Javier, Astros romp 5-0 over Yankees, Cole, take 3-0 ALCS lead

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NEW YORK — Cristian Javier and the Houston Astros aren’t just beating the Yankees, they’re chomping them up. And now Dusty Baker’s team is on the verge of an astonishing four-game sweep.

Javier and Houston’s bullpen combined on a three-hitter, Chas McCormick followed a dropped flyball with an early two-run homer and the Astros beat Gerrit Cole and the Yankees 5-0 to take a 3-0 AL Championship Series lead.

“We’re not going to come out any slower than we did today,” McCormick said after setting off another round of the Chas Chomp celebration in Houston’s dugout. “We’re going to be ready to play tomorrow and go for the sweep.”

Trying for their second straight AL pennant, the 106-win Astros improved to 6-0 this postseason and need one win for their fourth World Series trip in six years. Houston aims to close out the series on Sunday night when Lance McCullers Jr. starts against Nestor Cortes.

Only one of 39 teams has recovered from a 3-0 postseason series deficit to win, Boston against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. Thirty teams completed sweeps.

McCormick, the No. 9 hitter, launched his second home run of the series for a 2-0 second-inning lead after Gold Glove center fielder Harrison Bader let Christian Vázquez’s flyball bounce out of his green glove for an error.

“It’s a loud atmosphere. … Calling it until the very end and we both got a little spooked,” Bader said. “He’s like 9 feet tall, so you don’t want to get anybody hurt.”

Aaron Judge had sprinted over from right and cut in front of him.

“At the last second I hear him. I’m trying to get out of the way,” Judge said. “I definitely messed him up on that play.”

McCormick drove a fastball 335 feet to the opposite field, and the ball hit the right-field short porch and bounced into the seats.

“It was a couple inches a little more over the plate than we wanted to and obviously the bounce went his way,” Cole said.

It would not have been a homer at any other major league ballpark, according to Statcast.

“That’s what the game’s about,” Baker said. “Even though it may not be, you have to kind of fool yourself that it is a break. And it’s amazing whatever you think can happen usually does happen. That was huge.”

Houston players responded to the homer with exaggerated clapping, arms spread wide. The gesture appeared to be initiated by Astros fan Scott Agruso, who attends games at Minute Maid Park wearing an alligator suit.

“It’s cool. I like how my teammates are into it now. Around the bases I see them always chomping,” McCormick said. “It fires me up, and I said before in case I hit a home run, I’m going to round third base, hit the chomp a couple of times to my teammates.”

Houston loaded the bases in the sixth and chased Cole. Trey Mancini followed with a sacrifice fly off Lou Trivino and Vázquez added a two-run single.

Javier pitched seven innings during the Astros’ combined no-hitter at Yankee Stadium on June 25. Making his first start since Oct. 1, the 25-year-old right-hander gave up one hit, struck out five and walked three in 5 1/3 innings. He didn’t allow a ball out of the infield until Giancarlo Stanton’s one-out double in the fourth.

Héctor Neris, Ryan Stanek, Hunter Brown and Rafael Montero followed with hitless relief, and Bryan Abreu gave up a pair of two-out singles in the ninth.

New York, which last reached the World Series when it won in 2009, is on the precipice of elimination against Houston for the fourth time in eight seasons. After sprinting to a 61-23 record in early July, the Yankees spiraled to a 38-40 mark the rest of the way and have sputtered in the playoffs.

Judge, who set an AL record with 62 home runs during the season, went 0 for 4 and dropped to .156 with 14 strikeouts and three RBIs in the playoffs, including 1 for 12 against the Astros.

“Obviously, he’s the biggest force and key in our lineup, so we need to get something from him,” manager Aaron Boone said.

New York is hitting .128 in the ALCS with 41 strikeouts and has lost eight of 10 to Houston this year, throwing just 13 pitches with a lead.

Bader was caught stealing second by Vázquez after a leadoff walk in the fifth.

“We shut down the momentum from them,” Vázquez said. “It was awesome.”

Cole, baseball’s highest paid pitcher with a $324 million, nine-year deal, allowed a home run for the 11th consecutive start. He walked off the mound stone faced when Boone removed him in the sixth.

“About as frustrated as you can get,” Cole said.

Some Yankees fans, already angry after two losses in Houston, booed Judge after a pair of strikeouts and jeered Boone during pregame introductions.

“I understand why there’s boos and why there’s yelling at times,” Judge said. “We’ve got to pick it up as a team.”

FINALLY

Jose Altuve hit an opposite-field double to right in the fifth for his first hit after an 0-for-25 postseason start, the longest in postseason history.

“It’s been obviously hard personally,” Altuve said. “but it’s been a lot easier too because we’ve been winning.”

DUSTY

Baker got his 46th postseason win as a manager, moving past Dave Roberts for fourth behind Joe Torre (84), Tony La Russa (71) and Bobby Cox (67).

DROPPED

Josh Donaldson was dropped as seventh in the batting order for first time since April 16, 2013. Stanton played the spacious left field at Yankee Stadium for the first time in three years.

UP NEXT

Cortes starts after winning Game 5 of the AL Division Series on short rest and McCullers takes the mound for the Astros in his first appearance since Oct. 15 against Seattle in the Division Series. His elbow was bruised by a champagne bottle during the celebration after the 18-inning win.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.