Astros knock four homers to take a 1-0 lead over Cleveland in the ALDS

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It began as a classic pitchers duel but, as so often happens in Minute Maid Park, especially in the postseason, the longball ended up being the story of the game. The Astros rode four dingers — from Alex Bregman, George Springer, Jose Altuve and Martin Maldonado — to beat Cleveland 7-2 and take a 1-0 lead in the ALDS.

Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber started off as expected, holding opposing batters hitless through three, with Verlander continuing to no-hit Cleveland into the fourth. In the bottom of the fourth Alex Bregman broke up the no-no with a solo homer on a 2-1 sinker to make it 1-0 Houston. Later in that inning Josh Reddick singled in Yuli Gurriel to make it 2-0.

Houston added two more in the fifth via a George Springer leadoff homer which made it 3-0. Two pitches later Jose Altuve jacked a sinker to the same part of the ballpark to make it 4-0.

The Indians clawed back in the top of the sixth. Yan Gomes led things off with a single — the first Indians hit of the game — and then, after a Jason Kipnis strikeout, Francisco Lindor singled him to second. A Michael Brantley walk loaded the bases and that was all A.J. Hinch needed to see from Justin Verlander, who was lifted for Ryan Pressly.  Pressly’s first pitch to Jose Ramirez was a curve in the dirt which allowed Gomes to score from third and the other runners to move up 90 feet. Despite first base now being open, Terry Francona allowed Pressly to pitch to Ramirez. He grounded out to first and Lindor scored to make it 4-2. That’s all they’d get in the inning.

Houston would go down in order in their half of the sixth and Cleveland would follow suit in the seventh. Martin Maldonado led off the bottom half of the seventh saw a fastball up in his eyes and sent it out to left field to make it 5-2 Champs. They weren’t done, though, as George Springer reached and then, after Francona brought Trevor Bauer into the game, Springer reached second on a groundout and then came around to score on an Alex Bregman single to left center. It looked as though there may have been a play at the plate on Springer at home, but Bauer cut it off and the run scored. 6-2 Houston.

Cleveland once again went quietly in the eighth while Houston added even more insurance via a Tyler White double. He was lifted for pinch runner Myles Straw, who was promptly singled in by Josh Reddick to make it 7-2. Cleveland failed to score in the ninth and that was the ballgame.

When last we saw the Astros in the postseason they were riding longballs which leapt out of Minute Maid Park. They have begun this postseason in much the same way.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.