Indians top Astros to maintain lead as the AL’s second Wild Card

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The Indians entered tonight’s action with a half-game lead over the Rangers for the second Wild Card in the American League. The two teams have been trending in opposite directions, with the Rangers having lost nine of their last ten contests, while the Indians have won seven of their last nine. The Tribe sent lefty Scott Kazmir to the hill tonight to help defend their lead and bolster their post-season hopes.

Kazmir received some early run support, scoring three times in the first inning against Astros starter Lucas Harrell thanks to a Jason Kipnis sacrifice fly and a two-run home run by Michael Brantley. Lonnie Chisenhall added another run in the fourth inning with an RBI single.

Kazmir held the light-hitting Astros scoreless over seven innings of work, allowing a meager three hits and walking one while striking out ten. He lowered his ERA to 4.14 in the effort and logged his third multi-strikeout performance of the season. He was pulled in the eighth after allowing a lead-off double to L.J. Hoes. Cody Allen relieved Kazmir and ended the eighth without any damage. In the ninth, reliever Joe Smith allowed a two-out solo home run to Astros slugger Chris Carter to mar the shutout, but was able to eventually record the 27th out to wrap up the 4-1 victory.

The victory moves the Indians to 85-70 and will finish the night no worse than a half-game up on the Rangers, who are currently leading the Royals 3-0 as of this writing.

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).