HOUSTON -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch is fond of undercutting hype in deference to respecting the long grind of the regular season, but he allowed for a measure of ballyhoo with the New York Yankees in town for a four-game series at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros (20-10) and Yankees engaged in a riveting American League Championship Series last postseason, with Houston claiming that showdown in seven games en route to its first World Series title. On Monday, the teams met for the first time since the Astros' Game 7 win.
"This has turned into a really fun rivalry," Hinch said. "We've played really important games against them over the last few seasons, and we kind of mirror each other in the sense that our best players are young players. There's been some addition of veteran players to try to complement the team. It's a fun series early in the season to play against one of the best teams.
"Who's testing who? These are two really good teams. I don't think anything is going to be decided this (week) but I certainly think these are ... interesting games. We're both trying to win as many games as possible; they all count. The season's not made if one or the other does well."
Right-hander Justin Verlander (4-0, 1.36 ERA) will start the second game of the series for the Astros on Tuesday. Verlander is 6-7 with a 3.87 ERA over 18 career starts against the Yankees, last facing them in the regular season on June 11, 2016, when he allowed one run on five hits and one walk with five strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings pitching for the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium.
He was named the 2017 ALCS Most Valuable Player after going 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA over two starts against the Yankees, recording 21 strikeouts against two walks over 16 innings.
Verlander is 9-0 with a 1.22 ERA in 11 starts with Houston. Roger Clemens is the only other pitcher in franchise history to win his first nine decisions with the club. Clemens did so in 2004.
Left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-0, 3.76 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees (18-10). Montgomery is 0-1 with a 5.56 ERA over two career starts against the Astros, including one appearance at Minute Maid Park that resulted in a no-decision after Montgomery allowed three runs on five hits and one walk with four strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings in a 7-6 loss.
Montgomery has an unbeaten streak of 10 consecutive starts. He did not face Houston last postseason.
A bit of the sizzle was removed from the showdown with the decision of Yankees manager Aaron Boone to rest star slugger Aaron Judge. The reigning AL Rookie of the Year, Judge leads the league in walks (24) and recorded seven home runs over the first 27 games.
But with the Yankees nearing the end of a stretch of playing on 18 consecutive days, Boone figured the series opener was the right time to provide Judge his first breather, especially on the heels of a late arrival from Southern California at 3:30 in the morning.
Judge walked as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the eighth inning in the Yankees' 2-1 loss.
"Just trying to pick a day here and there where some of our guys that have basically played every day (can get rest)," Boone said. "You've got to keep in mind he's coming off offseason shoulder surgery, hasn't had a day off yet. Everything is good in that regard but we also want to keep it that way.
"So it's been on my plate the last few days to try and pick a day, and I just felt like (Monday) made the most sense."