Valdez fans 10 as Astros beat Phillies 3-2 in finale

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON – Framber Valdez struck out 10 in five shutout innings to lead the Houston Astros to 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in the regular-season finale Wednesday.

Christian Vazquez hit a solo homer and Chas McCormick and Yordan Alvarez drove in runs early to help Houston to its fourth victory in five games.

It was the career-best 17th win for Valdez (17-6), which ranks second in the American League behind teammate Justin Verlander‘s 18.

Valdez allowed just two singles and walked one as he surpassed 200 innings pitched for the first time in his five-year career.

Mauricio Dubon doubled to start Houston’s third before scoring on a one-out double by McCormick to make it 1-0. There were two outs in the inning when Alvarez lined a single to left field to send McCormick home and leave Houston up 2-0.

Vazquez homered with two outs in the seventh to extend the lead to 3-0.

Brandon Marsh hit and RBI double with one out in the seventh and the Phillies cut the lead to one on a sacrifice fly by Rhys Hoskins. However, Rafael Montero retired Darick Hall to end the inning.

Closer Ryan Pressly pitched a scoreless ninth for his 33rd save.

The Astros, who won the AL West and clinched home-field advantage through the World Series, finished 106-56 for the second-best record in franchise history after going 95-67 last season and falling to the Braves in six games in the World Series. They came one win shy of the most wins in team history, earned by the 2019 team.

The NL wild card Phillies end the season 87-75 – a five-win improvement from last year – and are in the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.

Valdez wrapped up a strong season with his solid start Wednesday. He had 25 straight quality starts from April 25-Sept. 18 to set the MLB record for most consecutive in a single season. His 31 starts were a career-high and his 2.82 ERA ranks second-lowest of his career and sixth in the AL.

The consistency of Valdez paired with ace Verlander gives the Astros a potent 1-2 punch at the front end of their rotation as they enter the playoffs.

Houston’s Ryne Stanek pitched a perfect seventh to lower his ERA to 1.16 to finish the season with the lowest by a reliever in franchise history. He eclipses Will Harris, who had a 1.50 ERA in 2019.

Phillies starter Bailey Falter yielded two hits in one inning before he was lifted for Michael Plassmeyer (0-1). He allowed three runs and nine hits with six strikeouts in six innings.

The Astros had a crowd of 32,432 Wednesday to give them a season attendance of 2,698,998, down from the 2,857,367 fans they welcomed in the season before the pandemic in 2019.

BROTHERLY LOVE

Houston reliever Phil Maton faced his younger brother Nick Maton for the first time in the eighth inning. The brothers smiled at one another as Nick entered the box before getting down to business.

Both teams were very engaged in the family showdown with most the players hanging on the railing in the dugouts to watch.

The little brother won matchup, hitting a single to right field on a 2-2 count. Phil shook his head after seeing the ball sail by and Nick smiled sheepishly as he reached first base.

Players in Philadelphia’s dugout raised their arms and cheered as Nick made contact and some Astros hung their heads after seeing the hit drop in the outfield.

LIGHTS OUT

The lights in Minute Maid Park went out briefly in the second inning. Players and the umpires looked around darkened stadium wondering what was going on for a minute or so before they flickered back on, and play resumed.

UP NEXT

Phillies: Open their wild-card series at St. Louis Friday in their first playoff game since Oct. 7, 2011.

Astros: Will face the winner of the Toronto-Seattle wild-card series starting Tuesday in Houston.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.