Keuchel, Astros ready to blast off

The London Free Press - - SPORTS - ROB LON­G­LEY

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 the Hous­ton Astros start­ing pitcher rel­ishes the op­por­tu­nity to get the Amer­i­can League cham­pi­onship se­ries started off on the right foot when he takes to the mound for Fri­day’s Game 1 here at Min­uteMaid Park.

Keuchel has dom­i­nated the Yan­kees in the past, most no­tably in the 2015 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 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 Thurs­day. “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-to­back se­ries wins against “sto­ried” fran­chises, af­ter do­ing his part to elim­i­nate the Bos­ton Red Sox in the AL di­vi­sion se­ries. Do the same against the Yan­kees and the Astros will feel ready to val­i­date an ex­cep­tional reg­u­lar sea­son into the fran­chise’s first cham­pi­onship.

The Astros have com­pleted 55 sea­sons, since their in­cep­tion in 1962, mak­ing it the third-long­est ti­tle drought in the ma­jors. But with a 101-61 reg­u­lar sea­son record in 2017, they won the AL West by 21 games over the Ana­heim An­gels.

Hav­ing the lux­ury of a one-two 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 ball­park. He’s pitched ex­traor­di­nar­ily. So look, hav­ing Ver­lan­der and Keuchel one-two, 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 is just part of the Hous­ton ad­van­tage head­ing into the best-of-seven se­ries. The Astros pro­lific of­fence is the per­fect blend of power and savvy base hit­ting. They led the ma­jors in runs (896), hits (1,581) and fewest strike­outs (1,087.)

“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 (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 staff.

“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 prime time games and that’s good for them … what­ever gets you up for th­ese types of games, then let it get you up for it.

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

Kuechel

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