(TSX / STATS) -- HOUSTON -- Through five innings, Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander was again expertly playing the role of conquering hero, carrying his club on his back with an individual brilliance exceeded only by his Game 2 start just six days ago.
But when he started to display vulnerability in the sixth and seventh innings, Verlander found a teammate to lean on.
Verlander continued his masterful pitching in elimination games and the Astros turned a breakthrough fifth inning, a defensive gem from center fielder George Springer and some needed insurance runs in the eighth into a 7-1 victory over the New York Yankees on Friday night at Minute Maid Park in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
Verlander (2-0) twirled seven shutout innings to help carry the Astros into a decisive Game 7 at home on Saturday night. He allowed five hits and issued one walk while getting eight strikeouts, extending his streak of consecutive scoreless innings in elimination games to 24.
Acquired from Detroit at the waiver trade deadline for moments like these, Verlander again delivered. He remains unbeaten in an Astros uniform, including two victories in this series.
"He's been everything that we could have hoped for and more," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "The guy prepares. He rises to the moment. He's incredibly focused, locked in during games, and emptied his tank tonight."
Despite allowing a single in each of his first three innings, Verlander was largely untested until the sixth. By then he had a three-run lead, courtesy of Houston rally in the bottom of the fifth.
After Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis sandwiched walks around a Marwin Gonzalez groundout, Brian McCann delivered an RBI ground-rule double to right field off Yankees right-hander Luis Severino (0-1). Three batters later, Jose Altuve delivered an even bigger blow, chasing Severino with a two-run single by hacking the first pitch into left for a 3-0 lead.
Altuve added a solo home run, his fourth of the postseason, leading off the eighth, an inning in which the slumping Houston offense broke through with four insurance runs.
The Yankees will send veteran left-hander CC Sabathia, the winner in Game 3, to the mound for Game 7 against Astros right-hander Charlie Morton, who took the loss opposite Sabathia.
Before the late surge, Verlander sidestepped danger in the sixth and seventh innings. He got Gary Sanchez to ground out with an excuse-me swing, stranding two baserunners in the sixth.
Running on fumes in the seventh, Verlander completed a 10-pitch battle against Aaron Hicks with a 3-2 slider for his eighth strikeout before Springer came to the rescue, running down a deep fly ball off the bat of Todd Frazier with a leaping catch at the wall with two runners on.
"Right off the bat, I could have sworn it was going out," Frazier said. "You play long enough, you kind of know when it's going to go and when it's not. It was one of the best balls I squared up this whole postseason. I guess it just died. I guess I didn't get enough."
Verlander said, "All you can do as a pitcher is watch the outfielder track it and track it and track it, and then most of the time when they go to jump it's like (tense). He was able to reel it in and keep it inside the yard. So that was obviously one of the big turning moments in the game."
Severino kept the Astros hitless until Carlos Correa lined a two-out single to right-center field in the bottom of the fourth. Severino escaped that inning unscathed, but the Astros figured him out, with their methodical rally in the fifth providing Verlander some needed run support.
Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge clubbed his fourth homer of the postseason off Astros right-hander Brad Peacock with one out in the eighth. That blow was minor consolation for the Yankees, who improved their approach against Verlander after being dominated in Game 2 yet had little to show for the work. The adjustments, painstakingly strategic, proved fruitless.
"He was really good again," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The thing in the two starts we faced him, he hasn't been behind in counts and he's thrown a ton of strikes. I looked up at one point on the board and he had faced like 13 or 14 hitters and there was like 10 balls and 40-something strikes.
"I thought our at-bats were decent off him; we hit some balls hard off him. But again, he was ahead in the count and pitched really effectively."
NOTES: Astros DH Evan Gattis got the start over Carlos Beltran in part because of how the Yankees have pitched Beltran this series. Beltran, a switch-hitter who typically starts against right-handed pitching, excels against high-velocity pitches. According to Astros manager A.J. Hinch, Beltran has seen just one fastball over his 12 plate appearances in the ALCS. ... With his second strikeout of the game, Yankees RF Aaron Judge matched the franchise record for strikeouts in one postseason with his 26th. Yankees 2B Alfonso Soriano had 26 strikeouts in 75 plate appearances in 2003. ... With his eight strikeouts, Astros RHP Justin Verlander passed Hall of Famer Randy Johnson for sixth place on the career postseason strikeouts list. Verlander has 134 career postseason strikeouts. Johnson had 132 in 121 innings.
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