Houston is one win away from advancing

Valdez deals, lineup mashes as Astros take 3-2 ALCS lead with Game 5 win over Red Sox

Framber Valdez pitched eight brilliant innings of one-run ball in ALCS Game 5 for the Astros in the win over the Red Sox. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The playoffs of any sport are a breeding ground for dramatics, and MLB's league championship series with pennants on the line are no exception. Midway through Game 4 the night prior, the Astros found themselves in a desperate position: down 2-1 in the game and 2-1 in the series, before roaring to life to take the game late and even the series 2-2.

With the stage resetting in the ALCS with it becoming a best-of-three, either team could end Game 5 with a firm grasp on momentum. Luckily for Houston, it was them, as they would get a terrific start on the mound and continued success at the plate to put them a win away from moving on to the 2021 World Series.

Final Score: Astros 9, Red Sox 1

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 3-2

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Losing Pitcher: Chris Sale

Valdez deals in much-needed successful start

After getting a combined 20 outs from their starters in the first four games, eight of which came from him in Game 1, Framber Valdez matched that and more with a gem in Game 5. He took a perfect game into the fifth, retiring the first twelve batters he faced to keep Boston not just off the board but off the bases. The Red Sox looked to break up his rhythm in the bottom of the fifth, getting a leadoff single before getting another on base by a hit by pitch, but Valdez would induce a timely double play then finish the inning with another groundout.

In the sixth, he stranded another runner, working around a one-out double to keep his efficient night going. In the bottom of the seventh, Boston would give him his only blemish on the night, a one-out solo home run, but he would regroup to finish the inning. After a lengthy top-half, Valdez returned to the mound in the bottom of the eighth, getting one more 1-2-3 frame to cap off his fantastic outing. His final line: 8.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, 93 P.

Alvarez leads another night of potent offense for Houston

Meanwhile, Houston's offense was backing him up with plenty of run support. Yordan Alvarez led the way, starting the scoring for the game with a leadoff solo home run off of Chris Sale in the top of the second inning. After remaining a 1-0 game into the sixth, the Astros put together a big frame, much like the ninth inning in Game 4.

After a leadoff walk to Jose Altuve followed by an error to put a second runner on, Alvarez would tag Sale again, this time getting a two-RBI double to chase Boston's starter out of the game. They continued scoring against Boston's bullpen, getting three more runs with two outs in the inning, one on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel, then a two-RBI single by Jose Siri, pushing the lead to 6-0. The top of Houston's order was up again in the next inning, and after a single to start the inning and then advancing to second on an error, Altuve would score on an RBI single by Brantley, making it 7-0.

Astros take Game 5 and control of the ALCS

After Valdez allowed the solo homer in the seventh and held the 7-1 lead in the eighth, Houston padded their lead in the top of the ninth. They loaded the bases with a single, a walk, and an intentional walk, setting up a two-out two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to make it an eight-run lead at 9-1. Ryne Stanek entered looking to finish things off in the bottom of the ninth in a quiet, much less filled Fenway Park. He would do so as the Astros go back on top in the ALCS 3-2, heading back to Houston needing one win in front of their home crowd to move on to their third World Series in five years.

Up Next: The Astros and Red Sox will have a day off on Thursday before picking up the series on Friday. While the time and place of Game 6 is known, Friday at 7:08 PM Central from Minute Maid Park, neither team has determined their pitching situation for that game.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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