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Red Sox defeat Astros 6-3 to clinch second consecutive AL East title

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The race for the AL East championship finally came to an end on Saturday afternoon, as the Red Sox sewed up the division with a 6-3 win over the 100-win Astros. Drew Pomeranz led the way with his fourth quality start of the month, firing one run, two walks and three strikeouts over six strong innings.

The Astros only managed to put one runner in scoring position during the first six innings, but Jose Altuve singled to lead off the seventh and Carson Smith promptly gave up three back-to-back-to-back base hits after replacing Pomeranz, allowing Evan Gattis and Yuli Gurriel to plate a pair of runs and snap the shutout attempt. David Price, who was rumored to be sitting out of Saturday’s game, entered to get all three outs of the inning and closed out the seventh with a three-pitch strikeout to George Springer.

The Astros’ rally barely made a dent against the Red Sox’ five-run drive, however. The offense combined for five runs in the fourth and fifth innings, forcing Lance McCullers Jr. off the mound during his last start of the regular season. He issued five runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings, including Rafael Devers‘ RBI double (his 13th of the year) and Mitch Moreland‘s two-RBI double (his 34th of the year).

Mookie Betts and Brian McCann traded solo home runs in the last few innings of the game, but the Red Sox held on to a three-run advantage for the win and the division title. Craig Kimbrel manned the ninth inning, allowing a home run and double before striking out the side to quash the Astros’ chances of tying their franchise 102-win record.

With the Red Sox’ win, the Twins are set to face off against the Yankees in Tuesday’s AL wild card game. Given their 93-68 record, however, the Sox won’t be looking at any home field advantage in the playoffs, barring an upset of the Indians’ ALDS matchup. The Astros’ 100-61 record guarantees them home field advantage in the ALDS, while the Indians’ 101-59 record gives them home field advantage through the rest of the postseason.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.