Orioles complete sweep of Tigers, advance to the ALCS

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The Orioles are headed to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1997. The AL East champs defeated the AL Central champion Tigers 2-1 in Game 3 of the ALDS in Detroit on Saturday, completing a series sweep.

Starter Bud Norris blanked the Tigers over 6 1/3 innings, holding them to just two hits and two walks while striking out six. Nelson Cruz helped put Norris in line for the win in the top of the sixth when he laced a David Price change-up down the right field line for a two-run home run, breaking a scoreless tie.

Andrew Miller fired 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, and closer Zach Britton escaped danger after allowing back-to-back doubles to Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez to open up the ninth inning. Britton struck out Bryan Holaday. Then, after intentionally walking Nick Castellanos to set up a double play, induced a 5-4-3 double play out of pinch-hitter Hernan Perez to finish off the ballgame.

Price was strong, despite allowing the home run to Cruz. He went eight innings, allowing two runs on five hits and a pair of walks while striking out six. That’s enough for a win most of the time, just not on this particular evening.

Game 3 had two controversial calls by umpires. One occurred in the second inning, when Andrew Romine dragged a bunt towards the first base side with a runner on third base and two outs. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop charged, scooped the ball with his glove-hand, and shoveled it to first baseman Steve Pearce. First base umpire Jim Wolf ruled Romine out, which was promptly challenged by Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. Replays showed that the play was extremely close, but there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the initial call. As expected, the call was upheld and the Tigers were denied the run and the base runner, ending the inning.

The second controversial ruling came in the bottom of the third. The Tigers had Don Kelly on second base and one out with Torii Hunter at the plate. Hunter hit a ground ball to the left side, fielded quickly by shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was shifted further to his right with the right-handed Hunter at the plate. Hardy threw to Schoop at second base as Kelly had ventured too far off of the bag. Schoop, however, did not catch the ball cleanly and it dropped. Schoops momentum had taken him into the base path, and he blocked Kelly’s lane back to the bag. Schoop reached over Kelly for the ball and tagged him out. Ausmus asked the umpires to confer about possible obstruction. After discussing the issue, the umpires ruled that there had been no obstruction.

While the Tigers could very easily have won Game 3 had either umpire ruling gone differently, or if Cruz’s home run had been a couple feet shorter or to the right, they are ultimately out of the playoffs due to their bullpen, which allowed seven runs in Game 1 and four runs in Game 2.

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).