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Houston Astros beat New York Yankees in 6 games to win AL pennant, will play Washington Nationals in World Series

Houston Astros beat New York Yankees in 6 games to win AL pennant, will play Washington Nationals in World Series

HOUSTON (AP) -- Jose Altuve homered off Aroldis Chapman with two outs in the ninth inning and the Houston Astros outlasted the New York Yankees 6-4 Saturday night to advance to the World Series for the second time in three years.

In a bullpen game with a back-and-forth finish, DJ LeMahieu hit a tying, two-run shot off Astros closer Roberto Osuna in the top of the ninth. Altuve answered with a two-run drive to left-center, setting off a wild celebration at Minute Maid Park and earning himself AL Championship Series MVP.

"Beautiful game," Altuve said. 

Astros ace Gerrit Cole was waiting to pitch a potential Game 7 on Sunday. Instead, the postseason star -- undefeated since May 22 -- could be lined up for Game 1 at home against the NL champion Washington Nationals on Tuesday night. 

Yuli Gurriel hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and flashy outfield defense helped Houston's relievers defeat the Yankees and their vaunted bullpen. 

It almost fell apart in the ninth. Gio Urshela singled off Osuna leading off for his third hit of the game, and LeMahieu put a ball into the first row of seats in right field -- inches over the glove of leaping George Springer -- to tie it at 4. 

Altuve, a 5-foot-6 sparkplug touted as Houston's heart and soul, didn't let this one get away.

"I get asked to describe Jose Altuve all the time," manager AJ Hinch said. "I think MVP is what he is." 

The teams combined to use 14 pitchers in a game that lasted 4 hours, 9 minutes. 

Houston's bullpen got a lift from flashy outfield defense. Right fielder Josh Reddick dived for Brett Gardner's liner for the second out of the sixth. An inning later, left fielder Michael Brantley laid out for Aaron Hicks' shallow floater and doubled off Aaron Judge at first. 

Gurriel, a holdover from Houston's 2017 championship team, was 1 for 20 to start the ALCS before his drive in the first inning. The shot into the Crawford Boxes was his first connection this postseason. 

It's the third time Houston has eliminated New York in the past five postseasons. The Astros won the 2015 wild-card game in the Bronx and beat the Yankees in seven games in the 2017 ALCS before winning their first title. 

Washington is seeking its first championship in the 51-season history of the Montreal Expos/Nationals franchise. The original Washington Senators won their only championship for the nation's capital in 1924 and last reached the World Series in 1933 before becoming the Minnesota Twins for the 1961 season.

Gary Sanchez had an RBI single in the second and Urshela homered in the fourth. 

Alex Bregman gave the Astros an insurance run with an RBI on a forceout in the sixth inning. 

Brantley's double play elicited one of the loudest ovations of the night -- before Altuve's blast -- from the sellout crowd of 43,357 which included Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Craig Biggio and Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook, who watched from the front row in personalized orange Astros jerseys.

New York lost its fourth straight ALCS after falling in 2010, 2012 and 2017. The Yankees will go without a World Series appearance in a calendar decade for the first time since the 1910s.

Altuve doubled off opener Chad Green with one out in the first inning and Bregman drew a walk with two outs. After a short visit to the mound, Gurriel knocked the next pitch into the seats in left field for a 3-0 lead. The runs were Houston's first with two outs in the series. 

Houston had been 4 for 40 with runners in scoring position before that big swing. 

Brad Peacock, who threw eight pitches in a scoreless eighth inning Friday night, became the fourth pitcher ever to finish a postseason game and then start the next day, and the first since 1924. 

He needed seven pitches to retire the side in the first before running into trouble with two outs in the second. Josh James ended the inning by striking out Gardner. 

Ryan Pressly had another gutsy escape, too. He hurt his right knee again fielding a bases-loaded grounder by Didi Gregorius but limped over to tag him for the final out of the third. Pressly, who grimaced as he went toward the dugout after one pitch, had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee on Aug. 22 and returned Sept. 20. Pressly also got two strikeouts with the bases loaded in Game 4.

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Report: Stephen Strasburg could re-sign with Nationals before Winter Meetings

Report: Stephen Strasburg could re-sign with Nationals before Winter Meetings

The last time Nationals fans saw Stephen Strasburg, he was standing on a stage in Washington D.C. being forced into a group hug by several teammates.

Now a free agent after opting out of the remaining four years of the extension he signed in 2016, Strasburg has put himself in a position to sign with any team he pleases ahead of next season.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s headed out of the District. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported Monday that he thinks Strasburg could ink a deal with Washington before the Winter Meetings begin Dec. 8.

This would be a far cry from the trend demonstrated over the last two offseasons, when the biggest names waited until Spring Training to sign mega-deals—some even waiting well into the season.

"A lot of teams want Cole. A lot of teams want Rendon. I think these two guys may move faster because they're not going to have to manufacture markets for them,” Feinsand said on MLB Network. “These guys are in demand. It's going to be a matter of who's willing to give them the most money, but I don't think these two players are going to be the ones who are going into deep February [unsigned]."

The Nationals certainly have the payroll flexibility to sign such a deal after Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman’s significant salaries all came off the books. Signing Strasburg early would also suit Washington well, giving it the chance to modify its approach to addressing other needs accordingly while most of the other free agents are still on the market.

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    5 free agents the Nationals could, but probably won’t, target

    5 free agents the Nationals could, but probably won’t, target

    The World Series champions entered the 2019-20 offseason amid several questions about the future of their roster. While the landing spots of former key players Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg remain to be determined, the Nationals figure to be active in the free-agent market regardless with holes at first base, second base, third base, rotation, bullpen and bench.

    That being said, there are many free agents who could fit on Washington’s roster but probably won’t be donning the Curly W come Opening Day.

    Here are five players the Nationals could sign if not for a few factors standing in the way.

    Gerrit Cole, SP

    No one boosted their free agent value more this season than Gerrit Cole, who’s projected to easily clear the $200 million threshold this winter as the top starting pitcher on the market. Cole, 29, was the runner up for the AL Cy Young award after leading the majors with 326 strikeouts to go along with a 2.50 ERA, 0.895 WHIP and 20 wins in 33 starts and 212.1 innings.

    The Houston Astros unlocked the right-hander’s potential when they acquired him in a five-player deal from the Pittsburgh Pirates two offseasons ago. Cole did have one top-5 Cy Young season in 2015 with Pittsburgh but took a step back over the next two seasons before being dealt to Houston. He’s since posted back-to-back sub-3.00 ERA seasons and established himself as a dominant postseason pitcher.

    But Cole is rumored to be interested in returning to the West Coast, closer to his hometown in Southern California. In order for the Nationals to afford him, they’d probably have to lose out on both Strasburg and Rendon. But after the team decided to divide up the money it saved on Bryce Harper rather than splurge on a similar free agent, the Nationals’ track record says they probably won’t pony up for Cole.

    Yasmani Grandal, C

    Ever since the Nationals allowed Wilson Ramos to walk the winter after he tore his ACL, they’ve struggled to find consistent offensive production behind the plate. On the surface, the perfect solution to that problem lies in free agency in Yasmani Grandal, who’s the only catcher in baseball with at least 20 home runs each of the past four seasons.

    Grandal, 31, reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million deal with the New York Mets last offseason before settling for a one-year, $16 million contract to play for the Milwaukee Brewers. Grandal then put the critics to rest and posted the best season of his career, smacking a personal-best 28 home runs to go along with an .848 OPS.

    But FanGraphs expects Grandal to sign for around three years and $48 million, which would be an expensive upgrade given the Nationals already have Kurt Suzuki entrenched in a part-time role behind the plate. Grandal could also play some first base (70 career games there), but the Nationals’ long offseason shopping list probably forces them to settle for a cheaper option to split time with Suzuki.

    Marcell Ozuna, OF

    Yes, the Nationals’ roster as it currently stands already includes a crowded outfield comprised of Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton. But if the Nationals were to lose the impact bat of Rendon in their lineup, Marcell Ozuna is one of the few hitters available who could help supplant his production.

    Acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals in December 2017 from the Miami Marlins, Ozuna, 29, is a former Gold Glover and two-time All-Star with a strong track record of healthy and the ability to play both corner outfield spots. If the Nationals were to acquire him, they’d likely trade Eaton to help fill a hole at another position on the diamond.

    The hold-up here again comes down to money. Eaton is signed to a meager $9.5 million salary for next season with a $10.5 million team option for 2021. Ozuna is projected by FanGraphs to sign for a $16 million AAV over four years, which would be the most the Nationals have ever given to a position player for a deal of that length. The Nationals may very well sign a hitter for that price, but it’s likely to be at a position they already have a need for rather than replacing a cost-effective player they already have.

    Jason Kipnis, 2B

    Speaking of positions the Nationals have a need for, second base is a giant question mark in D.C. with Brian Dozier, Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera all departing via free agency and top infield prospect Carter Kieboom delivering a less-than-stellar performance during his short stint in the majors last year.

    Jason Kipnis, 32, is among the available free agents who likely won’t command very much in free agency. The nine-year veteran has played his entire career with the Cleveland Indians and while he is a two-time All-Star, his performance in recent seasons suggest it’s going to be difficult for him to find a job this winter.

    Kipnis hasn’t finished a full season with an OPS above .715 since 2016 and has seen his performance in the field struggle as well. While he would be a cheap option for the Nationals to plug at second base while Kieboom continues to develop, Washington should be able to find a better defender with about the same offensive potential as Kipnis.

    Gio Gonzalez, SP

    As much as a reunion between the Nationals and old friend Gio Gonzalez would be, there just aren’t many scenarios that would make sense for Washington to bring the left-hander back to the District.

    Gonzalez, 34, played seven seasons in D.C. before being traded to Milwaukee in August 2018. He re-signed with the Brewers on a minor-league deal in 2019 before making 19 appearances (17 starts) over 87.1 innings in which he posted a 3.50 ERA, 1.294 WHIP and 78 strikeouts.

    If the Nationals sign Strasburg to a big extension, they’ll probably roll the dice with one of Austin Voth, Joe Ross or Erick Fedde at the No. 5 spot in the rotation. If they don’t bring Strasburg back, then Mike Rizzo and Co. will most likely pivot a target a higher-quality starter than Gonzalez such as Zach Wheeler or Madison Bumgarner.

    It’s a nice thought, but Gonzalez just doesn’t match up with the Nationals for 2020. Who knows, there’s always next year.

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