MLBPA’s “Heart and Hustle” award has amusing candidates

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Today the MLB players association released the list of 30 candidates for their annual “Heart and Hustle” award that’s “presented to an active player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit, and traditions of the game.”

A few things about the candidates list stood out to me …

• Matt Kemp is the Dodgers’ candidate, which is pretty extraordinary given that his own general manager publicly criticized his lack of hustle throughout the season. His heart must be off the charts to make up for it. Or something.

• Dustin Pedroia is the Red Sox’s candidate. His “heart” was so big that he missed the final 40 games of the season after trying to play through a foot injury that worsened. He did show a lot of “hustle” by taking infield reps from his knees while on the disabled list.

• Pablo Sandoval is the Giants’ candidate, which is a remarkable accomplishment for a 5-foot-11, 250-pound man who runs the bases like he’s wearing skates.

• I’m not sure if Twins candidate Nick Punto deserves the “heart and hustle” award but I’d certainly be in favor of giving him the “false hustle” award for sliding head-first into first base on every close play this decade.

• Of the 30 candidates listed, 17 of them can probably be described as “white guys.” Most of the time in surveys about “hustle” or its various synonyms Caucasians unfortunately tend to dominate, but in this case that’s right around MLB’s overall “white guy” population. Not surprisingly, the inaugural winner of the award back in 2005 was David Eckstein, but in fairness Albert Pujols was the winner last season.

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).