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Astros sweep Yankees in ALCS, advance to World Series again

MLB

“These guys expect to win. Winning begets winning.”

Houston Astros Alex Bregman (2) follows up with a base hit to drive in a run against the New York Yankees during the seventh inning of Game 4 of baseball’s American League Championship Series, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman had big hits and the Houston Astros advanced to the World Series again, ending a four-game sweep of New York in the AL Championship Series with a 6-5 victory Sunday night with the help of another defensive yankee gaffe.

Taking advantage of a costly error by second baseman Gleyber Torres to go ahead in the seventh inning, the Astros won their second straight pennant and fourth in six years.

Rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña hit a three-run homer off ailing Yankees starter Nestor Cortes to help the AL West champions overcome an early 3-0 deficit. Peña was voted ALCS MVP.

Houston opens the World Series at home on Friday night against Bryce Harper and the wild-card Philadelphia Phillies, who beat San Diego to close out the best-of-seven NLCS in five games.

It was the first time that both flags were decided on the same day since 1992.

After losing to Atlanta in last year’s World Series, Houston improved to 7-0 this postseason, earning the fifth pennant in franchise history and another shot at its second championship.

The team’s 2017 title was tainted by a cheating scandal.

With the expansion of the playoffs to 12 teams this year, the Phillies became the first third-seeded team in baseball history to reach the World Series.

Philadelphia went 87-75 during the regular season — Bregman and the Astros finished 106-56 under manager Dusty Baker, seven games better than any other team in the American League.

“These are the best guys I’ve ever been with!” Baker said during the on-field celebration after the game. “They come to play every day – all day.”

The 73-year-old Baker is heading into his third World Series in 25 seasons as a major league manager and is still looking for his first championship as a bench boss. He won as a player with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“This is a very exciting time for me and the organization,” Baker said before the game. “These guys expect to win. Victory begets victory.”

After racing to a 61-23 record in early July, AL East champion New York was no match for the Astros in October — again. Houston is 9-2 overall against the Yankees this year and has eliminated them from the playoffs four times in the past eight seasons, including the 2017 and 2019 ALCS.

In fact, New York has lost its last five AL Championship Series appearances and hasn’t won a pennant since winning its 27th World Championship in 2009.

Number 28 proved to be the most elusive.

“This is as bad as it gets,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

Back in the leadoff spot, Harrison Bader had three hits and scored three times for New York. He connected off winning pitcher Hector Neris for his fifth home run of the playoffs, giving the Yankees a 5-4 lead in the sixth.

They couldn’t last when they absolutely had to.

Peña hit Torres in the seventh on what should have been an inning-ending double play. But his flip to second base got past Isiah Kiner-Falefa as the crowd of 46,545 groaned and the Astros had two.

Alvarez scored the tying run on the next delivery off losing pitcher Jonathan Loáisiga, and Bregman gave Houston the lead with an RBI single off Clay Holmes.

It was the sixth error of the postseason for the Yankees, who also gave the Astros a key gift in Game 3. Chas McCormick hit an early two-run home run off New York ace Gerrit Cole after Bader, the Gold Glove outfielder, dropped a two-out fly. when he nearly collided with Aaron Judge in right center.

Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly closed the door in perfect relief.

Pressly retired umpire on his way back for his third save of the series, sending the Astros rushing off the field to ecstatic hugs and handshakes on the field.

Moments later, a crowd of orange-clad Houston fans chanted “clean up! sweep!” behind the team’s third base in a mostly empty Yankee Stadium.

Taking an early 3-0 lead, Cortes walked No. 9 hitter Martín Maldonado to start the third and fell behind 2-1 to a groundout Jose Altuve.

Something was wrong. Boone and head athletic trainer Tim Lentych went to the mound to quickly check on Cortes, who initially stayed in the game.

But he passed Altuve, marking the first time the All-Star lefty has thrown back-to-back free passes this season. And eight pitches after visiting the mound, Peña launched a 3-1 slider into the left-field seats to tie the game.

That was it for the ailing Cortes, who ended up with a left groin injury that he apparently re-aggravated. He was sidelined from August 22 to September 7 with a left groin strain.

Alvarez doubled off Wandy Peralta and went to third when Peralta knocked in Kyle Tucker’s line drive that went on an infield single with one out. Yuli Gurriel ripped an RBI single through the open right side to give Houston a 4-3 lead, but Peralta prevented further damage.

Needing a win to extend their season, the Yankees got off to a fast start in the first inning after an 84-minute delay due to the threat of rain. Giancarlo Stanton laced an RBI single off starter Lance McCullers Jr. and Torres laced a run-scoring single to center.

That ended New York’s 14-inning hitless streak. Houston went 19 innings without allowing an earned run.

Anthony Rizzo’s RBI double made it 3-0 in the second, but Stanton scored with runners on second and third. Rizzo also delivered a two-out RBI single to tie the game at 4-all in the fourth.

McCullers, who shut out the Yankees with 24 straight in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, lasted five innings. He gave up four runs – three earned – and eight hits.

HEALTH CHECK

Third base coach Gary Pettis is expected to rejoin the Astros when they return to Houston. He was out due to illness.

“It’s great for him. He’s doing a lot better,” Baker said.

First base coach Omar Lopez replaced Pettis, and first was quality control coach Dan Firova.

FOLLOWING

Astros: Justin Verlander likely to start World Series opener. The 39-year-old right-hander has gone 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA this season in a wildly successful comeback from Tommy John surgery, making him the favorite to win his third Cy Young Award. He was hit hard in the Division Series opener against Seattle, then struck out 11 in six innings of one-run ball to win Game 1 of the ALCS. He is 0-6 in seven World Series starts.

Yankees: Begin their 2023 spring training schedule Feb. 25 against Philadelphia and host San Francisco in the March 30 regular season opener.

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