HOUSTON (AP) — Framber Valdez was confident he could rein in his emotions — that starting Game 1 of the World Series wouldn’t big too big for him.
Three pitches in, he was already behind.
Jorge Soler sent that third pitch from Valdez into the seats in left field, and he and the Astros couldn’t recover in 6-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night.
Valdez allowed one run in eight sterling innings of a win over the Red Sox in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series, giving the Astros optimism he could help stabilize a rotation rocked by the loss of staff ace Lance McCullers Jr.
Instead, he permitted a playoff career-high five runs while getting just six outs to force Houston to cobble together seven innings with a bullpen that’s carried a heavy load this postseason.
It was the shortest start in the opening game of a World Series since 2005, when Houston’s Roger Clemens permitted three runs in just two innings of a loss to the Chicago White Sox. Chicago went on to sweep that series in four games.
Valdez allowed eight hits and walked one in his eighth postseason appearance and seventh start. It was the shortest outing of his playoff career, including his relief appearance.
Aside from that overpowering Game 5 against Boston, Valdez has struggled this month. He gave up four runs in 4 1/3 innings starting Game 2 of an AL Division Series against the White Sox, then was pulled after 2 2/3 innings and three runs in the opener of the ALCS.
After the homer by Soler, Ozzie Albies singled with one out before swiping second base. An RBI double by Austin Riley came next to make it 2-0 and send pitching coach Brent Strom out to try to calm Valdez.
He retired the next two batters to end the inning but quickly found trouble in the second frame when Travis d’Arnaud led off with a single. There was one out and runners at second and third when Soler reached and d’Arnaud scored on a fielder’s choice that left Joc Peterson out at third.
Freddie Freeman walked before Valdez thought he’d escaped the inning, but Albies legged out an infield single to load the bases. As first base umpire Tom Hallion motioned that Albies was safe, those emotions that Valdez spoke at length about controlling on Monday were written all over his face.
He crouched and shook his head, remaining there for a few seconds staring at the grass and looking stunned. He gathered himself and struck Austin Riley out to end that inning. He pounded his first into his glove triumphantly after that, but his trouble was far from done.
Back out for the third, Eddie Rosario greeted him with a single, and another visit from Strom followed. This chat didn’t help, and Adam Duvall ended his night with a bang when he smacked a liner into the short porch in left field to leave the Braves up 5-0.
Valdez trudged off the mound as Yimi García trotted in from the bullpen.
The Astros have struggled with inconsistent starters through much of these playoffs, and Tuesday was the fifth game this postseason their starter failed to get out of the third inning.
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Kristie Rieken, The Associated Press