Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians open with wins in American League playoff series

Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander argues a call during the second inning in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday in Houston. (AP photo)

HOUSTON (AP) — Jose Altuve hit three home runs in an unprecedented show of power for the diminutive major league batting champion as the Houston Astros roughed up Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox 8-2 Thursday in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.

Buoyed by chants of “MVP” in each trip to the plate, the 5-foot-6 Altuve hit solo homers in the first and fifth innings off Sale. He connected again in the seventh off reliever Austin Maddox to give Houston a quick boost in the best-of-five series.

It was just the 10th time a player hit three homers in a postseason game, and first since Pablo Sandoval for the Giants in the 2012 World Series opener against Detroit. Babe Ruth did it twice.

Justin Verlander pitched six effective innings and improved to 6-0 since Houston got him in late trade with the Tigers. Sale, the major league strikeout leader, was tagged for seven runs in five-plus innings of his postseason debut.

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Indians 4, Yankees 0

At Cleveland, Trevor Bauer chopped slugger Aaron Judge and New York’s other big bats down to size, and Jay Bruce drove in three runs as the Indians began chasing their first World Series title in 69 years in their ALDS opener.

Bauer struck out Judge three times, twice getting the MVP candidate looking. He allowed just two hits in 6 2-3 innings before manager Terry Francona turned to baseball’s best bullpen, using Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen to finish the three-hitter.

Allen came in with two on and two outs in the eighth to face Judge, who struck out for the fourth time and angrily snatched at his bat frustration.

Bruce connected for a two-run homer in the fourth off Sonny Gray and added a sacrifice fly in the fifth as the Indians began a journey to try and end the majors’ longest Series title drought.

Corey Kluber, an 18-game winner during the regular season, will start for the Indians in Game 2.