Red Sox

ALCS: Judge leads way as Yanks come back from 4-0 deficit, tie series with 6-4 win

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ALCS: Judge leads way as Yanks come back from 4-0 deficit, tie series with 6-4 win

NEW YORK -- With a soaring shot headed for Monument Park, Aaron Judge got New York back on course for another memorable October.

Yankee Stadium sounds like it's ready, too.

"That ballpark is alive," Judge said after this latest rousing rally.

Judge ignited a comeback with a home run , then hit a tying double during a four-run eighth inning to spur the unflappable Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and tie the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Baby Bombers trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored when Gary Sanchez hit a go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

"I didn't know what to do after I touched home plate," Judge said. "I can't describe it."

The Yankees overcame three errors and have roared back from a second straight 0-2 series deficit - they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth to cap a three-hitter and get the save . Before a sellout crowd of 48,804, New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs and won for the 18th time in its last 21 home games.

"Every home game has been special," manager Joe Girardi said. "I just feel like the fans are back. And I see things that I haven't in a while, and it reminds me a lot of when I was playing here."

Yankee Stadium will be rocking again when Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday. It's a rematch of the series opener, when Keuchel outdid the Japanese right-hander in a 2-1 Astros win.

An AL MVP candidate mired in a sluggish October, Judge sparked the Yankees by chasing McCullers, who baffled the Yankees with his power breaking ball.

Except for the last one.

Judge launched a curveball into the netting above center field's Monument Park for New York's second hit.

"I thought Aaron's home run just lit a little spark," Girardi said.

Houston manager A.J. Hinch pulled McCullers after 81 pitches, Didi Gregorius tripled off Chris Devenski and Sanchez brought Gregorius in with a sacrifice fly.

Todd Frazier led off the eighth with a single to left, and pinch-hitter Chase Headley, in a 1-for-18 postseason slide, singled. He lost his balance stepping on first, fell en route to second, then took a step back before continuing on and getting his left hand in ahead of Jose Altuve's tag.

"Just stumbled and stumbled and stumbled and finally went down," Headley said. "I went from one of the best feelings of my career to one of the worst in just a matter of seconds."

Headley was awarded second after a video review, and the ballpark boomed when crew chief Gary Cederstrom gave the signal. It got so loud that on-deck hitter Brett Gardner said he "kind of blacked out for a second."

Gardner brought in Frazier on a groundout, and Judge came to bat with the bundled, buzzing crowd on its feet.

He lunged for a low slider and drilled a double high off the left-field wall as a fan in a longsleeve yellow shirt reached down and touched the ball. Pinch-runner Jacoby Ellsbury came home with the tying run, and Gregorius grounded a single just beyond shortstop Carlos Correa's reach to put runners at the corner. Sanchez, who had been 0 for 13 in the series, scored them both with a slicing drive that skipped to the wall in right-center.

"Those guys came up big for us today," Girardi said.

Judge had multiple hits for the first time since the AL wild-card game against Minnesota. He's still just 7 for 37 with 22 strikeouts in the playoffs, but he's 4 for 13 (.308) with three walks in the ALCS. He also homered in an 8-1 Game 3 win.

Judge said he used to dream about postseason at-bats in Yankee Stadium as a minor leaguer.

"The dreams aren't the same as reality," he said. "To be out with the crowd and the atmosphere, it was unbelievable."

The 35-minute bottom of the eighth was the latest stunning comeback for New York, which has overcome deficits of three or more 11 times this year, including in the wild-card game against Minnesota.

Houston had not lost consecutive games since Sept. 8-10 at Oakland and had the major leagues' best road record during the regular season. The Astros are hitting .153 in the series.

"We're not going to hit the panic button because we lost two games in a row," Correa said. "We got Keuchel going tomorrow."

McCullers cruised in his first start since Sept. 30 and turned over a 4-1 lead to his bullpen.

"He was awesome," manager A.J. Hinch said. "And really proud of him because I know how important this start was for him."

Yankees starter Sonny Gray pitched one-hit ball through five innings. His teammates have yet to score for him in four career postseason starts while he's still on the mound, including twice with New York this year.

Houston took a 3-0 lead in the sixth after George Springer walked leading off and Josh Reddick reached on catcher's interference by Austin Romine - inserted into lineup for his defense.

Yuli Gurriel lined a three-run double off David Robertson for a 3-0 lead in the sixth and second baseman Starlin Castro misplayed Brian McCann's seventh-inning grounder for his second error, allowing Marwin Gonzalez to score from second.

Winner Chad Green gave up an unearned run over two innings.

"All of a sudden, the pressure's back on the other team," Frazier said. "It's the best place to play and the loudest place in baseball to play. No doubt about it."

OUT, SAFE, OUT

The fourth inning ended strangely . Judge was doubled off first on Sanchez's popup, but the Yankees successfully challenged that Judge beat first baseman Gurriel to the base. Houston then appealed that Judge missed retouching second on his way back to first. Judge - realizing he would be called out on the challenge - decided to race McCullers' appeal throw to second and was tagged out. He would have voided the appeal attempt if he had beaten the throw.

"The coaching staff kind of gave me a heads up," Judge said. "So I said, `All right, let's go. Got to try something.'"

Adding to the strangeness: throughout the challenge, McCullers was digging around the mound with his hands, scooping up beads off his necklace, which broke during the play.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Tanaka has been receiving treatment on his leg after being struck by Reddick's liner in Game 1. He did not expect it to be an issue Wednesday.

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Red Sox open spring training with wins over Northeastern and Boston College

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via Twitter (@RedSox)

Red Sox open spring training with wins over Northeastern and Boston College

The Red Sox started off spring training with a doubleheader on Thursday, beating both Northeastern and Boston College.

Boston beat Northeastern 15-2 in the opener, scoring seven runs in the first inning. Highlights included a grand slam from minor league outfielder Kyri Washington, an RBI triple from Blake Swihart, and RBI doubles from Brock Holt and minor league catcher Austin Rei.

In game two, the Red Sox beat Boston College by a score of 4-2. Sam Travis contributed with an RBI double.

Boston takes on the Minnesota Twins on Friday at JetBlue Park.

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Blake Swihart would benefit from a trade, and his trade value may never be higher

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Blake Swihart would benefit from a trade, and his trade value may never be higher

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Blake Swihart would be better off in another organization. The best time to trade him could be now, as well.

He might have a lowered chance of a World Series ring in the immediate future if he's sent away. But for Swihart's personal development, the Red Sox are not his ideal base. 

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Naturally, the Sox have to prioritize their needs. To do that with Swihart, they need to examine the future.

A switch-hitter staring at a bench role with the Sox, Swihart's value remains high because other teams see his potential as a catcher. He turns 26 years old on April 3. A year in a utility role in the majors would not kill him, but it would not help him blossom as a catcher — and therefore, would not help his trade value in the future. He's not old, but he's getting older.

If Christian Vazquez is the Sox’ catcher of the present and the future, Swihart today might well be more valuable to another team than he is to the Sox. It would be up to a potential trade partner to prove as much.

Swihart has said he wants to catch, and has also said he’ll do whatever the team wants. He’s doing catching drills every day in Florida. He also does one of either outfield work or infield work daily, on top of the backstop drills. So far, he hasn't ventured beyond first base on the infield.

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Alex Cora and several members of the coaching staff coordinate on Swihart’s plan. 

“They’re in touch [about] what they have planned for me, so they don’t kill me out there catching a ton of bullpens,” Swihart said Thursday. “I think everyone is kind of involved.”

But the Sox must realize they run the risk of creating a jack of all trades and a master of none. Maybe in the short term, that's what they want. But if so, there is a potential cost in the future: slowed development. Super utility players are nice, but catchers with Swihart's skillset are probably nicer.

Someone, somewhere, is going to carry Swihart on a major league roster this year.

If the Sox have one position-player injury in spring, they can carry all three of Swihart, Brock Holt and Deven Marrero on their opening day roster. Without an injury, the Sox would appear to have three players for just two spots. Swihart and Marrero are both out of minor league options.

“Yeah. I’m not really thinking about that, but yeah,” Swihart said when asked if being out of options is a good thing. “I’ve got to prove myself, still. I’ve got a job to do.”

Swihart’s upside is tantalizing and hard to part with. He tripled and walked twice Thursday in a 15-2, seven-inning win over Northeastern, the Sox’ first game of the spring

Whether it was intentional or not, Holt batted behind Swihart and Marrero directly followed Holt. Swihart’s triple was immediately followed by one of Swihart’s two hits, a double. Marrero, whose value lies in an extraordinary glove, went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts.

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Results are virtually meaningless now, but after injuries held Swihart back the last two years, he seems rejuvenated. 

"Especially when I’m healthy, I love playing," Swihart said Thursday. "If I can go out there and get as many reps as I can, it’s almost like a tryout for me. I want to go out there and treat it like that, just go out there and do everything I know I can do.”

Other teams know what he can do, too — behind the plate particularly.

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