Phillies

Clay Buchholz is embracing leadership role on young Phillies' staff

Clay Buchholz is embracing leadership role on young Phillies' staff

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- At age 32 and with 10 years of big-league service time, Clay Buchholz is the elder statesman of the Phillies' starting pitching staff.

The distinction comes with a responsibility to lead and Buchholz is ready for that role.

"It comes with the territory," the right-hander said after his second start of the spring with his new club Sunday (see story). "If you're lucky enough to be around the big leagues for an extended period of time you know what you have to do. I'm looking forward to it."

The Phillies acquired Buchholz in a December trade with the Boston Red Sox. Three weeks into his first camp with the Phils, Buchholz has been impressed with some of the young arms he now shares a clubhouse with.

He mentioned Vince Velasquez, in particular.

"I like Velasquez," Buchholz said. "That's who I've played catch with every day since I got here. Just watching him on TV over the last few years, he's got electric stuff. If he can learn how to harness it all … Stuff plays at the major-league level if you command it.

"That's with all the kids coming up now throwing 100 miles per hour. There are some arms coming up around the league that are just electric and I think Vinny is one of those guys who could open a lot of eyes this year."

Buchholz described what it's like to simply play catch with Velasquez, who had a 16-strikeout game last season.

"You see how the ball comes out of his hand, the backspin, the movement, and he's not even trying to make it move, that's just the way it comes out of his hand," Buchholz said. "That's when you've got something special."

Buchholz hopes to impart on Velasquez and others some of the lessons that he learned over his 10 seasons in the baseball cauldron that is Boston. Buchholz enjoyed the highs of pitching a no-hitter in the second big-league start of his career and the lows of losing his spot in the rotation (he ultimately regained it) a decade later.

Playing under the microscope in Boston taught Buchholz the importance of having a short memory -- the ol' never get too high when things are going well or too low when they're going bad thingy. It also taught him the importance of focus.

"I talk to (Velasquez) every day," Buchholz said. "It's more about coming from an organization where everything is so magnified and you're expected to win every year. From my short time here, it's a little more relaxed than Boston was, even in spring. It's easier to work on things without having to answer a whole lot of questions and dwelling on them and that's what I'm trying to express to these guys: You have to work every day and even if it's relaxed you've got to take it at game speed and that's how you get better."

Velasquez, 24, struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings over 24 starts last season. He is one of three starters 26 and under in the Phillies' rotation, joining 23-year-old Aaron Nola and 26-year-old Jerad Eickhoff.

"It's something different than what I've seen the past nine or 10 years," Buchholz said. "It's always been a big veteran presence and to come into a place where the average age is 24, 25 years old, it's a little different.

"It's fun to be around them, fun to be around a new group of guys. I think this team is headed in the right direction."

Astros reach World Series, shut out Yankees in ALCS Game 7

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Astros reach World Series, shut out Yankees in ALCS Game 7

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HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP, and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve, the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."

MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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HOUSTON — Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.