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Rays stymie Astros 4-1 to even ALDS at two games apiece

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Starting Justin Verlander on three days’ rest didn’t work out well for the Astros in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Rays on Tuesday night. The veteran right-hander forked over three runs in the first inning and did not last through the fourth as the Rays went on to win 4-1, forcing a decisive Game 5 on Thursday.

The Rays went with a bullpen day — something they’re no strangers to doing — and it worked brilliantly. Diego Castillo “started,” striking out three in a row after allowing a leadoff single. In the bottom half of the first, Tommy Pham opened the scoring with a solo homer to left field. The Rays continued to threaten, as Ji-Man Choi drew a walk off of Verlander. Avisaíl García grounded a single to left field and, with two outs, Travis d'Arnaud hit a ground ball single of his own to left to plate Choi. Joey Wendle followed up with a line drive single to right field to send García home to make it 3-0.

Castillo got two more outs in the second inning before giving way to lefty Ryan Yarbrough, who scattered a pair of hits across two scoreless innings. The third inning was scoreless, in part, due to a picture-perfect relay from center fielder Kevin Kiermaier to shortstop Willy Adames to d’Arnaud at home to get José Altuve on a Yordan Álvarez double. In the bottom half of the fourth, Adames provided more insurance by slugging a leadoff solo homer to left-center field. Verlander later allowed a two-out walk which ended his night. All told, he surrendered four runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings.

The Rays’ bullpen continued to dominate. Yarbrough gave way to Nick Anderson, who spun 2 1/3 scoreless innings on one hit with two strikeouts. Colin Poche worked a scoreless seventh. He remained in the game in the eighth, serving up a two-out solo homer to Robinson Chirinos, which finally put the Astros on the board at 4-1. Manager Kevin Cash called on closer Emilio Pagán for the final four outs of the game. Pagán got George Springer to fly out to end the eighth. The Astros did not go down without a fight, however. In the ninth, Altuve drew a one-out walk and Alex Bregman singled to left-center to put runners on the corners. Cash decided to bring in reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to face Álvarez. It was the right call, as Snell got him to swing at a slider in the dirt for strike three and the second out. Snell recorded the final out when Gurriel hit a sharp grounder up the middle but Wendle was positioned perfectly.

The Astros will host the Rays for all the marbles in Game 5 on Thursday night. Gerrit Cole versus Tyler Glasnow. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07 PM ET.

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.