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Randy Arozarena belted his 11th career playoff home run and produced a rare straight steal of home Thursday as the Tampa Bay Rays launched their post-season with a 5-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
The Rays, who fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in last season's World Series, grabbed a 1-0 lead over the Red Sox in the best-of-five American League division series.
And Arozarena was key. He sprinted to home plate in the seventh inning behind the back of Red Sox relief pitcher Josh Taylor to push the Rays' lead to five runs.
It was the first post-season steal of home since Javier Baez in the 2016 National League Championship Series.
Arozarena's heroics in the Rays' 2021 playoff opener were a continuation of his stellar play in the 2020 post-season, when he homered 10 times to power Tampa Bay's run to the World Series.
Nelson Cruz also homered for the Rays and rookie pitcher Shane McClanahan pitched five strong innings before the bullpen took over and confidently closed it out.
Rookie Wander Franco contributed a run-scoring double for the Rays, who will host game two on Friday.
In Houston, Astros hurler Lance McCullers pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings and departed to a standing ovation as the Astros beat the Chicago White Sox 6-1 in game one of their AL 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 Abreu'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.