Jose Altuve drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning for Houston after a two-out error by shortstop Jorge Polanco, and the Astros beat Minnesota 4-1 Tuesday to open their AL playoff series and stretch the Twins’ all-time record post-season losing streak to 17 games.
Game 2 in the best-of-three wild-card matchup is Wednesday at Target Field.
Michael Brantley tacked on a two-run single in the ninth after Sergio Romo issued a full-count walk to the 5-foot-6 Altuve, the 2017 AL MVP who had a quiet season at the plate.
Framber Valdez, who made 10 regular-season starts for the Astros, pitched five scoreless innings in relief of Zack Greinke for the victory to keep the bullpen fresh for the rest of the series. Valdez allowed his only two hits with one out in the ninth, but Willians Astudillo grounded into a double play to end the game.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli called for Romo, the fifth of six pitchers, to start the ninth. The Astros loaded the bases on two singles to start the inning and then the crippling two-out error, when Polanco’s throw to second base after a straight-at-him grounder was low to blow the forceout.
Minnesota’s previous win in the playoffs was notched in New York on Oct. 5, 2004, in Game 1 of the AL division series. That was also the last scoreless postseason start for a Twins pitcher — seven shutout innings by AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana — until Kenta Maeda’s in this game.
The Twins lost 13 straight times to the Yankees after that, including a three-game sweep in the AL division series last year. The Twins have failed to advance in eight straight rounds, since beating Oakland in five games in the AL division series in 2002.
Minnesota broke the record for consecutive post-season losses in major North American sports — the Twins had been tied with NHL’s Chicago team, who dropped 16 straight in the NHL playoffs from 1975-79.
The Astros lost their previous post-season game — that was Game 7 of the World Series last year, at home to Houston.
Giolito nearly perfect, White Sox down A’s
Lucas Giolito dazzled in his post-season debut, stymieing the Oakland Athletics through six perfect innings and sending the Chicago White Sox to a 4-1 victory in the opener of their best-of-three wild-card series.
Giolito (1-0) yelled in delight after striking out the side in the sixth, quickly walking back to the dugout with his arms to his side.
Giolito got plenty of support: Jose Abreu hit a two-run homer and Adam Engel also connected for Chicago. Yasmani Grandal homered in the eighth.
Alex Colome, Chicago’s third reliever, worked the ninth for a save in the 2-hour, 53-minute game.
Before the single by La Stella, Jake Lamb’s line drive to centre in the fifth was the hardest-hit ball against Giolito by the powerful A’s, whose offence struggled down the stretch.
Now, Oakland must win Game 2 on Wednesday at home to avoid another early playoff exit.
The A’s are in the post-season for a third straight year, having lost in the AL wild card game each of the past two seasons after 97 wins both times. They advanced just once during 11 previous playoff trips since 2000, reaching the 2006 AL Championship Series before being swept by Detroit.
Ramon Laureano’s groundout in the eighth scored Oakland’s lone run.
Engel crushed an 0-2 fastball for a 1-0 White Sox lead in the second before Abreu homered in the third against 22-year-old lefty Jesus Luzardo.
Chicago was eager for a fresh start in the playoffs after losing seven of eight to finish the regular season, two on walk-offs.
The White Sox snapped a string of seven consecutive losing seasons to reach the post-season for the first time since winning the AL Central in 2008.