Lack of standout first-timers on next year’s HOF ballot is good news for Larkin and Bagwell

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Deserving players like Barry Larkin, Tim Raines, and Jeff Bagwell fell short of reaching the 75 percent of the votes required for Hall of Fame induction this year, but they’ll have a good chance to increase their totals in 2012 as the pool of first-year eligible players doesn’t include anyone likely bound for Cooperstown.

Here’s an unofficial list of first-time players eligible for induction in 2012:

HITTERS                PITCHERS
Bernie Williams        Brad Radke
Tim Salmon             Scott Erickson
Ruben Sierra           Terry Mulholland
Javy Lopez             Pedro Astacio
Vinny Castilla         Jeff Fassero
Carl Everett           Rick Helling
Matt Lawton            Jose Lima
Eric Young             Matt Clement
Edgardo Alfonzo        Tim Worrell
Jeromy Burnitz         Danny Graves
Brian Jordan           Mike Remlinger
Phil Nevin             Jeff Nelson

Bernie Williams has a better Hall of Fame case than he’ll probably get credit for, particularly in his first year on the ballot, but aside from him it’s tough to see any of the other first-timers garnering significant support.

In addition to the lack of big names joining the ballot, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven will be off the ballot after being inducted and Dave Parker will be ineligible following the maximum 15 years on the ballot. That trio received a combined 1,075 votes from the 581 ballots this year,  and while not all of them will be reallocated to other players in 2012 it’s a safe bet a large chunk of them will be.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, Kenny Lofton, and Curt Schilling lead an exceptionally strong class of first-timers for 2013, so if Larkin, Raines, Bagwell, and others are going to make major progress toward joining Alomar and Blyleven in the Hall of Fame it will come next year.

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).