Phillies

Has run started? Hamels, Phils win third straight

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Has run started? Hamels, Phils win third straight

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Cole Hamels was kickin’ you-know-what and taking names. The crowd was electric. And the home team won for the third straight day.
 
Yes, it felt a little like old times at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night. With the ballpark in a full roar, Hamels stared down a big threat from the Washington Nationals in the eighth inning and pitched the Phillies to an important 4-2 win (see Instant Replay).
 
“That was the most exciting eighth inning I’ve had in a long time,” Hamels said. “The energy and the intensity were great. It felt like there were 60,000 fans here even though it wasn’t a sellout. That’s what playing in Philly is all about.”
 
The crowd was just 33,502 -- more than 10,000 shy of what the Phillies were drawing during their 257-game sellout streak that ended last August. If they keep playing the brand of ball that they have this month, the crowds will swell again. And, of course, if the Phils keep playing this brand of ball, management will hang on to the veteran players that it has threatened to trade if this team doesn’t make a quick move toward serious contention.
 
The Phils have won six of eight games this month, all against clubs with superior records. They are a game shy of .500 as they send Cliff Lee to the mound on Wednesday night. In the standings, the Phils are 7½ behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East and just 1½ behind second-place Washington.
 
Are the Phillies buyers?
 
Are they sellers?
 
Right now, they are stand-patters. Though GM Ruben Amaro placed huge importance on this 10-game homestand -- the Phils are 4-1 at the halfway point -- there are still three weeks to go before the trade deadline. There’s plenty of time to keep monitoring this team and gauging what it really is, plenty of time to turn this mini-surge into a legitimate run, plenty of time for this mini-surge to prove to be fool’s gold.
 
Michael Young doesn’t want to hear any talk about what lies three weeks ahead.
 
For him, it’s all about the now.
 
“There was so much talk about going on a hot streak and I think that put too much on our plate,” Young said. “We were thinking about games that were a week down the road and that can be counterproductive. We’re doing a much better job bearing down on that night’s game now.”
 
Where did that change in approach come from? A team meeting?
 
“No,” Young said. “No one had to say anything. That just comes from having a veteran team. The vibe we have now is execute that night rather than the big picture.”
 
Young had a big two-run double in support of Hamels in the sixth inning. He was also on the mound with the rest of the infielders when manager Charlie Manuel walked to the mound to speak with Hamels after the Nats loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning. The Phils were up, 4-1, at the time and the game was in the balance.
 
“We knew he wasn’t going to take Cole out,” Young said. “He was just giving him a breather. Cole was the story tonight. It was his game to win for us. He stepped up and did a great job.”
 
With the bases loaded, Hamels struck out Ryan Zimmerman on three pitches, then won a head-to-head battle with Jayson Werth, getting the former Phillie on a full-count fly ball to center.
 
“He threw a heck of a game,” Manuel said. “Absolutely outstanding. I liked everything about it.”
 
Hamels has rebounded from his little mental health break with two straight gems. The pitcher still doesn’t believe the respite was necessary -- he jokingly called Manuel’s trip to the mound in the eighth “a mental breather” -- but pitching coach Rich Dubee’s brainchild may have worked. Hamels has delivered two straight gems and posted back-to-back wins for the first time since last September. He has allowed just three runs over 15 innings in those two starts, walked one and struck out 12.
 
“I have to be accountable,” Hamels said. “I didn’t get the job done early. I need to take it up a notch from here on out. That’s what I’m trying to do, push myself to the highest level I can.”
 
Hamels doesn’t believe management has reached the point where it’s ready to sell, but he’s taking no chances as July 31 approaches.
 
“We have to give it all we can and we’ll rest at the all-star break,” he said. “We know the caliber of team we have. We’ve been underachieving.
 
“I still think we’re one click away from rolling. We’ve got a couple of weeks to really get going.”

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.