HOUSTON -- With the requisite credentials and hardware, Dallas Keuchel was the Astros' presumed Game 1 starter for much of the season. Then Justin Verlander arrived in Houston with seconds to spare before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline, giving manager A.J. Hinch a decision he probably never expected to have to make.
It was a good problem to have, of course, and a dilemma that was ultimately eased by way of two good soldiers. Both pitchers want what's best for a team that has potential to win it all, and the Astros expect to be one step closer to achieving that goal following Keuchel's start in Game 2 of the best-of-five American League Division Series presented by Doosan against the Red Sox today at Minute Maid Park. Behind Jose Altuve's three homers and a solid outing from Verlander, the Astros won Game 1, 8-2, on Thursday afternoon.
"I knew it was going to be me or Justin one and two, and we couldn't have picked a better guy for Game 1," Keuchel said of Verlander, who made his 17th career postseason start Thursday. "I knew when he came over it was going to be a pretty good rotation, and I was pretty outspoken with what our needs were and what the guys in the clubhouse wanted. But at that point, that was the last thing on my mind.
"I'm just happy to pitch at home and in front of this beautiful crowd."
The finesse lefty has thrived within the home-friendly confines of Minute Maid Park, compiling a 2.94 career ERA here, including a 2.26 mark in 11 starts during the 2017 regular season. None of those, however, came against the Red Sox, who have given him fits in the past. In three career games against them, including two starts, Keuchel is 0-1 with a 9.88 ERA -- his highest ERA against any AL club.
It's a small sample size, to be sure, and the postseason is a different beast altogether. Keuchel was tremendous in his first career playoff series in 2015, tossing six shutout innings against the Yankees to clinch an AL Wild Card victory, before twirling seven innings of one-run ball opposite Kansas City in Game 3 of the Division Series. He also pitched out of the bullpen in Houston's Game 5 loss, working one inning and surrendering a three-run homer to Kendrys Morales.
Keuchel, who later took home the American League Cy Young Award that year, hopes to lean on the lessons learned during that time.
"I think it's going to have a lasting effect, and just to draw comparison to what the feelings I felt and how nervous I was going into it," the two-time All-Star said. "That's going to give me an advantage I feel like. Especially with the roof closed, it feels like there's about 90,000 people instead of 40-45,000. I told some of the guys, 'Get ready, because you're going to need some earplugs.'
"I wasn't able to talk to the guys next to me on the bench. We were in silence just listening to the crowd and listening to the game play on the field. So it's going to be loud, but it's going to be exciting. I'm grateful that we got some experience in 2015, and hopefully that will carry us to the championship series."
The 29-year-old Keuchel, who exited the regular season with a 14-5 record and 2.90 ERA, including a 2.87 ERA in five September starts, will be working on nine days' rest. He pitched a three-inning simulated game in Boston on Sunday to stay fresh and hopes the extended time off will aide his efforts. In the past, that hasn't been the case; in 25 starts on six days of rest or more, Keuchel has a 4.11 ERA.
So be it.
"This is the most magical time of the year, so everybody's ecstatic," he said. "I think I had a few more dreams than I usually do in my sleep last night just because I was excited."
Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.