HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched six shutout innings, Yordan Alvarez homered twice and the Houston Astros held on for a 6-4 win over the Minnesota Twins in their AL Division Series opener Saturday.
Jose Altuve hit a leadoff home run and Alvarez had three RBIs as the defending World Series champions earned their 10th straight victory in Game 1 of a Division Series.
Former Astros star Carlos Correa had two hits for the Twins, who continued to struggle at the plate with runners in scoring position. They were 1 for 12 after going 1 for 10 in the Wild Card Series against Toronto.
Verlander settled in after a shaky start and the Astros built a 5-0 lead through six innings with big swings from Altuve and Alvarez.
Hector Neris took over for Verlander to start the seventh. With two outs, Jorge Polanco hit a soaring three-run homer to right field. Two pitches later, rookie Royce Lewis launched his third homer in three playoff games to make it 5-4.
In the bottom half, Caleb Thielbar entered to face Alvarez with one out. The slugger became the first left-handed hitter to homer off Thielbar this season when he smacked an off-speed pitch off the foul pole in right to give Houston an insurance run.
Bryan Abreu got four outs for the Astros, striking out three, and Ryan Pressly fanned two in a scoreless ninth for the save. He struck out Lewis to end it.
The best-of-five series continues Sunday night in Houston, with Framber Valdez on the mound for the AL West champion Astros against Pablo Lopez.
Altuve pounced on Bailey Ober’s first pitch for his first career leadoff homer in the playoffs. Alvarez connected off Ober on a two-run shot in the third to make it 3-0.
The 40-year-old Verlander allowed four hits and walked three to get his 17th win in 35 postseason starts. The three-time Cy Young Award winner returned to the Astros this summer in a trade with the New York Mets.
Altuve, who was 0 for 23 to open the playoffs last season, has 24 career postseason homers, which ranks second in major league history to Manny Ramirez (29). Saturday was Altuve’s eighth home run in the first inning of a playoff game, the most in MLB history.
Ober allowed four hits and three runs over three innings in his playoff debut for the AL Central champion Twins, who completed a two-game sweep of Toronto in the wild-card round to win a playoff series for the first time in 21 years.
The Twins had chances early but were unable to push any runs across against Verlander.
Minnesota had runners on first and second with no outs in the first. Lewis grounded into a double play before Verlander walked Max Kepler. Alex Kirilloff grounded out to end the threat.
Correa singled to start the second before a one-out single by Ryan Jeffers. This time Verlander escaped the jam when Michael A. Taylor grounded into a double play.
Edouard Julien doubled with no outs in the third, but the Twins didn’t get another hit until a single by Jeffers with no outs in the seventh.
There was one out in the third when Ober plunked Alex Bregman. Two pitches later, Alvarez knocked a changeup 379 feet into the seats in right field to make it 3-0.
It was the seventh career postseason homer for the 26-year-old. He watched the ball sail for a couple of seconds before trotting to first base as he casually flipped his bat.
Jose Abreu’s RBI single made it 4-0 in the fifth. Chas McCormick singled with two outs to send another run home, but Abreu was out at third on the play to end the inning.
Twins: Manager Rocco Baldelli said Lewis wasn’t quite ready to play the field as the DH continues to recover from a hamstring injury. “He’s in a good spot to help us win games right now, but he’s just not in a place where I feel comfortable yet, the medical staff feels comfortable yet, just sticking him at third base,” Baldelli said. He added that Lewis could return to the field at some point during this series.
Astros: Relief pitcher Kendall Graveman was left off the ALDS roster because of discomfort in his right shoulder. He said he’s feeling better and hopes to be available if the Astros advance.
Lopez (11-8, 3.66 ERA) won Game 1 of the Wild Card Series, allowing five hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings.
Valdez (12-11, 3.45), who threw a no-hitter against Cleveland in August, was 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA in his last five regular-season starts.