Alvarez homers as Astros down Yankees 7-5 for DH sweep

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON – The Houston Astros opened the second half of the season by sweeping the New York Yankees in a doubleheader Thursday to inch closer in the standings to the team with baseball’s best record.

Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman both homered and combined for five RBIs as the Astros completed the sweep with a 7-5 win in Game 2.

Chas McCormick added a two-run home run for the Astros, who won the season series 5-2.

The Yankees are 64-30 and Houston’s two wins Thursday improved the team to 61-32.

“You want to get off to a good start, and I think everybody came in ready to play,” Bregman said. “This is what we expect out of this ball club every single night … and hopefully we can continue that for the second half.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone seemed bothered by a question equating this season’s results against the Astros to their struggles against them in the playoffs in recent years.

“I understand it’s a big story,” he said. “I understand the season we’re in. It’s not going to matter unless (it’s) October. If we happen to come back here in October we’re going to show up. We’re going to expect to win. We think we’re really good. They’re really good. Don’t overstate this.”

Rookie J.J. Matijevic‘s pinch-hit RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning lifted the Astros to a 3-2 win in the opener of the day-night doubleheader between the American League’s top teams.

“This is huge for us to start out 2-0, to take our lead back to double digits,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said of his team’s lead over the Mariners in the AL West.

Aaron Judge hit his MLB-leading 34th homer on a three-run shot off Brandon Bielak to the train tracks atop left field to cut the lead to 7-5 with one out in the ninth in Game 2.

Rafael Montero, who pitched an inning in the first game, took over and was greeted with a single by Gleyber Torres. But Matt Carpenter grounded into a double play to end the game and give Montero his seventh save.

Alvarez, who returned from the injured list Thursday, smacked his 27th homer to the seats in left field with two outs in the first to give Houston an early lead. The Astros went back-to-back when Bregman connected off Domingo German (0-1) four pitches later to make it 2-0.

“The guy hasn’t swung a bat against live pitching and hits it out on his first at-bat, he’s pretty awesome,” Baker said. “And Bregman is heating up.”

There were runners on second and third with two outs in the second when Alvarez doubled off the wall in left-center to score two more and extend the lead to 4-0. Bregman singled to left field to send Alvarez home and make it 5-0.

Judge walked with one out in the third before the Yankees cut the lead to three on a home run by Torres.

The doubleheader coming out of the All-Star break was scheduled to help make up a series that was postponed because of the lockout. Houston won the first game of the series on June 30.

“It’s definitely news to watch us play each other,” New York’s Giancarlo Stanton said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got to stay ahead of them for home-field (advantage).”

German allowed six hits and five runs in three innings in his season debut after missing the first half of the season with a shoulder injury.

Houston starter Luis Garcia (8-5) yielded three hits and two runs in five innings for his fifth straight win after losing his previous four decisions.

In Game 1, Bregman led off the Houston ninth with a single against Michael King (6-3). Bregman advanced to third on Aledmys Diaz‘s double. After Yuli Gurriel struck out, pinch-hitter Alvarez was walked intentionally to load the bases.

King looked as if he might be able to escape the jam after he struck out McCormick, but Matijevic drove in Bregman with an infield single to shortstop.

“The bullpen did a great job and boy, that was an exciting win for us and the fans and for J.J.,” Baker said. “I was happy for J.J.”

The Astros carried a 2-1 lead into the ninth. But Aaron Hicks singled against Hector Neris (3-3) and scored on Isiah Kiner-Falefa‘s two-out single, a grounder that rolled just past shortstop Jeremy Pena for the tying hit.

DJ LeMahieu homered in the fifth, but the Yankees were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

Jordan Montgomery tied a season high with eight strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. He allowed seven hits and walked one.

Cristian Javier tied a season high by issuing four walks while allowing one run and two hits in five innings. It was Javier’s first start against the Yankees since he pitched seven innings in a combined no-hitter at New York on June 25. Neris and Ryan Pressly finished the historic gem.

It was just the third doubleheader for the domed Minute Maid Park, which opened in 2000.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Yankees: German was activated from the 60-day injured list before Game 2. RHP Ryan Weber was designated for assignment.

Astros: OF Jose Siri was optioned to Triple-A Sugar Land. … Pressly was not with the team after going on the paternity list following the birth of a daughter Wednesday. LHP Parker Mushinski was reinstated from the 15-day IL.

UP NEXT

Yankees: Jameson Taillon (10-2, 3.86 ERA) starts for the Yankees against Baltimore’s Tyler Wells (7-5, 3.38) in the opener of a three-game series against the Orioles on Friday night.

Astros: Houston’s Jose Urquidy (8-4, 4.09) opposes Seattle’s Marco Gonzales (5-9, 3.50) on Friday night in Game 1 of a three-game series against the surging Mariners, winners of 14 straight.

Colin Poche, Rays go to arbitration just $125,000 apart

Colin Poche torn UCL
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Reliever Colin Poche went to salary arbitration with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday with the sides just $125,000 apart.

The gap between the $1.3 million the pitcher asked for and the $1,175,000 the team offered was the smallest among the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration figures last month. The case was heard by John Woods, Jeanne Vonhof and Walt De Treux, who will hold their decision until later this month.

A 29-year-old left-hander, Poche had Tommy John surgery on July 29, 2020, and returned to the major leagues last April 22 after six appearances at Triple-A Durham. Poche was 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA and seven saves in 65 relief appearances for the Rays. He struck out 64 and walked 22 in 58 2/3 innings.

Poche had a $707,800 salary last year.

Tampa Bay went to arbitration on Monday with reliever Ryan Thompson, whose decision also is being held until later this month. He asked for $1.2 million and the Rays argued for $1 million.

Rays right-hander Jason Adam and outfielder Harold Ramirez remain scheduled for hearings.

Players and teams have split four decisions thus far. All-Star pitcher Max Fried ($13.5 million) lost to Atlanta and reliever Diego Castillo ($2.95 million) was defeated by Seattle, while pitcher Jesus Luzardo ($2.45 million) and AL batting champion Luis Arraez ($6.1 million) both beat the Marlins.

A decision also is pending for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Hunter Renfroe.

Eighteen additional players are eligible for arbitration and hearings are scheduled through Feb. 17. Among the eligible players is Seattle utilityman Dylan Moore, who has a pending three-year contract worth $8,875,000.