Canada and Mexico brawl figuratively and literally; Canada wins

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Canada kept its second round World Baseball Classic hopes alive with an emphatic 10-3 victory over Mexico today. Coming off an eight-inning 14-4 defeat at the hands of Italy, a game that was called early due to the mercy rule, Canada bounced back with impressive hitting performances by designated hitter Justin Morneau and right fielder Michael Saunders as both logged four hits (including two doubles apiece) and three runs batted in. Third baseman Taylor Green also contributed greatly with three hits and a walk. Starter Chris Leroux was solid over three innings of work before giving way to the bullpen.

The scoring started in the top of the first when Canada tossed up a four-spot behind a Morneau RBI double, a Saunders two-run single, and an RBI single by Chris Robinson. Mexico starter Marco Estrada settled down, though, holding Canada scoreless in his other two innings while his team chipped away. Mexico scored once in the bottom of the first on an error by first baseman Joey Votto, then added two more in the bottom of the fourth on a Gil Velasquez RBI double and Eduardo Arredondo sacrifice fly. Cesar Ramos, in relief of Estrada, pitched well but began to wear down in his third inning of work. In the top of the sixth, Canada added an insurance run on a Pete Orr RBI single to right.

From there, the flood gates opened and Mexico’s bullpen was unable to keep the game close. Canada added two runs in each of the seventh and eighth innings. In the seventh, Morneau drove in a run with another double, then scored later in the inning on a Jimmy Van Ostrand RBI ground out. In the eighth, Morneau singled to right, driving in his third run. Saunders then singled to right, driving in Canada’s ninth run.

Tensions began to flare in the top of the ninth. Leading off the inning, Canada’s Chris Robinson bunted for a hit with his team up by six runs. Reliever Arnold Leon, none too pleased, hit the next batter Rene Tosoni with a fastball, causing both benches to clear. ESPN’s Jim Caple said, “This was not a stand around and look tough fight. There were many punches thrown.”

A Twitter recap of the fracas:

Leon and Tosoni were ejected by home plate umpire Brian Gorman. Jose Cobos came in relief of Leon while Tim Smith replaced Tosoni at first base. During the next at-bat involving Cale Iorg, more chaos ensued:

Iorg ended the at-bat at long last with a fly ball to left field, scoring Robinson for Canada’s tenth run. Tyson Gillies and Green went down in short order to end the inning. John Axford entered the bottom-half of the ninth for the save, shutting down Mexico with a 1-2-3 inning.

Canada, now 1-1, kept their own hopes alive as well as those of the United States. The US and Italy square off at 9 PM ET. Pool D then wraps up Sunday afternoon at 4 PM ET when Canada and the US match up. Mexico will be rooting for Italy against the US, then for the US against Canada, hoping for a three-way tie in which all three teams are 1-2. In such an event, run differential would be used in the tie-breaker. Presently, the US and Canada are tied in run differential at -3 while Mexico lags at -5.

As a side note, the use of run differential in the tie-breaker means that Mexico has no “unwritten rules” ground upon which to stand after taking offense to Robinson’s ninth-inning bunt.

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).