Houston will finish on top of the division again

Astros clinch AL West crown with series win over Rays

Carlos Correa's three-run homer helped clinch the AL West for the Astros on Thursday night. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

After missing their chance to lock things up on Wednesday night, the Astros looked again to celebrate a division crown if they could best the Rays in the series finale on Thursday. Thanks to a big homer and another great start from Lance McCullers Jr., they would get it done to punch their ticket to the MLB playoffs.

Final Score: Astros 3, Rays 2

Astros' Record: 93-66, first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (13-5)

Losing Pitcher: Ryan Yarbrough (9-7)

Correa gives McCullers Jr. three runs of support

After three scoreless innings on both sides, the Astros put themselves in position to score in the bottom of the fourth, getting a leadoff single by the American League batting leader, Yuli Gurriel, followed by a walk. That brought Carlos Correa to the plate, and he delivered a three-run homer to start the scoring and give Houston a 3-0 lead.

Lance McCullers Jr. was cruising with that lead, allowing just one runner to that point, a leadoff walk in the top of the fourth, which he erased. After a 1-2-3 fifth, Tampa Bay would get to him in the top of the sixth, getting their first hit via a leadoff single, then a two-out two-run homer to trim the lead to one run. McCullers Jr. would go on to finish the inning, though, still in line for the win. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 98 P.

Astros clinch the division

Ryne Stanek came out of the bullpen for the top of the seventh, maintaining the one-run lead by working around a one-out single. After stranding a runner in the bottom of the inning, Houston moved to their next reliever in the top of the eighth, Kendall Graveman.

Graveman hit the first batter he faced on the first pitch but was able to get a flyout and double play to maintain the lead. Houston went to their closer in the top of the ninth with their advantage still just one run, bringing in Ryan Pressly. He dealt with traffic, allowing a leadoff walk then watching another reach on an error, but a timely double play would set him up for a groundout to end the game and clinch the division for Houston for the fourth time in five years.

Up Next: The opener of the final regular-season series for Houston will start at 7:10 PM Central on Friday at Minute Maid Park. While the A's have tagged Sean Manaea as their starter, the Astros will take their rotation day by day in the lead-up to the postseason.

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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