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Astros advance to ALCS; Cubs lead Nationals 2-1

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Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo hits an RBI single during the eighth inning of Game 3 of the National League Division Series baseball game against the Washington Nationals Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks)

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The Associated Press

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

BOSTON — The Houston Astros poured back onto the field after advancing to their first AL Championship Series, posing for pictures with the Green Monster as a backdrop before a few players bellyflopped in the puddles in the infield dirt.

They were already soaked with celebratory beer and sparkling wine.

“Both teams were throwing their guys, and that’s what you live for,” Houston third baseman Alex Bregman said on Monday after Justin Verlander came out of the bullpen to beat Chris Sale in an aces-turned-relievers role reversal and helped the Astros eliminate the Red Sox in four games with a 5-4 victory.

“When we saw Verlander run to the ‘pen we said, ‘Our horse is on the mound, we need to win this game,‘” said Bregman, who homered off Sale to tie it in the eighth before Josh Reddick’s single gave the Astros the lead. “That’s kind of the whole energy that he’s brought since we brought him over here. He’s brought an energy with him that, ‘Hey, when he’s out there, we’re going to win.‘”

Verlander, who was acquired for the playoff run after spending his first 13 seasons in Detroit, gave up the go-ahead homer to Andrew Benintendi — the first batter he faced — before shutting Boston down for the next 2 2/3 innings.

The former AL MVP and Cy Young winner earned the victory in his first relief appearance after 424 starts in a major and minor league career.

“All the things that you would like to do as a starter, and I was able to do that,” Verlander said. “Top to bottom, man, these guys grinded against two of the toughest competitors in this game in Sale and (closer Craig) Kimbrel.”

The Astros will open the ALCS on Friday, either at Cleveland or at home against the New York Yankees. The Indians held a 2-1 edge over the Yankees going into Game 4 of the AL Division Series on Monday night.

The Red Sox forced a Game 4 after losing the first two games in Houston, and then took a 3-2 lead in the fifth on Benintendi’s homer. Bregman tied it before Reddick’s single off closer Craig Kimbrel made it 4-3.

Carlos Beltran added to his postseason legacy with an RBI double in the ninth — an insurance run that became the game-winner when Rafael Devers hit an inside-the-park homer off closer Ken Giles over leaping center fielder George Springer and off the Green Monster toward center.

The 20-year-old Red Sox rookie easily circled the bases before the throw to make it 5-4.

Giles retired the next three batters for the six-out save.

“The two big boys, Sale and Verlander, both get into the game. Everybody did well,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “Nobody really wanted to concede the game.”

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Red Sox manager John Farrell was ejected by home plate umpire Mark Wegner in the bottom of the second inning after coming out to argue a called third strike on Dustin Pedroia. The previous batter, Jackie Bradley Jr., had also been called out strikes on a close pitch.

It is the 19th ejection of Farrell’s career and his third this season.

CUBS 2, NATIONALS 1

CHICAGO — Anthony Rizzo looped a tiebreaking single with two outs in the eighth inning and the Chicago Cubs overcame Max Scherzer’s brilliant performance to beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 on Monday for a 2-1 lead in their NL Division Series.

Scherzer was dominant in his return from a right hamstring injury, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh. But just like in Game 1, when Chicago was held hitless into the sixth by Stephen Strasburg, the World Series champion Cubs showed off their resilience on the way to a stirring victory.

Game 4 of the best-of-five series is Tuesday. Jake Arrieta returns from his own hamstring injury for the Cubs, while Tanner Roark gets the ball for the Nationals.

Chicago committed four errors, including two by left fielder Kyle Schwarber on one ugly play, and Rizzo and Jason Heyward each made uncharacteristic baserunning mistakes. But the Cubs got a huge pinch-hit RBI single from Albert Almora Jr. and a solid pitching performance from Jose Quintana in the return of postseason baseball to Wrigley Field after last year’s World Series ended in Cleveland.

With pinch-runner Leonys Martin on second in the eighth, Rizzo hit a blooper to left off Oliver Perez that found a patch of outfield grass between three Washington fielders. Rizzo stumbled after he took a big turn around first and was tagged out to end the inning, but he didn’t seem to care too much, yelling and screaming as the Cubs came out of the dugout for the ninth.

All-Star Wade Davis then retired three in a row for his second save of the series. Jayson Werth popped out to Rizzo to end the game.

Scherzer struck out seven and walked three before he was pulled after Ben Zobrist doubled to left-center on his 98th pitch for Chicago’s first hit with one out in the seventh. With Washington clinging to a 1-0 lead, Nationals manager Dusty Baker opted for left-hander Sammy Solis, who had a 5.88 ERA during the regular season, and Cubs manager Joe Maddon countered by sending Almora to hit for the lefty-batting Schwarber.

Mark this one down for Maddon, who drew some criticism after he allowed Carl Edwards Jr. to pitch to Bryce Harper in the eighth in Game 2 and the slugger responded with a two-run homer.

Almora lined a 3-2 pitch into left-center for his first career postseason hit in 15 at-bats. Almora yelled and pounded his chest after rounding first and the crowd of 42,445 cheered wildly.

Heyward followed with another base hit, but was inexplicably doubled off first on Addison Russell’s fly ball to a hustling Michael A. Taylor in center, ending the inning.

While Scherzer mowed down the Cubs, Quintana worked on his own gem in his first career playoff appearance. Helped by terrific running grabs by Heyward in right and Jon Jay in center, the veteran left-hander carried a two-hit shutout into the sixth.

With two outs in the inning, Daniel Murphy lofted a fly ball to left that Schwarber dropped and then flubbed again when he tried to pick it up. The two errors put Murphy on third, and Maddon was booed as he went to the mound to pull Quintana in favor of Pedro Strop.

Ryan Zimmerman followed with an RBI double into the gap in right-center, giving Washington the lead. The All-Star slugger also had one of the big blows in Game 2, hitting a tiebreaking three-run homer in the Nationals’ 6-3 victory.

Schwarber’s costly play was part of a strange day in the field for the Cubs. Quintana and Zobrist also committed an error, but Russell made a spectacular diving stop on Taylor’s grounder to shortstop in the seventh and Zobrist robbed Trea Turner of a hit with a solid play at second in the eighth.

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