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Blue Jays walk off 7-6 winners in the 10th inning, sweep Rangers to advance to the ALCS

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The Blue Jays did not need to turn around an entire series to skip past the Rangers to advance to the ALCS this time. The Jays took a 2-0 series lead with a 10-1 victory in Game 1 and a 5-3 victory in Game 2. In Game 3, they fought tooth and nail with the Rangers before walking off 7-6 winners on an exciting final play in the bottom of the 10th inning.

The Rangers took their first lead of the ALDS in the top of the first inning when Carlos Beltran drove in Carlos Gomez with a ground out, but it was short lived. The Blue Jays responded with three runs in the bottom half as Edwin Encarnacion blasted a two-run home run — his first at-bat at the Rogers Centre since his memorable walk-off AL Wild Card game homer against the Orioles — and Russell Martin hit a solo homer of his own to make it a 3-1 ballgame after one.

Elvis Andrus drilled a solo homer to cut the Rangers’ deficit in half in the top of the third inning to 3-2. But once again, the Jays immediately responded in the bottom half. Josh Donaldson dropped a ground-rule double down the right field line to plate Ezequiel Carrera, and Encarnacion brought Donaldson home with a single to center.

The Rangers continued to claw back in the fourth. With Adrian Beltre on first base and one out, Rougned Odor slapped a line drive homer out to center field, making it a 5-4 ballgame. In the sixth, the Rangers finally regained the lead with a two-out rally. Odor walked and Jonathan Lucroy singled, forcing starter Aaron Sanchez out of the game. Reliever Joe Biagini came in but served up a two-run double to Mitch Moreland.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Jays did not let the Rangers hold the lead for long. Facing Rangers reliever Jeremy Jeffress, Troy Tulowitzki hit a one-out single. Manager Jeff Banister brought in lefty Jake Diekman, so Jays manager John Gibbons countered by pinch-hitting Melvin Upton, Jr. for Michael Saunders. The chess game paid off for Gibbons, as Upton hit a double to left field, putting runners on second and third with one out. Diekman intentionally walked Kevin Pillar to load the bases before departing. Keone Kela came in and got Darwin Barney to pop up to third baseman Adrian Beltre, seeming to open up some light at the end of the tunnel, but Kela would uncork a wild pitch while facing Carrera, allowing Tulowitzki to score the tying run, putting the game at a 6-6 deadlock.

From there, it was a battle of the bullpens. For the Jays, Jason Grilli, Brett Cecil, and Roberto Osuna combined for three scoreless innings.  Keone Kela tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings while Matt Bush tossed a pair of scoreless frames himself. Bush came back out for the 10th inning and immediately found himself in hot water. Donaldson laced a double to right-center, forcing Bush to walk Encarnacion to set up a potential double play or at least a force at three bases. That brought up Jose Bautista, who Bush was able to strike out. Martin stepped to the plate and battled against Bush. After going from down 1-2 to a full count, Martin fouled off two pitches, then put a 98 MPH fastball in play, appearing to be an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. Shortstop Andrus fed to second baseman Odor, who made a throw wide of first base, pulling Moreland off the bag. Donaldson never stopped running, rounding third base and motoring towards home. Moreland regained his balance but Donaldson dove into home plate in plenty of time.

Banister had the umpires review the play for possible interference, but none was found, officially making the Blue Jays ALDS winners, sweeping the Rangers in three games. The Blue Jays will await the winner of the Red Sox/Indians ALDS series, which the Indians currently lead two games to none. The ALCS will begin this Friday. The Blue Jays are back in the ALCS for the second consecutive season. They lost last year in six games to the Royals, the eventual World Series champions.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”