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This Rays relay play is phenomenal

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Hopefully you were watching the Astros-Rays game last night. If life interrupted and you didn’t get a chance to see it, however, know that you missed one of the best defensive plays that’s come down the pike in some time.

It wasn’t some individual act of superhuman defense. It wasn’t an Ozzie Smith-style act of wizardry or a Jim Edmonds-style lay-out catch. It was just perfect — and I mean 100% perfect — fundamentally sound team defense. Defense that would make Tom Emanski and Fred McGriff sit up from their recliners, look at each other and say “damn, that’s some nifty friggin’ defense.”

Not that I know if those two hang out or anything. Anyway.

The play came with the Rays up 3-0 with one out in the top of the fourth inning. José Altuve was on first. Big hitter Yordan Álvarez was at the plate and he tattooed one to dead center, that hit just in front of the base of the wall. Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier played the carom cleanly, fired it to shortstop Willy Adames who, in turn, fired it to catcher Travis d'Arnaud who executed a perfect tag to nail Altuve at the plate.

That may sound moderately routine, but the speed and precision it took from all three Rays defenders to nail Altuve — who was racing the whole way — was astounding to watch in real time:

 

If any part of that relay is executed any less than perfectly, Altuve is safe and the Astros are in business in a close game. Instead we got the Platonic ideal of a relay play. The kind of play that, if the Rays somehow get past Gerrit Cole on Thursday and mount a deep playoff run, we’ll likely see as one of the signature moments of the season.

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.