Díaz homers in 7th to break tie, Astros beat Athletics 5-2

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON — Aledmys Diaz hit a two-run homer, Lance McCullers Jr. had a solid start and the Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 5-2 on Thursday night for their fifth straight victory.

At 94-50, American League-leading Houston’s magic number to clinch a postseason spot is one. The Astros are 13-3 in their last 16 games.

“It’s where we want to be,” McCullers said. “We said in spring training, we want to win the West and if we can, we want to have the best record. I think the Dodgers may be a little too far gone, but we’re having a great season, and we’ve just got to keep winning ballgames. We control our own destiny, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Diaz broke a 2-2 tie in seventh inning, roping an 84-mph slider from Joel Payamps (3-6) into the left-field Crawford Boxes. Diaz has 11 homers this season. Tuesday’s win in Detroit marked his first game action since Aug. 16 following a groin injury.

“It’s great to be back with the boys, especially when you’re on the IL and seeing the guys play and you’re unable to be on the field,” Diaz said. “I’m just glad to be back and glad to help us get the win.”

Houston picked up another run in the seventh when Kyle Tucker singled to score Yordan Alvarez.

McCullers had 11 strikeouts – his most since July 29, 2018 – and held Oakland to two hits and two runs while walking four.

McCullers has allowed just four runs in 24 innings across six starts at Minute Maid Park this season. He missed the first four months because of a forearm injury.

“I think my stuff is a little more crisp,” McCullers said. “I remember talking to you guys and saying in about mid-September, we’ll look up and my stuff will be in the place I was hoping it’d be, and right now, it’s trending that way. The last two starts are a good indication that I’m feeling really good with basically all of my stuff.”

Seth Martinez (1-1) pitched a scoreless seventh, and Rafael Montero worked the ninth for his 13th save.

Oakland briefly held a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth after Dermis Garcia singled to score Ramon Laureano and Sean Murphy. But in the bottom of the fourth, Trey Mancini and Christian Vazquez hit back-to-back doubles to deep left-center to tie it at 2.

Alvarez doubled to deep center field off Oakland starter James Kaprielian in the third inning to score Chas McCormick and give Houston a 1-0 lead.

Kaprielian pitched six innings, allowing two runs and five hits while walking four and striking out four.

“For him to come out and give us six innings against this lineup, he did a great job for us,” Oakland manager Mark Kotsay said.

Astros manager Dusty Baker said despite Houston’s strong sitting in the standings, he’s wary of over-resting his stars for the playoffs.

“You don’t want to rest too much — we’ve got to stay sharp,” Baker said. “You can have a week off and guys rust out instead of wear out. You’ve got to put your best lineup forward.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: Justin Verlander will start Friday night for Houston, less than three weeks after suffering an injury to his calf on Aug. 28. Verlander threw bullpen sessions last week in Houston and then Tuesday in Detroit and is set to return to the rotation against Oakland.

ROBERTO CLEMENTE DAY

As part of Major League Baseball’s Roberto Clemente Day, several Astros and Athletics players and coaches wore Clemente’s No. 21 on their jerseys. Jose Altuve, who had a rest day and did not play, wore the No. 21 and was honored before the game as Houston’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.

“That’s a great man that should and will be remembered forever,” Baker said.

UP NEXT

Athletics: Adrian Martinez (4-4, 5.59) starts Friday, looking to rebound from a rough last start Saturday against the White Sox where he allowed 14 hits and seven runs in 3 2/3 innings.

Astros: Justin Verlander (16-3, 1.84) returns to action after a brief stint on the injury list with a fascial disruption to his right calf. Verlander has allowed just three runs in 13 innings across two starts against Oakland this season.

Pujols has 2 more RBIs, Cardinals beat Pirates 8-7 in 10

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
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PITTSBURGH – Albert Pujols drove in two more runs and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in 10 innings Tuesday night.

Pujols hit a two-run single in the third inning to push his career total to 2,218 RBIs. That came a night after he broke a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career list. Hank Aaron holds the record with 2,287.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol then removed the 42-year-old Pujols at the end of the inning. St. Louis opens postseason play Friday when it hosts a best-of-three National League wild-card series.

Juan Yepez gave the Cardinals the win when he hit a tiebreaking single with one in the 10th inning off Chase De Jong (6-3) to score automatic runner Ben Deluzio.

“Tonight was interesting because you’re fairly scripted in who you want to use and who you don’t want to use and what you want tomorrow to look like so you can get ready for Friday,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It was a good one to still figure out a way to come out on top.”

The Cardinals threw out the potential tying run at home in the bottom of the 10th when automatic runner Kevin Newman tried to score from second base on Oneil Cruz‘s line single off the glove of first baseman Alec Burleson. The ball deflected to second baseman Brendon Donovan, who threw home to catcher Andrew Knizner.

The Pirates challenged the call, but it was upheld on video review.

“I thought we were going to get it overturned,” Newman said. “I just thought he didn’t tag me until he got higher up on the body.”

It was the Pirates’ 100th loss, the second year in a row they have reached that mark.

The Cardinals got two hits each from Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Knizner and Paul DeJong.

Cruz had three hits for the Pirates and Bryan Reynolds, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Ji-Hwan Bae added two apiece. Miguel Andujar drove in two runs.

Chris Stratton (10-4) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

“They weren’t the prettiest two innings I’ve ever pitched but I got a great play from the defense in the 10th inning to help me out,” Stratton said. “It was a good play all the way around.’

Pujols’ hit put the Cardinals ahead 3-1 but the Pirates answered with six runs in the bottom of the third. Andujar’s run-scoring double highlighted an inning that includes RBI singles by Castro, Suwinski, Ben Gamel and Bae.

The Cardinals then scored four runs in the seventh inning to tie the score at 7-all. Donovan hit an RBI single, Dickerson drove in two runs with a double and the tying run scored on a throwing error by Cruz, the rookie shortstop.

Both starting pitchers lasted just 2 2/3 innings. The Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson was rocked for seven runs and nine hits while the Pirates’ JT Brubaker allowed three runs on four hits.

Brubaker was activated from the injured list before the game. He had been out since Sept. 16 with right lat discomfort.

HELSLEY HURT

Reliever Ryan Helsley, the Cardinals’ closer, left in the eighth inning with a jammed right middle finger. Helsley was injured after catching a line drive by Bae and using his hands to brace himself while dodging a piece of a broken bat.

Helsley said he expects to be ready to pitch Friday.

“I don’t think there was anything super wrong with it,” Helsley said. `Just give it some rest and let it resolve itself.”

ROSTER MOVES

The Pirates optioned right-hander Roansy Contreras to Triple-A Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Brubaker. They also recalled infielder/outfielder Tucapita Marcano from Indianapolis and optioned catcher Jose Godoy to the same club.

PIRATES AWARDS

Center fielder Bryan Reynolds was voted the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, emblematic of the Pirates’ MVP, by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Mitch Keller won the Steve Blass Award for best pitcher. Former infielder Michael Chavis was voted the Chuck Tanner Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: OF Tyler O'Neill (strained right hamstring) has been ruled out for the wild-card series but St. Louis is hopeful he can play in the NLDS round if it advances. . 3B Nolan Arenado (left quadriceps tightness) missed his second straight game but could play Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Have not decided on a starter for Wednesday, though Marmol said LHP Matthew Liberatore (2-1, 5.46) and RHP Jake Woodford (4-0, 2.33) are possibilities.

Pirates: RHP Johan Oviedo (4-3, 3.12), who was acquired from the Cardinals on Aug. 1, gets the start.