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Rays clobber Justin Verlander in first inning of ALDS Game 4

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Tommy Pham provided an early lead for the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Astros as they attempt to stave off elimination against Justin Verlander. Pham worked a 2-2 count before swatting an 88 MPH change-up into the seats in left field. Verlander missed his spot and caught too much of the plate.

The Rays weren’t done. After Pham’s homer, Ji-Man Choi walked, Avisaíl García singled, and Travis d'Arnaud laced a two-out single to right to bring Choi home, boosting the lead to 2-0. Joey Wendle followed up with a single to right field to plate, plating García. At long last, Verlander was able to end the threat by striking out Kevin Kiermaier with his 32nd pitch of the inning.

Verlander, 36, is pitching on three days’ rest, something he hadn’t done in his 15-year career entering Tuesday’s action. During the regular season, Verlander allowed a career-high 36 home runs, thanks in part to the — ahem — altered baseball. The AL Cy Young contender was brilliant in his Game 1 start against the Rays, holding them to one hit and three walks with eight strikeouts across seven shutout innings.

If the Astros are able to come back and win, they will advance into the ALCS for a third consecutive year. The Rays, after shelling the Astros 10-3 on Monday, are trying to force a Game 5. If they can win tonight and Game 5 on Thursday, they’ll move into the ALCS for the first time since 2008.

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.