Yankees outlast Red Sox to claim series in Fenway

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This one had a little bit of everything packed into a crisp four hours and 12 minutes.

– After Boston grabbed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, Ryan Dempster drilled Alex Rodriguez with a 3-0 pitch to open the second. It was at least Dempster’s second attempt to hit him, but the plunking didn’t get Dempster ejected. It did result in warnings for both sides and an early exit for a furious Joe Girardi.

– The Yankees rallied to tie the game after the HBP and then took the lead in the third on an RBI groundout from A-Rod. That lead lasted about 10 minutes, as David Ortiz delivered an RBI groundout of his own in the bottom of the third.

– In the fourth, the Red Sox executed some perfect small-ball after a Jarrod Saltalamacchia leadoff double. Daniel Nava advanced him with a bunt, and Stephen Drew plated him with a fly to left. All of which was rendered pretty moot when Will Middlebrooks followed with an opposite-field homer, making it 5-3.

– In the fifth, with everyone still wondering when CC Sabathia might retaliate for the earlier incident, he blew his last good chance by giving up a double to David Ortiz with Dustin Pedroia on first. He later intentionally walked Saltalamacchia after a 3-0 count. With the bases loaded, he walked Daniel Nava, scoring the sixth Boston run.

– The Red Sox, not satisfied with five unhorrible innings for Dempster, pressed their luck. Which is something that tends to happen when a team has only three reliable relievers, all of whom pitched the day before. Dempster gave up a leadoff homer to A-Rod and still the Red Sox stayed with him. He was finally pulled with the bases loaded, and rookie Drake Britton surrendered a triple to Brett Gardner. 7-6 Yankees.

– The Yankees, too, kept their starter in for some ungodly reason, yet it didn’t bite them. Sabathia walked Middlebrooks to start the bottom of the sixth, but he bounced back with a strikeout of Jacoby Ellsbury before being removed. Shawn Kelley came in and got two right-handers to end the inning.

– That was it for most of the excitement in what turned out to be a 9-6 Yankees win. We did see three HBPs after the warnings were issued, none of which resulted in ejections. We saw umpire Brian O’Nora get hit in the throat by a fastball that Chris Stewart flat-out missed, stumble around for a couple of minutes and then stay in the game. We saw the Red Sox get two men on in the bottom of the ninth against Mariano Rivera, who was riding a streak of three straight blown saves, only to have the game end on a lineout to left from Salty.

The story here will be A-Rod, A-Rod, A-Rod. Yet this came down to a battle of the bullpens, and the Yankees won it. Absent Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Miller and Matt Thornton (and Daniel Bard, too, if you’d like), the Red Sox are short of guys they can trust, and manager John Farrell decided to use all three of his those guys (Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow) to protect a five-run lead on Saturday. The Yankees had all of their guys available, and their four relievers combined to allowed two hits in 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Boston’s five relievers allowed two runs, three inherited runs and eight hits in those same 3 2/3 innings.

As for Rodriguez, it was definitely his best game since his return; he collected three hits for the first time and hit his second homer. The Yankees are 7-5 with him in the lineup. Sabathia improved to 11-10 despite giving up six runs and walking five. Dempster fell to 6-9, though the Red Sox had won each of his last six starts (Dempster went 1-0 with five no-decisions in the span).

Astros clinch AL West for third consecutive year

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For the third consecutive season, the Astros are AL West champions. The ‘stros clinched the division on Sunday afternoon with a convincing 13-5 win over the Angels. They were backed by three homers from leadoff man George Springer and individual homers from Alex Bregman and Aledmys Díaz.

Springer has the 22nd three-homer game in baseball this season. He’s the first Astro to hit three homers in a game since Yordan Álvarez last month, on August 10.

Justin Verlander lasted five innings in Sunday’s start, yielding two runs on six hits and a pair of walks with five strikeouts. The right-hander is arguably the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award, now 20-6 with a 2.53 ERA and a 288/42 K/BB ratio in 217 innings on the year. Verlander is 12 strikeouts shy of the 300-strikeout milestone and six strikeouts short of 3,000 for his career. If the Astros stay on schedule, Verlander would pitch the second-to-last game of the regular season against the Angels.

Sunday’s win marked No. 102 on the season for the Astros. The franchise record is 103 wins set last year. With six games remaining, it seems likely the Astros will set a new record.

The Astros and Yankees both won on Sunday, meaning the Astros remain a half-game ahead in the race for home field advantage. The No. 1 seed will also have the privilege of playing the Wild Card winner, which is down to the Athletics, Rays, and Indians.