Phillies

Jorge Alfaro impresses again, powers Phillies past Athletics in rain-soaked win

Jorge Alfaro impresses again, powers Phillies past Athletics in rain-soaked win

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Jorge Alfaro didn’t hesitate when asked what’s more important to him. 

“Defense, clean games. That’s all I’m thinking about,” the young catcher said early Sunday morning. “If I hit, thank God.”

Alfaro provided the Phillies with a needed bonus at the plate Saturday night, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run homer into the center field bushes in the sixth inning. He also guided seven pitchers to a 5-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics in what turned into a bullpen game thanks to a 1-hour, 46-minute rain delay (see observations)

“The thing I like the most is not so much the hitting — that’s a bonus as far as I’m concerned — because he hit .240 in Triple A,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “The thing I’m most pleased about is game calling. I like the way he calls a game. You want a good defensive catcher.”

The 24-year-old Colombian, acquired from Texas in the 2015 Cole Hamels trade, wasn’t called up until August. But in 21 games, he’s made an impression that puts him in the running with Andrew Knapp and Cameron Rupp to be the team’s No. 1 receiver in 2018. 

"To me, we’ve got three guys competing,” Mackanin said. 

Alfaro, now hitting .317, had a lot on his plate on a dreary evening. Ben Lively allowed two runs and two hits, including Matt Olson’s screeching solo homer, in three innings but didn’t return after the lengthy delay in the bottom of the third. 

But the bullpen continued to shine. Five pitchers combined to throw five hitless innings until Hector Neris (21st save) allowed a solo homer to Jed Lowrie in the ninth. It ended a streak of 18 2/3 scoreless innings by the bullpen. 

“When (Joaquin) Benoit and (Pat) Neshek left, everybody thought our bullpen was going to scuffle,” Mackanin said. “But they’ve been outstanding.” 

Victor Arano struck out two in two innings to get his first major league win, while Holby Milner got two outs and extended his streak of scoreless appearances to 20. It’s the longest streak for a Phillies reliever since J.C. Romero’s 35 in a row in 2007.

“I’ve had two years with the organization and I’ve had the opportunity to learn how they like to pitch,” Alfaro said of the many relievers he also caught at Triple A Lehigh Valley. “I try to make them feel comfortable.”

The Phillies got a run in the third on Ty Kelly’s double and Cesar Hernandez’s single, then tied it an inning later on J.P. Crawford’s RBI single. 

Crawford, starting at third, added a sacrifice fly in the eighth. 

Before Alfaro connected on Simon Castro (1-3), the Phillies wasted a chance in the fifth after Freddy Galvis drew a one-out walk and raced to third on Simon Castro’s wide pickoff throw. 

Nick Williams, who had his 12-game hitting streak snapped Friday, struck out on a chin-high fastball and Rhys Hoskins flew out to left. Hoskins went 0 for 3 with a walk and is 0 for 6 in the series after homering in six straight games. 

“Hoskins hasn’t looked good at the plate the past couple games," Mackanin said, "but I know one thing, that’s not what he’s going to look like. He’s a better hitter than that.” 

Alfaro has homered four times in 21 games. It gives the Phillies something to think about heading into next spring, although September performances can sometimes be deceiving. 

“I’ll take it any way I can get it,” said Mackanin, who has overseen 181 losses over the past two seasons “The test of a player’s ability is stretched out over six months and you have to take that into consideration. We’ve all heard that. You’ve got to take with a grain of salt a spring training performance as well as a September performance, but we’re getting a good idea on the quality of the at-bats we’re seeing.” 

Astros shut out Yankees in Game 7, advance to 1st World Series since 2005

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Astros shut out Yankees in Game 7, advance to 1st World Series since 2005

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

Just four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees for two straight games after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Houston aces Dallas Keuchel and ALCS MVP Justin Verlander will have plenty of rest, too, before the matchup begins at Dodger Stadium.

Houston has never won even a single World Series game. 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.

Now, manager A.J. Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first title, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Houston improved to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and became the fifth team in major league history to win 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.

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

CC Sabathia entered the game 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 after snapping an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night.

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 struggled on the road this postseason, with this loss dropping the team to 1-6.

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.