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.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.