Torres leads Yankees over Astros in Game 1 of ALCS

New York Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres watches the ball leave the park for a solo home run against the Houston Astros in the sixth inning of Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park. (Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports)

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HOUSTON — Very little seemed to worry the New York Yankees as they strutted into Minute Maid Park on Saturday, announcing their presence in the ALCS with the swagger and pop that are foundations of the storied franchise.

You want hits? The Yankees got them in bunches, including 11 in the first seven innings of a 7-0 win over the Houston Astros, a roll-over of an opener to the best-of-seven series.

You want raw strength? The boys from the Bronx provided that as well with three home runs in an impressive carry-over from their slugging regular season.

And perhaps most importantly to the Yankees’ way, there was star power and it came in the form of 22-year-old Gleyber Torres. The Baby Bomber drove in five runs with a double, a homer and a two-RBI single and is fast becoming the story of the playoffs for the AL East champs.

“It was Gleyber Day, man. That’s the way it’s been for us,” said Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius. “He’s played like a veteran all year. He continues to produce.”

Backed by some starting pitching brilliance from Mashiro Tanaka, it was an impressive series start by the Yankees, who clearly believe their offence can trump all.

The seven runs scored were more than double the combined three they put up in their four losses here in the 2017 ALCS, a fortune they are determined to reverse.

Baseball’s most prolific attack certainly took care of business, starting with the seven hits and three runs they scattered off starter Zack Greinke through six innings.

As for Torres, a season that has been nothing short of sensational continues to flourish at the Mr. October time of year.

Regular season and playoffs combined, Torres has now clubbed 40 home runs and his sixth-inning solo shot on Saturday made him the third youngest in history to hit one out in the ALCS.

“Smart. Confident,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone began in his praise of Torres. “And when you have talent, that’s a really good combination.

“He’s always had that since he came to the big leagues. He plays the game with a confidence, but the intelligence has been big because it has allowed him to grow.”

In a series billed as power pitching vs. power hitting, the Yankees landed the early blows. A team that belted 306 homers and led the league in runs (943) in the regular season was undaunted by the Astros’ formidable home aura.

The Astros took an MLB best 61-20 record out of the regular season and then added three more in their ALDS win over the Tampa Bay Rays. With the Minute Maid roof closed (unnecessarily) it’s loud and it can be intimidating.

Not to the Yankees, however.

“I think our guys relish this,” Boone said. “Clearly the Astros have shown that they have a home-field advantage here and I think a lot of us are aware of how loud this place can be.”

Unfortunately for Astros manager A.J. Hinch, a two-man rotation isn’t an option. Greinke wasn’t awful, but he was far from what will be expected from Justin Verlander on Sunday night and Gerrit Cole in Game 3, when the series shifts back to the Bronx on Tuesday.

Greinke gave up seven hits and three earned runs in his six innings of work — but both home runs. And in his first two post-season starts has allowed five home runs and nine runs total in 9.2 innings.

“We don’t have time for frustration,” Hinch said. “They threw the first punch. We can throw the next punch (on Sunday.)”

‘BIG MAPLE’ TIME

If big Canadian lefty James Paxton is up to the task, the Yankees could jump out to a massive 2-0 series lead in Game 2 here on Sunday.

The 30-year-old B.C. native — who goes by “Big Maple” thanks to the tattoo he has on his right forearm — will get the second post-season start of his career.

“I’ll take the ball whenever they give it to me,” Paxton said prior to Saturday’s series opener. “I’m just excited to be here in the ALCS and going after it.”

There was mild surprise when Boone opted to top his rotation with Tanaka for the series opener, considering Paxton got the ball to start the ALDS against the Twins. Obviously that worked out well enough on Saturday and Paxton has proven himself as a top of the rotation guy.

“They’re a good team, they’re really good,” Paxton said of the Astros. “It’s going to be a good challenge. I’ve just got to go out there and execute pitches against them.”

Paxton, who will see action in the biggest assignment of his young career will do so after an extended eight-day rest. He joins Mike Soroka of the since-eliminated Atlanta Braves among Canadian starters seeing high-profile action during these playoffs.

GAME ON

How impressive was Tanaka for the Yankees? He faced the minimum 18 batters in his six innings of work and allowed just one hit from the 68 pitches he threw.

* And how’s this for a fun Torres fact: With homers in two games in the post-season, he joined the great Mickey Mantle as the only players in Yankees history with home runs in multiple playoff games before hitting the age of 23.

* Since the introduction of the seven-game series in 1985, 19 of 33 teams (58 per cent) winning Game 1 have moved on.

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