Sorry, but I still think Yadier Molina choked

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Choking, in my view, is what happens when someone faces a pressure situation and responds in an unusual and suboptimal way. Sometimes it’s more physical than mental – I know I missed a couple of wide open nets playing soccer back in the day — and sometimes it’s all mental. My opinion is that Yadier Molina choked when he decided to drop down a sac bunt in the top of the ninth inning down a run against the Padres last night.

Make no mistake: Molina had never before bunted in such a situation. Of the 42 sac bunt attempts he had made in his career, three had come with his team down a run. All three of those — one in 2005, one in 2006 and one in 2007* — had come with his team at home, when playing for the tie makes a lot more sense. They also all came when Molina was a lesser hitter than he is now.

So, Molina made a decision he wouldn’t normally make. It took place in the ninth inning of a big game with the Cardinals on the verge of being swept. And it hurt the Cardinals’ chances of winning (by drastically reducing the chances of a multi-run inning). That’s pretty much my definition of choking.

*(In case you were curious, he was successful on all three of those bunt attempts and two of them helped the Cardinals win the game. The 2005 bunt came in the seventh inning and led to a game-tying run, though given that two hits followed, one guesses they would have at least tied it regardless. In the 2006 game, Molina gave up the out in the ninth and the Cardinals went on to score two runs to win anyway. In the 2007 loss to the Pirates, Albert Pujols ended up popping up with the bases loaded to end it.)

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).