His opponent, Lance Lynn, was pulled with two outs in the fourth. Lynn gave up five runs and six hits to a Houston offense that led the majors in runs while compiling fewer strikeouts than every team besides Toronto.

Yordan Alvarez, who missed most of last season because of injures, returned to the postseason in a big way with a home run and a double.Credit…Bob Levey/Getty Images

“They’re just deep, they battle, they don’t strike out,” Lynn said. “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, özellikle, erken vuruşlarda bir güçtü, bir yürüyüş çizdi ve Astros’un ilk koşusunu puanladı, ardından bir koşuyu ikiye katladı ve ardından bir homer’ı kurtarıcı Reynaldo Lopez’den sağ sahaya sürdü.

2019 AL Yılın Çaylağı seçilen Alvarez, her iki dizinden de ameliyat olmadan önce geçen sezon sadece iki maç oynadı. Playoffları kaçırdı ve Astros, Dusty Baker’ın menajerleri olarak ilk sezonunda World Series’in bir galibiyetini utangaç bir şekilde bitirdi.

Baker, “Geçen yıl Yordan’sız hayat pek hoş değildi,” dedi. “Neye sahip olduğumu bile bilmiyordum.”

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