LOS ANGELES — Carlos Correa hit a go-ahead, three-run homer after Michael Brantley’s two-run shot in the fourth inning, helping the Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 11-6 on Thursday to clinch their home-run heavy AL Division Series in four games.
Correa drove in five runs as the Astros – October villains to many after their sign-stealing scandal was exposed – advanced to the AL Championship Series for the fourth consecutive season.
It will be their first ALCS under Dusty Baker, their 71-year-old manager. Baker earned his first closeout win since the 2003 NL Division Series and improved to 4-13 in closeouts.
“It’s been a long, tough road, but we’re halfway there,” Baker said. “I’m thankful and happy, but I still got some happiness left to give.”
The Astros and A’s combined for 24 homers – 12 each – the most in a postseason series of five games or fewer.
Oakland’s Ramon Laureano hit a pair of homers, including a three-run shot in the second inning that gave the AL West champion the early lead for the fourth straight game.
But Frankie Montas couldn’t withstand Houston’s onslaught in the fourth, when the Astros sent 10 batters to the plate and scored five. Altuve led off with a walk and scored on Brantley’s homer to pull the Astros to 3-2. Bregman and Tucker hit back-to-back singles and scored on Correa’s shot to left that he stood and admired, giving Houston the lead for good, 5-3.
YANKEES 5, RAYS 1: Luke Voit and Gleyber Torres hit impressive home runs, Jordan Montgomery and three relievers combined on a three-hitter and New York forced a deciding fifth game in the AL Division Series in San Diego.
The Yankees bounced back from two straight losses against their AL East rivals to set up an expected showdown between aces Gerrit Cole of New York and Blake Snell of Tampa Bay on Friday night.
Cole, backed by four home runs, beat Snell 9-3 in the series opener Monday and will be pitching on short rest for the first time in his big league career.
The Game 5 winner will remain in San Diego to face the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series, starting Sunday night.
The Yankees are trying to reach the ALCS for the third time in four seasons following eliminations by the Astros at that stage in 2017 and last season. The Rays are trying to advance to the ALCS for the first time since 2008, when they made it to their only World Series.
BRAVES 7, MARLINS 0: Rookie Kyle Wright dazzled for six innings in his postseason debut, and Atlanta rode its superb pitching to beat Miami for a three-game sweep in Houston and its first trip to the NL Championship Series since 2001.
Atlanta had lost eight straight Division Series, including in each of the previous two seasons, before outscoríng the Marlins 18-5, including 11-0 in the final two games. The Braves are 5-0 with a 0.92 ERA in the postseason, allowing five runs in 49 innings.
There were only a few scattered cheers as the Braves wrapped up the series in an almost empty Minute Maid Park, where the only fans allowed were players’ friends and families.
They will play the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Diego Padres in the NLCS starting Monday in Arlington, Texas.
Wright was sharp despite not pitching since Sept. 25, allowing three hits and walking two with a career-high seven strikeouts. A.J. Minter, Jacob Webb and Shane Greene finished the five-hitter to give the Braves four shutouts in five playoff games.
They’re the second team in history to throw four shutouts in the first five playoff games, joining the 1905 New York Giants.
Travis d’Arnaud doubled twice, with the first one driving in two runs in Atlanta’s big third inning. The veteran catcher, who bounced around three teams in a tough 2019, has helped steady Atlanta’s young starters and was 6 for 10 with three doubles, two home runs and seven RBI in the sweep.
The Marlins, who lost 105 games last season, were the feel-good story of this postseason after overcoming a coronavirus outbreak to reach the postseason for the first time since 2003. With a front office led by Derek Jeter and a dugout headed by Manager Don Mattingly, they entered confident after sweeping the Chicago Cubs in the wild-card round. But the young team was overwhelmed and lost a playoff series for the first time after entering 7-0 with titles in 1997 and 2003.
Rookie Sixto Sánchez walked Ronald Acuña Jr. to start the third inning, and Acuña stole second before advancing to third on a single by Freddie Freeman. Marcell Ozuna laced a single that scored Acuña.
D’Arnaud knocked a double off the bullpen in right-center to send two runners home and extend the lead to 3-0. The Braves tacked on another run on a sacrifice fly by Dansby Swanson.
FREE AGENCY: The price of qualifying offers for free agents rose by $1.1 million to a record $18.9 million.
Determined by the average of the top 125 major league contracts this year, the figure is based on full salaries, not the prorated pay that players received in the pandemic-shorted season.
The price had dropped last offseason for the first time, by $100,000 to $17.8 million.
Among the top players eligible for free agency are pitchers Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman, Liam Hendriks, Blake Treinen, Masahiro Tanaka, José Quintana and Alex Colomé; catcher J.T. Realmuto; outfielders George Springer and Marcell Ozuna; infielder DJ LeMahieu; designated hitter Nelson Cruz; and shortstops Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien and Andrelton Simmons.
A qualifying offer can be made through the fifth day after the World Series, and a player has a week after that to accept. If a team makes a qualifying offer to a player who signs a major league contract with another club before the June amateur draft, his former club would receive a draft pick as compensation at the end of the first round or at the end of competitive balance round B. The placement depends on whether the new contract is worth $50 million or more and the revenue-sharing and luxury tax status of the team losing the player.