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Justin Verlander tries to pitch Astros into ALCS on short rest

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After two straight weekdays of four games a piece we have a quaint one game day today, with the Astros taking on the Rays this evening. If the Astros win they’ll move on to face the Yankees in the ALCS. If the Rays win it’s back to Houston for a deciding Game 5 on Thursday.

The Game: Houston Astros @ Tampa Bay Rays
The Ballpark: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida
The Time: 7:07 PM Eastern
The Network: FS1
The Pitchers: Justin Verlander vs. The Bullpen

The Upshot:

Technically Diego Castillo gets the start for the Rays but he’s the opener and this will be an all-hands-on-deck bullpen game for Tampa Bay. A.J. Hinch had left his fourth starter blank until yesterday, leaving open the possibility that he might go with rookie José Urquidy or Wade Miley, but Miley pitched out of the pen yesterday and Urquidy hasn’t seen action in 11 days.

Frankly, though, it’s hard to imagine that Hinch truly ever would go with anyone but Verlander here given that the current situation — Astros up 2-1 — is the most optimistic possible scenario in which a Game 4 could be happening from his point of view. I dunno, maybe he just wanted to keep the Rays guessing.

If you didn’t look I bet you would’ve figured that Verlander, the horse that he is, has done well on short rest in the past. You’d be wrong. Not that he’s done poorly either. Actually, he’s never really worked on short rest ever. See for yourself. He technically has one postseason start on three-days’ rest before, back in the 2011 ALDS, but that was because his first start was rain-shortened and he had only thrown one inning. This will be the first time in his big league career he has ever gone on three-days’ rest after a full start. Kind of shocking, but there you have it.

As for that last start, Verlander went seven scoreless innings in Game 1 on Friday, throwing 100 pitches while allowing just one hit and striking out eight. Not too bad.

Everything about Verlander suggests he should be OK on short rest, but you never really know. All the Rays do know is that, if they don’t beat him this evening, their season is over.

Astros claim AL pennant with walk-off win against the Yankees

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Following a rollercoaster performance on Saturday, the Astros clinched the American League Championship Series with a decisive 6-4 walk-off win against the Yankees, claiming their second AL pennant and earning a well-deserved entrance to the World Series.

Both clubs decided to preserve possible Game 7 starters Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole, electing to have a “bullpen day” for a pivotal Game 6. Chad Green took the mound for the Yankees, tossing one inning before handing the ball off to a long line of relievers, while Brad Peacock‘s rare playoff start was capped at 1 2/3 innings. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that made it the first postseason game since 1999 in which neither starting pitcher lasted two innings or longer.

All told, the two clubs utilized a total of 13 pitchers to make it through nine innings. The Astros lost Ryan Pressly to a worrisome knee injury in the third, but were able to lean on José Urquidy for 2 2/3 innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball. Although Yankees’ bullpen fought back in every inning, they had considerable difficulty recovering from Yuli Gurriel‘s three-run homer off of Green in the bottom of the first:

Still, New York managed to get in a couple of knocks as well: first, with Gary Sanchez‘s RBI single in the second inning, then with Gio Urshela‘s 395-foot blast in the fourth inning — the second of his postseason career to date. That wasn’t enough to close the gap, however, and Alex Bregman‘s productive groundout in the sixth helped cushion the Astros’ lead as they headed toward the final few innings of the series.

That lead started to look a little shaky in the ninth. Only three outs away from a ticket to the World Series, Houston closer Roberto Osuna gave up a leadoff single to Urshela, which was quickly followed by a jaw-dropping, full-count, game-tying two-run shot from DJ LeMahieu that barely cleared the right field fence.

With the threat of extra innings and a potential loss looming, the Astros engineered a last-minute rally to regain the lead and stake their claim for the pennant. With two outs and no runners on, George Springer took a five-pitch walk from Aroldis Chapman. In the next at-bat, Houston pinned their hopes on José Altuve — and he didn’t disappoint, lifting a 2-1 slider out to left field for a 406-foot, two-RBI homer that confirmed the Astros’ series win.

The 2019 World Series will mark the third Fall Classic appearance for the Astros and the first for the Nationals. It all begins on Tuesday night.