Harden picks odd spot to rebuild his value

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As our own Craig Calcaterra reported earlier, Rich Harden is joining the Rangers on a one-year, $7.5 million deal with an $11.5 million option for 2010.
The price seems about right, but the destination is still rather surprising. It’s hard to imagine that there weren’t going to be teams willing to present similar, if not superior, offers. And if Harden’s goal is to land a big multiyear deal at some point, it would have been easier to accomplish had he been pitching in Safeco or just about any National League park. Or pitching for the Red Sox or Yankees would have gained him more exposure and perhaps have allowed him to showcase himself in the postseason.
Pitching in Texas is famously difficult, of course. The ballpark is as hitter friendly as any in the American League, and the heat is well known for wearing players down over the course of a 162-game season. In the last dozen years, the Rangers have had three pitchers qualify for the ERA title and finish under 4.00:
Kevin Millwood – 3.67 ERA in 2009
Kenny Rogers – 3.46 ERA in 2005
Kenny Rogers – 3.84 ERA in 2002
That’s not to say teams won’t necessarily recognize that Harden has had a successful season if he comes in at 4.20 in 2010. But given that there was a significant market for his services, he may well have been better off heading elsewhere.

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).