McCullers, Astros beat White Sox to seize control in playoff opener

Los Angeles (AFP) –

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Houston hurler Lance McCullers pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings and departed to a standing ovation Thursday as the Astros beat the Chicago White Sox 6-1 to seize quick control of their Major League Baseball playoff series.

The convincing victory at Minute Maid Park in Houston gave the Astros a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five American League division series.

McCullers struck out four and walked none, giving up just one hit in his first six innings before allowing three singles in the seventh.

Meanwhile the Astros pounced on White Sox starting pitcher Lance Lynn, grabbing a 5-0 lead to force him out in the fourth inning.

Rookie center fielder Jake Meyers's two-out single in the second inning scored Yordan Alvarez to give the Astros a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Houston added two more in the third inning , when Jose Altuve walked, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Michael Brantley and took third on a wild pitch.

With one out, Houston's Alex Bregman hit a ground ball to third and Chicago third baseman Yoan Moncada's throw to home was too late to get Altuve, who put the Astros up 2-0.

Alvarez then belted a double that scored Bregman.

As Chicago's offense sputtered, Houston added two more runs in the fourth, when Brantley's two-out single up the middle scored Meyers and Altuve -- and signalled the end of Lynn's day.

Alvarez added a home run off reliever Reynaldo Lopez in the fifth and that was all the Astros needed.

Chicago pulled one run back in the eighth inning courtesy of Jose Abreau's run-scoring single off relief pitcher Kendall Graveman.

But it was the Astros -- who saw the sheen of their 2017 World Series title dimmed by a subsequent sign-stealing scandal -- who emerged with what could be a key win.

In post-season history, teams taking a 1-0 lead in any best-of-five series have gone on to win 72% of the time.

Game two is on Friday in Houston.