CLEVELAND (AP) — Indians manager Terry Francona found a simple way to sum up his team’s tenuous state this October.
And he channeled Yogi Berra to do it.
“As long as we’re still breathing, we’re still breathing,” Francona said before Monday’s critical Game 3 against the Houston Astros. “We just don’t have a lot of margin for error.”
With his club down 2-0 and batting only .100 (6 for 60) so far in the series and facing left-hander Dallas Keuchel in Game 3, Francona juggled his lineup by starting right-handed hitters Yandy Diaz at designated hitter and Brandon Guyer in right field. Also, Edwin Encarnacion was switched from DH and play first base, replacing left-handed Yonder Alonso.
The Indians were dominated in Games 1 and 2 by Astros fireballers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Cleveland has had some success against Keuchel, beating him on May 19 in Houston. The Indians scored three runs in the first inning and chased Keuchel after in five innings.
In his second matchup against Cleveland on May 25, he allowed two runs and eight hits in six innings.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch made two switches, starting Brian McCann behind the plate and using Tony Kemp as his DH instead of Tyler White, who served that role in the first two games.
Francona knows all about overcoming daunting odds in October.
In 2004, his Boston Red Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS and eventually win their first World Series title since 1918. Last season, the Indians led the ALDS 2-0 before the Yankees stormed back to win the series.
Francona said there’s no secret recipe to a comeback.
“You can philosophize about it however you want,” he said. “There’s different ways of looking at it. We don’t want to go home yet, so in order for that to happen, we gotta win today. OK, that’s the best thing we can do is channel our energy into finding a way to win today.
“And, from my point of view, some of that is eliminating the noise that comes with being down 0-2. That’s part of it. Everybody’s got a reason and this and that. You gotta try to eliminate that and know that, be confident enough in what you’re doing that, ‘Hey, this is what puts our team in the best position,’ and stay with it.”
The Indians shake things up a bit for Game 3. Partially because the Astros have a sinkerballing lefty, as opposed to a fireballing righty, on the mound. Partially because they’re in a rut and their backs are up against the wall and all of that stuff.
The Astros give us Tony Kemp as a DH and Brian McCann behind the plate. The top of the lineup, which has beaten the Indians to a pulp thus far, remains more or less unchanged, save a bit of shuffling of where Carlos Correa and Josh Reddick will appear.
BALTIMORE — A doubleheader sweep ensured the greatest regular season in Astros history.
Their 5-2 win against the Orioles in the second game of the twinbill was the 103rd of the season, breaking a record set by the 1998 Astros. Houston heads into Sunday’s regular-season finale at 103-58, already the best regular-season record of any season in the franchise’s 57-year history.
“It’s a great accomplishment and we should be proud,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s hard to do that and our guys were happy. We did want to be in the record books, and the most wins in franchise history is a big deal to this team.”
They hit five home runs across Saturday’s 18 innings. Myles Straw struck his first major league home run to open game two. Brian McCann and Jake Marisnick added longballs to pad the score. Marisnick’s two-run shot in the eighth provided the final score.
“It means a lot for everyone in this clubhouse when you talk about a franchise record,” said Jose Altuve. “It’s crazy to believe that we did back-to-back 100 win (seasons) after a couple years ago we did back-to-back-to-back 100 losses. It means a lot and it’s a special day for us.”
Baltimore never led in either game. They scored one run against Astros starter Dallas Keuchel in the nightcap. As planned, Keuchel threw only three innings, scattering five hits while allowing a lone earned run.
To win the first game, Carlos Correa’s swings reverted to form.
Hampered for so much of this season by oblique and back injuries, Correa crushed two opposite-field extra-base hits in a 4-3, game one win, including a go-ahead double in the eighth inning.
In the 36 games preceding this one, Correa mustered four extra-base hits. Saturday was his first game with multiple extra-base hits since May 4.
Starter Justin Verlander struck out 11 across six scoreless innings. He departed with a three-run lead which did not survive an inning.
Joe Smith, battling for one of the precious few spots remaining in the postseason bullpen, allowed the first three men to reach in the seventh.
The sidearming righty specialist permitted a double to Tim Beckham and walked Renato Nunez — both righthanded hitters — before DJ Stewart smacked a game-tying home run from the left side of the plate.
In the sixth, George Springer and Correa struck back-to-back home runs against Orioles starter Dylan Bundy. Bundy’s 41 home runs allowed are the most of any major leaguer. Springer’s was a mammoth two-run shot to the pull side while Correa lofted a 366-foot solo job just over the right-field fence.
Verlander and the Astros clinched their second straight AL West championship just after 2 a.m. Wednesday when Seattle beat visiting Oakland 10-8 in 11 innings on pinch-hitter Chris Herrman’s home run.
The Twitter account of the defending World Series champions posted videos of players, coaches and their partners jumping up and down in celebration inside a meeting room at The Ritz-Carlton Toronto.
”It was pretty unique,” Verlander said. ”There’s been some unique scenarios, but not like that one.”
Houston opens the AL Division Series at home on Oct. 5 against Central Division champion Cleveland. Infielder Alex Bregman said he was ”super pumped” to repeat as division winners.
”We haven’t had the smoothest of rides, a little adversity along the way, but we’ve pushed through it and we’re playing good baseball at the right time,” he said.
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel was among those who stayed up to watch the game at Safeco Field.
”Any excuse to party is a good excuse,” Keuchel said. ”We did a little bit last night. I’m hurting today.”
Win or lose later Wednesday, Houston planned to have a party in the visiting clubhouse of Rogers Centre after the series finale.
”It’s a little different this year, but we still have to celebrate because we deserve this,” infielder Jose Altuve said. ”It’s been a really good year for us, ups and downs like normal, but we ended up making it. I think we deserve a good celebration.”
Not all the Astros gathered to watch Herrman’s drive. Altuve had headed back to his own room in the eighth, figuring the A’s would hold an 8-5 lead.
”I’m excited but more than that I’m really proud of every single guy here,” Altuve said.”Back-to-back 100 wins, back-to-back division champs, I think that’s a really good accomplishment.”
Manager A.J. Hinch, who has been dealing with a minor illness, also took a pass on the viewing party.
”I had the game on my phone in my room,” Hinch said. ”I woke up, had a nice little smile and went back to bed. Really exciting stuff.”
Verlander praised Oakland for challenging the Astros with a second-half surge.
”At spring training, we expected to be here, but baseball is a funny game,” Verlander said. ”The A’s pushed us all year, and we had to continue to play great baseball. You never take for granted winning a division. As long as I’ve been in this game, I’ve known how hard it is.”
Hinch spoke to the Astros before Wednesday’s game to congratulate and thank the players, and to remind them of the task ahead.
”I’m so proud of this team,” Hinch said. ”To go back-to-back 100 wins, back-to-back division championships, it’s not easy to do what we’re doing, so I do want out guys to relish in it.”
The Astros (100-57) needed three wins in their final five games to break the 1998 team record.
”It’s something we would like to accomplish,” Verlander said. ”Selfishly, I think we’ve got the best Houston Astros team ever assembled. Having the record to show that would be nice.”
Houston is now turning its attention to the Indians.
”They’re a really good team,” Altuve said. ”They’ve got really good hitters like we do. They’ve got good pitching. We’ve got good pitching, too. It’s going to be interesting. I pick my team, obviously, but I think it’s going to be good competition.”
Houston’s success the past two seasons is particularly meaningful to Altuve and Keuchel, who each suffered through multiple 100-loss campaigns in their first years with the team. The Astros lost a combined 324 games from 2011-2013.
”You’ve got to take a second to think about how good it feels,” Keuchel said. ”Being a part of two 100-loss seasons back-to-back when I first got called up and then now being part of part two consecutive 100-win seasons is pretty special.”
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/tag/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
TORONTO, ON — The Houston Astros won their 100th game and claimed their second straight AL West title by defeating the Toronto Blu Jays 4-1 Tuesday night. The Astros will defend their World Series title in the American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, with Game 1 at Minute Maid Park this Friday.
The Astros, who already had a playoff berth, clinched the division crown with a little help from the Seattle Mariners who defeated the Oakland A’s in extra innings.
Astros bats were hot early on with Alex Bregman dinging a two-run homer — his 31st of the season — off Sam Gaviglio in the first inning. The Jays Billy McKinney would homer in the third inning to cut the gap, but the Astros widened their lead in the sixth and held off the Jays for the win.
If the Astros can win out, they will eclipse their franchise record for victories in a regular season, but the still may not repeat having the best record in baseball for the second straight season. Right now, the Boston Red Sox have the league best record at 106-51.
Astros Left Hander Framber Valdez will start Wednesday night against Blue Jays Right Hander Sean Reid.
PHOTO: TORONTO, ON – SEPTEMBER 25: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros, is congratulated by George Springer #4 after hitting a two-run home run in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Sept. 25 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images).
TORONTO — If Monday’s game marked the last for Marco Estrada in a Blue Jays uniform, he wasn’t pleased with how it ended.
Estrada, who’ll become a free agent at the end of the season, allowed four runs on seven hits — including two solo homers — as the Blue Jays fell 5-3 to the Houston Astros to open their final home series of the year.
“It’s the worst year I’ve had,” said Estrada, who dropped to 7-14 with the loss. “These last months, it’s sucked. It’s not the way I wanted to go out.
“I wanted to pitch better for Toronto and unfortunately I didn’t. It is what it is. All I can say is I was out there every five days and I gave it (my) all.”
Former Toronto closer Roberto Osuna pitched the ninth inning in his return to Rogers Centre, striking out a batter and working around a one-out single to earn his 19th save of the season.
Osuna, who was arrested in May and charged in connection with an alleged domestic incident, was met with a chorus of boos from the 23,463 fans when he was announced into the game — and as he threw each pitch.
The 23-year-old right-hander was suspended without pay for 75 games in June for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy and traded to Houston at the deadline a month later.
Estrada didn’t want to talk about Osuna or his reception after the game.
“No, I don’t know. It is what it is,” Estrada said.
Osuna declined to speak to reporters after the game on advice of his lawyer.
“I think he wanted the ball like he always does,” said Houston manager A.J. Hinch. “I’m sure it was emotional for him.
“It was pretty expected.”
Osuna’s court case is scheduled to continue Tuesday in Toronto.
Some of Osuna’s former teammates greeted him on the field during batting practice with hugs and handshakes. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said it was “real weird” to see Osuna in another uniform.
“Kind of mixed emotions but I knew there was a good chance he was probably going to get (the save). I’ve seen him do it too many times.”
Brian McCann and Josh Reddick homered for the Astros (99-57). Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Yuli Gurriel, in his first pro game against his brother and Toronto shortstop Lourdes Gurriel Jr., also drove in runs.
The brotherly matchup didn’t last long — Lourdes left the game with left hamstring tightness after grounding into a double play in the first inning.
Dallas Keuchel (12-11) allowed three runs and seven hits while walking three and striking out five over five innings.
Estrada, who’s winless in his last six starts, lasted just 4 2/3 innings and also had a walk and a strikeout. He received an ovation from the crowd when he was pulled from the game in the fifth with two runners on base.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen next year but I gave (the fans) a quick thank you,” Estrada said. “They’ve always been behind me, they’re the greatest fans ever. How can I not be thankful?
“Hopefully it’s not my last (start) here but if it is I’m thankful for everything the fans have given me, for their support. I love it here, I love Toronto and I love the fans.”
Gibbons said his timing of pulling Estrada “had nothing to do with” wanting to give him a chance to salute the crowd.
“We had the lefties coming up and the game could have swung there with two guys on base,” he said. “I’m sentimental but not that sentimental.”
Kevin Pillar hit a two-run homer for the Blue Jays (71-86) and Yangervis Solarte drove in a run.
Yuli Gurriel plated the first run in the first inning, extending his hit streak to 10 games with an RBI single, and Houston hit back-to-back solo shots in the second inning to bring the lead to 3-0.
Bregman’s double put the Astros up 4-0 in the third, but Pillar replied with a two-run shot in the fourth, sending the ball into the left-field seats to halve the deficit.
The Jays tacked on another run in the fifth but failed to take full advantage of a bases-loaded situation with no outs. Keuchel, hindered by a throwing error from J.D. Davis at third, loaded the bases with two singles and a walk before Solarte’s run-scoring hit. But Justin Smoak struck out on a borderline pitch with a full count, Randal Grichuk grounded out and Pillar went down swinging to end the frame.
Altuve hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the ninth.