Joba and Hughes to be "programmed to start" and other Gammons notes

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Peter Gammons who, lest we forget, was working the news and rumors beat when Rosenthal and Heyman were watching “Superfriends” in their mammas’ rumpus rooms, has a number of nuggets this early afternoon:

— The Yankees are content to enter spring training with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes ready to work as starting pitchers, slotting in David Robertson and Damaso Marte as Mariano Rivera’s primary setup men.  Whether this is (a) the actual strategy; or (b) leverage for a future John Lackey negotiation (“starters? why would we need starters?”) is unclear, but it’s the right choice in my mind.  Give those two every conceivable chance to start and don’t pull the plug unless and until they unequivocally fail in the role.

— Contrary to all of the Granderson-Jackson-Cabrera speculation, Tigers’ owner Mike Ilitch simply won’t allow a fire sale.  This matches up with my handicapping of the situation last week.  It’s easy to react emotionally in the early part of the offseason, but a clear-eyed assessment of the Tigers’ place in the universe right now suggests that they can and will strongly contend for the next few years, and that’s something they should focus on.

— People are questioning Aroldis Chapman’s integrity and character for leaving the agents who “got him out of Cuba.” Um, maybe. But it’s worth remembering that Chapman’s defection was not exactly some harrowing journey at sea. He walked to the lobby of his European hotel and got in a car.  There’s always two sides to every story. Do we know what Chapman’s agents promised him on the market? Do we know whether they’ve been honest with him? Do we know if there is some personal animus between the parties? Players leave agents all the time. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad.  If I was interested in Chapman, I’d simply ask the guy what the deal was and go from there.

— Billy Beane is a Killers fan.  I’m too old to know if that makes Beane old or not, or cool or not.  The last album I bought was a Stax/Volt soul compilation, so I’m a little bit out of the loop with these things.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).