Brandon Phillips: “we choked”

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The guy tells it like it is. Sometimes when he shouldn’t. But you can pretty much expect him to go beyond the cliches before most guys do, and he did so last night after the Reds’ loss to the Pirates:

“We choked. I don’t care how my teammates feel about what I am saying now, because it’s truth. Either you win or you go home. And I’m going home. The last place I want to be is on my couch … I choked,” Phillips added. “I didn’t do [anything] to make the team win.”

I tend to be dismissive of people who claim that ballplayers “choked” as it implies some mental or emotional component to athletic failure that is never fair or reasonable for fans — who know next to nothing of what goes on in an athlete’s head — to assume. Baseball is a game which consists of an awful lot of failure. It isn’t necessarily something new or different just when it happens to come at the most inopportune times.

That said: when Phillips says it of himself? Well, OK, I’m willing to take his word for it. He and Joey Votto went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and, after a couple of home runs put Johnny Cueto in a hole, the entire Reds lineup seemed to be trying to hit three-run homers with every swing. Even Votto was out of his usual game of plate patience. In his first two plate appearances he saw four pitches and swung at them all, grounding out on the first one and then striking out on three pitches.

If Brandon Phillips says he choked, I’m inclined to believe him. Especially after seeing how rattled Cueto and some of the other Reds reacted to the extremely hostile Pirates crowd.

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).