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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.

At career crossroads, 'fearless' Middlebrooks vows comeback from injury

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At career crossroads, 'fearless' Middlebrooks vows comeback from injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Will Middlebrooks wears a bracelet on his left wrist that says fearless. That is the way he likes to play and it is the way he was playing when he suffered a broken leg – and maybe more – Saturday afternoon.
 
“As soon as you don’t take chances you don’t know how good you can be,” Middlebrooks said upon returning to the Phillies' clubhouse on crutches and with a cast on his leg Sunday.
 
Middlebrooks, 29, broke his left fibula in a collision with outfielder Andrew Pullin in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Middlebrooks was playing third base when he sprinted back after a soft fly ball to left. He slid trying to make a catch and his leg bent awkwardly under the hard-charging Pullin. Middlebrooks was to see a specialist on Sunday. More tests are planned to determine whether he sustained damage to the ligaments in his ankle, as well.
 
“It was just a freak play,” Middlebrooks said. “I had a good talk with Pully about it. He was distraught. I was at the hospital yesterday, got his number and texted him. I told him everything was fine, you didn’t do anything wrong. It was just one of those plays.”
 
Middlebrooks, who has played in the majors with Boston, San Diego, Milwaukee and Texas, is in camp with the Phillies on a minor-league contract. He appeared to be a long shot to make the big-league team as a reserve corner infielder and likely would have provided depth at Triple A Lehigh Valley. He will likely need surgery to repair the injury. No timetable was given for his recovery, but he will be out for a significant amount of time.
 
In one breath, Middlebrooks conceded that the injury could threaten his career.
 
“Yeah, the game is getting younger every day,” he said. “I’ll be 30 this year. Unfortunately, that’s not prime anymore. You look in this clubhouse and everyone is 23, 24 years old. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind.”
 
In the next, he promised to be back on the field this year.
 
“In the small window of time I’ve spent here with the staff and the training staff, I think I’ll be fine,” he said. “If it takes two months, if it takes four or five months, I don’t know how long it will take. I’m not counting myself out. I plan on playing this year.”
 
The Phillies are looking for versatility in filling out their bench. Middlebrooks is one of four veteran infielders with big-league experience in camp on a minor-league deal. Pedro Florimon, Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales are the others. Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery, both members of the 40-man roster, are also in camp. Kingery is expected to open the season at Triple A.

Yankees GM calls Phillies' Rob Thomson one of the best in business

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Yankees GM calls Phillies' Rob Thomson one of the best in business

CLEARWATER, Fla. – According to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, “the Phillies got one of the best,” when they hired Rob Thomson as bench coach.

“It was tough to see him leave,” Cashman said. “He is a great coach, an exceptional baseball man. His knowledge of the game is off the charts.

“Gabe Kapler has someone at his side that he can trust to have everything lined up properly all the time and that will free up Gabe Kapler to focus on whatever he wants to focus on at the given time. Rob Thomson will keep the rudder steady every step of the way."

Thomson, 54, spent 28 years in the Yankees organization, most recently as Joe Girardi’s bench coach. He was one of five people (along with Eric Wedge, Hensley Muelens and Carlos Beltran) to interview to become Girardi’s successor during the offseason (see story.) Aaron Boone got the job.

Timing worked in the Phillies’ favor in hiring Thomson. There was a lag between when Thomson found out he would not be the Yankees’ manager and Boone’s hiring. The Phillies offered him their bench coach job and he took it.

“He would have been a candidate to return here, without question,” Cashman said. “It would have been the final call of Aaron Boone, but I would have recommended him highly to Aaron Boone. I gave (Phillies GM) Matt Klentak the highest recommendation.”

Thomson described himself as a good self-evaluator. He’s not sure he’d be cut out to manage every team, but he believed he’d have been a good fit for the Yankees job. He knew that organization, its operation and its players well.

“I understand that it’s part of the business,” Thomson said. “Brian and his staff, who are very smart people, had a certain person in mind and it wasn’t me. So you have to move on and refocus.”

Kapler did extensive research on Thomson and said he often heard that Thomson was “the best in the business at planning and running a spring training camp.”

Cashman concurred.

“Gabe Kapler has as good a right-hand man as you can find,” he said.

One plugged-in baseball observer described Thomson as similar to the late John Vukovich – a loyal-to-his-manager baseball taskmaster – only with a little less volume in his voice.

“He’s tough,” Cashman said. “He will be brutally honest. He’ll say what a player needs to hear, not necessarily what a player wants to hear. And he’ll always relate well to players because he always has their best interest at heart.

“The Phillies got one of the best.”