Phillies

Lee proves steady for Phils again in win over Nats

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Lee proves steady for Phils again in win over Nats

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Every five days when Cliff Lee takes the mound, the Phillies know what they are going to get. That’s seven to eight innings, a scattering of hits and runs and a lot of strikes.

Along with that comes a quick game and a very little time to daydream. In Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay), Lee got nine strikeouts and didn’t walk a single batter.

In fact, Lee had just one three-ball count all night while improving to 9-2 with a 2.53 ERA.

“He takes the game and he absolutely controls it,” manager Charlie Manuel said after the victory. “He runs it at his tempo. He sets the speed and everything about the game. He can speed it up and he can slow it down, and when he gets the ball he knows he has three pitches and he wants to throw them. I love the way he pitches, especially on nights like tonight.”

With Roy Halladay recovering from surgery and Cole Hamels struggling through a rough season, Lee also controls the vibe in the clubhouse.

Yet as the one sure thing on the 25-man roster, Lee may draw a little more attention about his future with the Phillies in the next month or so. With two more years left on his five-year, $120 million contract, Lee could be on the trading block if general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wants to “blow it up.”

Lee addressed his future with the Phillies after beating the Twins on three hits over seven innings in his last start. After beating the Nationals by scattering five hits through eight innings, the topic was broached again.

And once again, Lee did not change his tune.

He wants to win with the Phillies. But more than that, Lee wants to win. That’s it. If people want to believe that it means Lee wants to get traded to a contender, go ahead and believe that. Lee isn’t going to lose any sleep over it.

“I don’t really care how it’s interpreted to be honest with you. I want to win. I signed here to win and that’s never going to change no matter who asks me,” Lee said after his seventh straight win and his sixth start this season with at least eight innings pitched. “I think it's misconstrued in thinking I wanted to play somewhere else and that’s not the case. I want to win and I want to win here and that’s it.

“I’m going to continue to answer questions honestly and that’s how I’m going to do it.”

Lee also just keeps gobbling up innings and winning ballgames.

“Cliff pitched like Cliff. He’s been unbelievable,” said Kevin Frandsen, who went 1 for 4 with a clutch two-run single in a three-run sixth inning. “Cliff is a ballplayer. He’s what you want from a baseball player and he’s a starting pitcher.”

Perhaps Lee’s pitching can lift a team the way a big home run or a clutch hit can. As Lee tore through the Nats’ lineup, retiring 11 of the first 12 he faced and 13 of the final 15, the Phillies’ hitters seemed to take their cues from him. When Jayson Werth slugged a solo homer with two outs in the fourth inning, the Phillies quickly manufactured a run with Michael Young setting the table.

Young went 3 for 4 with three doubles, two runs and an RBI. He would have gone 4 for 4 if Nats starting pitcher Ross Detwiler hadn’t luckily grabbed a screaming liner headed back through the box.

In the fourth, Young doubled, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Jimmy Rollins and then scored on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Howard. In the sixth, Young drove home Ben Revere with another double after the leadoff man started the inning with a bunt single. Later, Young scored from third when Frandsen singled with two outs in the inning.

With Young swinging the bat well at the top of the lineup, the Phillies’ hitters have had plenty of chances to score runs. Since the calendar flipped to June, Young has been one of the team’s hottest hitters, going 22 for 58 (.379) with five doubles, six runs and a .390 on-base percentage.

This comes after a month of May in which Young batted .172, struck out 13 times and grounded into six double plays.

“I think he was trying too hard. He expects a lot out of himself and he wants to do good for us,” Manuel said. “He started to relax a little and his bat looks quicker to me.”

Meanwhile, Lee has been making the opposition’s bats look a lot slower this season. Sporting a 0.95 WHIP with just 17 walks and 98 strikeouts in 110 innings this season, Lee has been the one thing the Phillies can always count on all year.

But for how much longer?

“I’m confident we can win,” Lee said. “If we can get all the guys on the field I think we can beat anyone. And I’m confident that the organization is going to do everything they can to field the best team. Those are all the reasons why I came here and that’s what I expect and I think that’s what everyone here should expect.”

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.