Masahiro Tanaka dazzles, Yankees blank Astros 5-0 to pull within one win of reaching World Series

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Masahiro Tanaka once again pitched a gem, leading the Yankees past the Astros 5-0 in Game 5 of the ALCS on Wednesday evening. The Yankees now hold a 3-2 series lead and have a chance to clinch a World Series berth on Friday.

The Astros had a few opportunities to score, but Tanaka executed when he needed to most. The right-hander held the Astros hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position. The Astros are now 2-for-19 (.105) with RISP since the start of Game 3 and 5-for-25 (.200) overall in the ALCS.

The Yankees opened the scoring in the second inning as Greg Bird knocked in Starlin Castro with a single. Aaron Judge added another run in the third inning with an RBI double. In the fifth, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius each hit RBI singles to up the score to 4-0. Gary Sanchez tacked on a solo home run in the seventh. That proved to be more than enough run support for Tanaka.

Tanaka exited after seven innings, giving up just three hits and a walk with three strikeouts on 103 pitches. That matches his ALDS Game 3 start against the Indians in which he also tossed seven shutout innings.

Tommy Kahnle took over in the eighth, working an easy nine-pitch 1-2-3 inning. He returned to the mound in the ninth, working around a one-out double from Carlos Correa. He induced a ground out from Yuli Gurriel, then got Alex Bregman to line out to center field to end the game in a 5-0 victory for the Yankees.

Game 6 of the ALCS will start at 8 PM ET on Friday in Houston at Minute Maid Park. The Astros will attempt to stave off elimination by sending Justin Verlander to the mound. The Yankees will counter with Luis Severino. They will be attempting to return to the World Series for the first time since 2009, when they beat the Phillies in six games.

Report: Twins sign Erick Aybar to minor-league deal

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The Twins have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal,¬†LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune¬†reported Friday. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds that the deal comes with a potential $1.25 million if Aybar reaches the majors, with additional incentives based on plate appearances. He’ll be able to opt out on March 27. The team has yet to confirm the signing.

Aybar, 34, is now four years removed from his career year in 2014. He’s been in a state of steady decline since then, slashing just .234/.300/.348 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases over 370 plate appearances for the Padres in 2017. His poor performance wasn’t helped by a fractured left foot, either, which cost him almost six weeks on the disabled list.

Still, the Twins see something promising in the veteran infielder, and reportedly intend to use him as another utility option this spring. Per Neal, Aybar will join fellow backup infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza and may even (temporarily) take over for Miguel Sano at third base if Sano isn’t able to shape up for the role by Opening Day.