Cardinals win and lose in NLCS Game 2

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A fascinating and hard-fought Game 2 fell the Cardinals’ way Sunday, with Kolten Wong delivering a walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth. It was what happened three innings earlier, when Yadier Molina suffered a strained left oblique, that might decide the fate of the series.

To put it mildly, Tony Cruz had a rough time after replacing Molina behind the plate. He gave up a passed ball on his second batter of the game. In the ninth, he did a terrible job of helping out Trevor Rosenthal when it came to framing the strike zone, turning borderline calls into easy balls. And while Rosenthal deserves more blame than Cruz for the wild pitch that tied the game, Cruz’s attempt to block the ball, turning his head away and seemingly even closing his eyes, was embarrassing, and it led to him not being able to find it afterwards, allowing Matt Duffy to score from second on the play.

The one bit of good news for the Cardinals is that they added A.J. Pierzynski to the roster for the NLCS after going with two catchers in the NLDS. For one thing, he’s a better player than Cruz, whose defensive reputation seems to be inflated by his complete ineptitude at the plate (as predicted by the Nichols’ Law of Catcher Defense). There’s a good chance Mike Matheny will keep using Cruz anyway, since he’s terribly stubborn like that, but at least now the Cardinals have the option.

The Pierzynski add also saves the Cardinals in case there’s any chance of Molina getting healthy to play in the next week or two. If the Cardinals were carrying just two catchers, they might have had to take Molina off the roster and thus lose him for the World Series as well (a player removed from the roster due to injury is ineligible to return during the next series). Or maybe they could have gotten away with saying a pitcher (Michael Wacha?) was hurt and replaced him with a catcher. At least this way, the Cardinals can play with 24 men, which seems like the best option unless they’re sure Molina is done.

Even with a healthy Molina, the NLCS was shaping up as an uphill climb for the Cardinals, what with Adam Wainwright looking little like himself, Rosenthal struggling in the ninth and the Giants now possessing home-field. To overcome it all with their best player sidelined will take a pretty heroic effort. Sunday’s win gives them life, which they probably wouldn’t have had otherwise, but the deck is stacked against them.

Yankees keep ALCS hopes alive with 4-1 win over Astros

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The Yankees defeated the Astros 4-1 during Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night, staving off a potential postseason elimination and forcing the series to at least six games.

In just the third playoff appearance of his career, Yankees southpaw James Paxton turned in another impressive performance, limiting the Astros to four hits and four walks over six innings of one-run ball. According to MLB Stats, his nine strikeouts made him the second Yankees lefty to record multiple starts of 8+ strikeouts in the same postseason campaign, two decades after David Wells did so for the 1998 championship-winning club.

Paxton’s strong outing was backed by a handful of runs from DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks, both of whom went deep against Astros ace Justin Verlander in the bottom of the first inning. LeMahieu’s leadoff solo shot marked his first postseason home run since Game 1 of the ALDS, while Hicks’ three-run 347-footer was his first home run of any variety since July 24 (and his first in the playoffs since the 2017 ALDS).

Neither team managed a single run after the first inning, leaving the two pitching staffs to duke it out for eight quick innings. Verlander outlasted Paxton — taking the game through the seventh with five hits, four runs, and nine strikeouts — but even with a flawless contribution from Brad Peacock in the eighth, there was little the hurlers could do to help the Astros solve Paxton and an airtight Yankees bullpen.

With the win, the Yankees will try to push the series to a full seven games in order to snatch the AL pennant from the Astros. They’ll have to do in Houston, however, as the Astros will regain home field advantage when Game 6 kicks off on Saturday at 8:08 PM EDT. Neither starter has been announced yet; per Houston skipper A.J. Hinch, it will likely be a bullpen day.