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.

Phillies’ Bryce Harper to miss start of season after elbow surgery

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PHILADELPHIA – Phillies slugger Bryce Harper will miss the start of the 2023 season after he had reconstructive right elbow surgery.

The operation was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles.

Harper is expected to return to Philadelphia’s lineup as the designated hitter by the All-Star break. He could be back in right field by the end of the season, according to the team.

The 30-year-old Harper suffered a small ulnar collateral ligament tear in his elbow in April. He last played right field at Miami on April 16. He had a platelet-rich plasma injection in May and shifted to designated hitter.

Harper met Nov. 14 with ElAttrache, who determined the tear did not heal on its own, necessitating surgery.

Even with the elbow injury, Harper led the Phillies to their first World Series since 2009, where they lost in six games to Houston. He hit .349 with six homers and 13 RBIs in 17 postseason games.

In late June, Harper suffered a broken thumb when he was hit by a pitch and was sidelined for two months. The two-time NL MVP still hit .286 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs for the season.

Harper left Washington and signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies in 2019. A seven-time All-Star, Harper has 285 career home runs.

With Harper out, the Phillies could use Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber at designated hitter. J.T. Realmuto also could serve as the DH when he needs a break from his catching duties.