By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - The Astros' youth brigade set the tone with some deft small ball and finished off the reigning American League champion Kansas City Royals with home runs in claiming the upper hand in their AL Division Series.
"There's no doubt the first inning set the tone and gave the team a little bit of an exhale, coming into an environment like this against the defending American League champions," said Houston manager A.J. Hinch.
"We came out loose, came out firing."
Jose Altuve, 25, led off the game against Royals flame-thrower Yordano Ventura with a single to left. George Springer, 26, worked a walk and Carlos Correa, 21, singled to right to load the bases with no outs.
Ground outs by Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis each produced a run to give the Astros a 2-0 lead and a flying start on their way to a 5-2 victory over the Royals in Kansas City in Game One of the best-of-five.
"We put together some good at-bats in the first inning and we started with the right foot today and I'm happy we won the game," said Venezuelan All-Star Altuve, the spark plug of an Astros team making their first postseason appearance in 10 years.
"We know the kind of team we are. We're trusting ourselves. Everybody knows we have a lot of talent in that dugout and players that are hungry to win."
Houston's youngsters combined for another tally in the second when center-fielder Jake Marisnick, 24, doubled to left-center and came around to score on a single from Altuve.
A pair of solo home runs by designated hitter Kendrys Morales cut the lead to 3-2, before Springer sprang to action in the fifth with a towering homer to left off reliever Chris Young that made it 4-2.
"It was big to kind of slow them down a little," Springer said about restoring a two-run cushion.
"It's been an emotional week for us," said Altuve. "We got to go to the Wild Card game in New York (on Tuesday), then we come here and play the Kansas City Royals.
"We knew we're facing some good teams, but we're trusting ourselves and doing the little things."
Two seasons ago Houston lost 111 games, their third season in a row over the century mark in losses.
But their young prospects have blossomed and blended in with some productive veterans, including Colby Rasmus, 29, who added the final run with a homer in the top of the eighth.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)