Juices flow­ing

Astros’ Keuchel is ex­cited, jit­tery, con­fi­dent for Game 1

Ottawa Sun - - SPORTS - ROB LON­G­LEY — Rob Lon­g­ley rlon­g­ley@post­media.com @lon­g­ley­sun­sport

HOUS­TON — Dal­las Keuchel knows the New York Yan­kees.

He knows the his­tory. He knows the fame of the fran­chise. And he knows how to have suc­cess against the vaunted pin­stripers.

And you can bet your ticket to the World Se­ries that the Hous­ton Astros start­ing pitcher rel­ishes the op­por­tu­nity to get the ALCS started off on the right foot when he takes to the mound for Fri­day’s Game 1 here at Minute Maid Park.

Keuchel has dom­i­nated the Yan­kees in the past, most no­tably in the 2015 AL wild-card game when the bearded lefty did his part in a 3-0 blank­ing of the Bronx Bombers.

Rather than shrug it off as mean­ing­less, Keuchel ac­knowl­edges the sig­nif­i­cance of that mo­ment and the juice of fac­ing a team so ac­cus­tomed to baseball’s Oc­to­ber spot­light.

“Now we look back on it and it’s prob­a­bly one of the most mag­i­cal times that I’ll have in my ca­reer and it’s some­thing I’ll never for­get, for sure,” Kuechel said on Thurs­day as the Astros had a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive day of work­outs. “And just be­cause it’s the Yan­kees, you kind of get a lit­tle more amped and a lit­tle more jit­tery be­cause it’s the pin­stripes and such a sto­ried or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Kuechel is well aware that the Astros have an op­por­tu­nity for back-to-back se­ries wins against “sto­ried” fran­chises, af­ter do­ing his part to elim­i­nate the Bos­ton Red Sox in the ALCS. Do the same against the Yan­kees and the Astros will feel ready to val­i­date an ex­cep­tional reg­u­lar sea­son into a fran­chise-first cham­pi­onship.

The Astros have com­pleted 55 sea­sons with­out a World Se­ries ti­tle (since their in­cep­tion in 1962), mak­ing it the third­longest drought in the ma­jors. But with a 101-61 reg­u­larsea­son record in 2017, they won the AL West in Sec­re­tar­iat-like fash­ion — 21 games over the Ana­heim An­gels.

Hav­ing the lux­ury of a 1-2 punch of Kuechel and Satur­day’s starter, Ja­son Ver­lan­der, is one of the big rea­sons the Astros ap­pear to have a mas­sive ‘pa­per’ edge in this se­ries. That and the fact they scored 43 runs in pil­ing up a 5-2 record ver­sus the Yanks in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

“We hand him the ball and the en­tire room knows we have a chance to win,” Astros man­ager A.J. Hinch said of Kuechel. “We’re well aware he’s had suc­cess against the Yan­kees and we’ve very con­fi­dent in this ball park. He’s pitched ex­traor­di­nar­ily. So look, hav­ing Ver­lan­der and Keuchel 1-2, the fact that we have both is a huge ad­van­tage for us.

“To be hon­est with you, when Dal­las is right, he’s con­fi­dent against any­body. I don’t think who the names are on the jer­sey (mat­ters). He knows he can get out any­body in the league.”

Of course, start­ing pitch­ing Hous­ton Astros’ ALCS Game 1 starter Dal­las Keuchel warms up in the out­field at Minute Maid Park as he pre­pares to face the Yan­kees tonight. is just part of the Hous­ton ad­van­tage head­ing into the best-of-seven se­ries that is send­ing the Space City into or­bit.

The Astros’ pro­lific of­fence is the per­fect blend of power and savvy base-hit­ting, a big rea­son they were able to dom­i­nate so many teams of­fen­sively this sea­son. They led the ma­jors in runs (896), hits (1,581) and struck out fewer times than any­one else (1,087.)

In one stretch to­wards the end of the sea­son, they won four con­sec­u­tive games by nine runs or more, the first team to do so since 1887. The Blue Jays cer­tainly felt that wrath this sea­son, giv­ing HOUS­TON — The Astros are well aware that the kids are all right, a big rea­son why the Yan­kees, and not the In­di­ans, are here as their ALCS op­po­nents. And Hous­ton’s Game 1 starter, Dal­las Keuchel has some thoughts on (and ul­ti­mate re­spect for) New York slug­ger Aaron Judge and his con­tem­po­raries. “(Judge) is such a unique player and I think the Yan­kees have a lot of unique play­ers,” Keuchel said on Thurs­day. “The new age (of hit­ters) — lift the ball, get un­der the ball … tra­jec­tory, back­spin, you name it, they have a bunch of those guys. “But in turn, you’re go­ing to swing and miss a lot more.” Judge, is a hot topic com­ing into the se­ries, of course. Af­ter strik­ing out in 16 of his 20 at-bats in the ALDS against Cleve­land. Keuchel isn’t buy­ing the sug­ges­tion that the bloom is wilt­ing from Judge, who set a ma­jor-league rookie record with 52 home runs. “For peo­ple to say he was ex­posed or what not, I don’t be­lieve in that,” Kuechel said. “I think he’s a tremen­dous tal­ent and one swing can change the course of the game. He can hurt you in so many dif­fer­ent ways.” up 12, 19 and 16 runs in three of their seven meet­ings.

“It’s the way our team is built,” Astros catcher Brian McCann said. “We’ve got 12 guys who can work counts and our lineup flows from top to bot­tom. The guys at the bot­tom (of the or­der) can hurt you as well. There’s no let-up.”

Is that enough to beat the Yan­kees? It could be (and prob­a­bly should be) if the Astros can con­tinue to beat up on New York’s start­ing pitch­ing and keep it go­ing against a bullpen that has been the back­bone of the Yan­kees pitch­ing staff.

“We have to fig­ure out a way to han­dle their bullpen, to avoid their home-run power and and get some of them to swing and miss,” Hinch said.

Play­ing with the con­fi­dence that got them to this point, nipped at the wire by the Cleve­land In­di­ans by one game in the race for the AL’s over­all reg­u­lar-sea­son ti­tle, wouldn’t hurt ei­ther.

“At this point, we won 101 games, we don’t need to prove any­thing,” Kuechel said. “I know a lot of guys do like the flash (of the Yan­kees) and like the prime­time games and that’s good for them … what­ever gets you up for th­ese types of games, then let it get you up.

“When it comes down to it, we’ll be play­ing baseball, but it is a lit­tle bit more fun to be play­ing back-to-back with the Red Sox and the Yan­kees.”

AP

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