Best of MLB: Red Sox clinch AL East, get Astros in ALDS

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Best of MLB: Red Sox clinch AL East, get Astros in ALDS

BOSTON —The hard chopper bounced off first baseman Mitch Moreland's glove and high into the air. Second baseman Brock Holt jumped to glove the ball and flipped it to first, where David Price was covering.

When the Boston Red Sox needed him, Price was there.

The one-time ace came out of the bullpen in relief of Drew Pomeranz and squelched a dangerous seventh-inning rally on Saturday, helping the Red Sox beat the Houston Astros 6-3 and clinch the first back-to-back AL East titles in franchise history.

With the win, the Red Sox avoided a possible tiebreaker against the rival New York Yankees.

"That was important: Just get it done today," outfielder Hanley Ramirez said afterward in the Red Sox clubhouse, where music blared, the lockers were covered in plastic and players wore goggles to protect their eyes from the spray of beer and domestic sparkling wine.

With the Boston win, the Yankees were left with a wild-card spot and a one-game matchup against the Minnesota Twins for the right to play Cleveland in the best-of-five AL Division Series. The Astros' loss meant the Indians, with the tiebreaker over Houston and 101 wins entering Saturday, clinched the best record in the AL (see full recap).  

Rockies clinch postseason berth with Brewers loss
DENVER — The Colorado Rockies sprayed soda around the clubhouse and even did a bit of dancing after clinching their first postseason berth since 2009.

Then, they had to go play a game - pressure free, of course.

Colorado sewed up the second NL wild-card spot courtesy of St. Louis' 7-6 win over Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon. Former Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio recorded the final out for the Cardinals.

The Rockies will face Arizona in the NL wild-card game Wednesday night.

Colorado fans trickling into Coors Field before the game against Los Angeles let out a roar after the final out. The Cardinals-Brewers game was shown on the scoreboard.

In the clubhouse, the Rockies wildly celebrated after gathering in front of a TV. Ian Desmond showered his teammates with soda, Jonathan Lucroy raised his hands in triumph, Nolan Arenado let out a scream and Carlos Gonzalez broke into a dance (see full recap). 

Nationals ace Scherzer exits with apparent leg injury
WASHINGTON — Nationals ace Max Scherzer has been pulled from his start against Pittsburgh because of an apparent injury to his right leg.

The NL East champions didn't provide immediate word on the extent of Scherzer's condition Saturday night.

Scherzer stumbled on a 2-2 pitch to Josh Bell in the fourth inning. Scherzer then began to throw a full-count pitch, but abruptly stopped when time was called.

Washington manager Dusty Baker, pitching coach Mike Maddux and team trainers visited the mound and quickly took out Scherzer.

This was Scherzer's final tuneup before the Nationals play the Chicago Cubs in the Division Series beginning Friday.

Scherzer leads the National League with 268 strikeouts. He is 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA.

The two-time Cy Young winner had given up one hit and struck out five in 3 1/3 scoreless innings when he was hurt.

Yankees get AL wild card; Judge hits 52nd HR
NEW YORK — In a way, manager Joe Girardi figures, Aaron Judge and some of the young New York Yankees without any postseason experience already have gotten the feel of playoff pressure.

The Yankees wound up with an AL wild-card spot Saturday, beating Toronto 2-1 on Judge's 52nd home run shortly before Boston clinched the AL East crown.

New York needed two wins and two losses by Boston to force a tiebreaker Monday at Yankee Stadium. Instead, the Yankees will host Minnesota in the wild-card game Tuesday.

"I started thinking about that the last couple of days where in a sense they're elimination games for us," Girardi said. "We were five down coming home from the road trip and our guys just continued to play well. They continued to play loose. They continued to make pitches, grind out at-bats and that was encouraging to me because it's not like we've had a chance to turn it off and I like that."

The wild-card winner will face Cleveland in the best-of-five AL Division Series. Boston, which beat Houston about 20 minutes after the Yankees won, is set to take on the Astros in the playoffs (see full recap). 

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Thursday starts the one-week countdown to opening day.

Oh, yeah, and Jake Arrieta will also make his Grapefruit League debut.

It figures to be the highlight of the spring.

Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies last week. He has completed a progression from bullpen work — he actually had gotten well into that on his own before signing — to facing hitters in a controlled situation.

Now, it’s time to face some competition — the Detroit Tigers. The game will be televised on NBCSP+ at 1 p.m.

The Phillies have yet to decide when Arrieta will make his regular-season debut. The pitcher believes he will be ready during the first week of the season. The team will exercise caution. Arrieta’s performance Thursday — and possibly more important, his recovery — will go a long way into determining when the Phils turn him loose.

“I’m looking for him to be healthy, first and foremost,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I would love to see him come out just like he has in his live batting practice sessions and in his bullpens, which is strong, ball looking like a lead fastball, featuring that great cutter and a lot of that great deception.

"We’re looking for him to be Jake Arrieta. Most importantly, most critically and most consequentially, I’m looking for him to be healthy and strong.”

Kapler said the Phils would be flexible on Arrieta’s pitch count. Fifty or so seems like a good guess.

Arrieta has been around for a week now. His teammates are thrilled to have him.

“Obviously, with the Arrieta signing, we got a lot better not only on the field but in the clubhouse,” Rhys Hoskins said (more on him here). “What he’s going to be able to do not only for the pitchers but for some of us young position guys — I mean he’s recently won a World Series, he’s a Cy Young guy, he knows how to compete at the highest level. We have a good group. It’s meshing pretty quickly. I’m excited to see how it goes once we start.”

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight

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Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight


DUNEDIN, Fla. — The season opener is eight days away and Rhys Hoskins says his swing “is getting there.” 

Getting there? Really?

It looks like it already arrived with the morning mail.

Hoskins continued his recent run of excellent at-bats in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He belted a two-run homer, a solo homer and also worked a walk. Over his last five games, he is 6 for 16 with five walks. For the spring, he is hitting .279 (12 for 43) with four doubles, four homers, eight RBIs, 11 runs scored and an OPS of 1.066.

“What does he have, 10 strikeouts and 10 walks on the spring?” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler asked.

Indeed, those are the numbers.

“That is fantastic,” Kapler said. “Obviously, he’s swinging the bat beautifully and really controlling the at-bats.”

It all starts with pitch recognition.

“I’ve been pretty happy with that throughout camp,” Hoskins said. “I don’t feel like I’ve chased too many, which is always good. I’ve seen a bunch of breaking balls and been able to recognize them early.”

The outstanding selectivity that Hoskins has allows him to work pitchers into fastball counts. He did that in the first inning when he got a 3-1 fastball from Marcus Stroman and drove it over the left-field wall. The ball left the bat at 108 miles per hour.

Obviously, Hoskins was pleased that the ball left the yard. He was more pleased with the swing. He believes pitchers will try to bust him in this season and he’s ready for it.

“I was really, really happy with the first at-bat,” he said. “I had been struggling with the ball in. I was able to keep my hands inside of it and the ball went.”

His second homer came on a 1-1 fastball from Luis Santos. The wind was blowing out at Dunedin Stadium. Hoskins saw a pitch up and took a rip.

“On a day like today, if you see the ball up you’re going to have a pretty good chance,” he said.

Hoskins batted second in the lineup, ahead of Maikel Franco and Carlos Santana. Kapler has juggled lineups all spring and has strongly implied that he will do that, based on matchups, during the regular season.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Hoskins said. “With the guys we have and the way they’re going to construct the lineup, if I hit second, fourth, sixth, I think I’m going to be able to hit with men on base.

“Throughout my career I’ve been a run producer, so that’s the main thing for me. If I can create some runs, whether it’s scoring runs or driving in runs, I’ll be happy.”

The Phils and Jays played to a 7-7 tie. The Phillies’ bullpen gave up five runs in the last two innings to let a 7-2 lead get away. The Phils used 10 pitchers, including two day-trippers from minor-league camp. Starter Nick Pivetta pitched two perfect innings. The team purposely scaled him back to keep him in line with a 25-inning spring target. Scott Kingery and Aaron Altherr also hit home runs.