Boston’s Sale faces Astros’ Verlander in Game 1 of ALCS

BOSTON — A year ago, Justin Verlander won two games for the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, one as a starter and one in relief.

Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale was the loser in both of those games — also one as a starter and the other in relief.

The two aces, former foes in the American League Central, match up again when their teams square off in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night at Fenway Park.

“This is a rematch of last year,” Sale said Friday. “Obviously, the winner of this one goes to the World Series. So like I’ve been saying the whole time, just keep playing the same game, not trying to reach for more, not trying to be better than I am. We shouldn’t play as a team like that, either.”

As far as making up for last year, Sale said, “It’s one of those things that you learn more from your mistakes than you do sometimes your successes. You try to flip the script and be better from it, and try to keep the momentum rolling forward.”

Sale went 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA during the 2018 regular season, and he is 1-2 with a 6.19 ERA in the postseason in his career.

Verlander, who was 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA in the regular season, is 12-6 with a 3.08 ERA lifetime in the postseason, including 12-2 in the LDS and LCS.

The Astros, who swept the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, are seeking to become the first repeat World Series champions since the 2000 New York Yankees.

“The fun part about this team is that the bar is so high for these guys,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, “and they continue to try to work toward exceeding expectations, either personally or as a team. It’s a great attribute for these guys to continue to reach for it.”

The Red Sox have home field advantage for this best-of-seven series but the Astros had a major league-best 57-24 road record this season. They had the lowest ERA in baseball for both their starters (3.16) and relievers (3.03).

This will be the eighth time Sale and Verlander will faces each other as starters — and Verlander has the clear advantage over the first seven.

In this postseason, both won Game 1 of his respective series.

Sale, who had pitched only 17 innings since July 27 thanks to shoulder trouble, went 5 1/3 innings, yielding two runs on five hits and striking out eight to beat the Yankees. He also pitched a perfect eighth inning in the Game 4 finale.

Verlander beat the Indians in his team’s Game 1, going 5 1/3 inning and allowing two runs on two hits, striking out seven and taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning.

According to STATS, in those seven previous games, Verlander is 3-0 with a 2.06 ERA, an 0.98 WHIP and .207 opponents’ batting average against Sale’s teams. Sale is 1-3 with a 3.97 ERA, a 1.26 WHIP and .261 batting average against when pitching against Verlander’s teams.

Sale is 5-2 with a 1.83 ERA in seven career regular season starts against the Astros. Verlander is 5-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 18 career regular season starts against the Red Sox – including 3-3 with a 3.51 ERA in 10 starts at Fenway.

Both have pitched once against the Saturday night opponent this season.

June 1 at Houston, Sale was the loser, allowing four runs on six hits in six innings. The next night, Verlander didn’t get a decision against Boston, going six innings and yielding two runs on three hits in a solid start. The Astros won the game, part of their 4-3 season series win over the Red Sox.

Boston’s J.D. Martinez, happy to no longer have to face Sale, squares off against his former team in this series. Martinez, like David Ortiz a decade before, was released, only to wind up a hero in Boston.

“My failures in Houston made me who I am,” Martinez said Friday, adding he has “no animosity” towards the Astros.

For the record, Martinez is 9-for-38 (.237) with 16 strikeouts, three homers and six RBIs lifetime against Sale.

George Springer, who is fast turning into the new Mr. October, is 5-for-14 (.357) with a homer and Jose Altuve 8-for-24 (.333) lifetime against Sale. But Jake Marisnick is 1-for-11 (.091), Marwin Gonzalez 1-for-9 (.111), Evan Gattis 2-for-12 (.167), Josh Reddick 3-for-14 (.214) and Carlos Correa 3-for-13 (.231).

Eduardo Nunez leads the Red Sox against Verlander, going 6-for-18 (.333), while Mitch Moreland is 10-for-32 (.313) and Brock Holt 3-for-10 (.300). But Mookie Betts is 0-for-13 (.000), Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. are both 1-for-9 (.111), Ian Kinsler 6-for-38 (.158), Sandy Leon 2-for-9 (.222) and Xander Bogaerts 4-for-17 (.235).

Moreland, who sustained a hamstring injury in the ALDS, went through a full workout Friday and his spot on the LCS roster will be determined Saturday.

For the Astros, Hector Rondon and Joe Smith have replaced Will Harris and Myles Straw on the roster.

Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright, out with a knee injury, will undergo the same arthroscopic procedure that Dustin Pedroia had in July (from the same doctor) and still hopes to be available for a potential World Series. Pedroia was not able to make it back.