Rockies get flexibility, Helton gets security

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Seeing a window to remain a top contender in the wide open NL West, the Rockies on Thursday made a trade with their own first baseman, giving him two additional years of security in exchange for an ability to defer $13.1 million beginning in 2011.
In what seems like a smart move for both sides, the Rockies will free up $8.4 million next year and get out from under the $4.6 million buyout of his 2012 club option. That was worth $23 million, so there was never any chance that it’d be picked up.
Helton, in return, gets a two-year, $9.9 million deal covering 2012 and 2013. If he played at a high level, maybe he could have done as well as a free agent after 2011. However, he would have been 38, and given his back woes, taking the money now seemed like a smart idea. After all, he easily could have received the Jermaine Dye-Jim Edmonds-Carlos Delgado treatment. Now he’s signed through age 40 and in great position to finish his career with the Rockies.
Helton’s massive nine-year, $141.5 million contract has long been a problem for the Rockies. In 2006, he took up 40 percent of the club’s payroll all by himself. He was nearly traded to the Red Sox after that season. Colorado was willing to pick up $53.5 million of the $90.1 million he was still owed, only to see the deal fall apart over prospects.
Things have gotten far better since, though. Helton was a key part of the team’s run to the World Series in 2007, and while he missed much of 2008, he bounced back to hit .325/.416/.489 in 151 games last year. He probably still isn’t worth the $16.6 million he’ll be paid this season, but since the Rockies have shed the rest of their bad contracts, he’s no longer holding the team back at all.

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).