December 9, 2021

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Astros, Braves surge towards World Series showdown

The Atlanta Braves routed the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros handed out another drubbing to the Boston Red Sox as both teams moved within one victory of the World Series on Wednesday.

One day after giving up the lead late and suffering an agonizing loss in Game 3 on Tuesday, the Braves bounced back with a 9-2 victory over the reigning champions at Dodger Stadium to take a 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series.

Atlanta’s Eddie Rosario hit two home runs and finished a double shy of the cycle, while Adam Duvall and Freddie Freeman also homered. Rosario, Duvall and Joc Pederson all were acquired in July trades and have led Atlanta’s playoff charge. The Braves also had a 3-1 lead on the Dodgers in the NLCS last season, but were unable to finish off the Dodgers.

“This is a whole different team and a whole different thing,” Freeman said. “If anybody is thinking about 2020, I think everybody wants to be in a 3-1 lead, so we’ll take it.”

The Astros were similarly impressive on the road, demolishing the Red Sox 9-1 at Fenway Park to go ahead 3-2 in the American League Championship Series.

Starter Framber Valdez gave the Astros the kind of outing they desperately needed, keeping the Red Sox at bay with eight innings of one-run ball as Houston coasted to a 9-1 victory.

Prior to Valdez’s outing, Astros starters had allowed 16 runs (14 earned) in a combined 6⅔ innings over the first four games of the series. None of the four — including Valdez himself in Game 1 — made it past the third inning.

“I felt humiliated after that first outing and I set my mind on not letting that happen again,” Valdez said through an interpreter. “I did everything I could to work as hard as I possibly could to come back and have success in this outing, because I didn’t want to feel something like that again.”

The Braves can clinch a World Series berth with victory over the Dodgers in Game 5 in Los Angeles on Thursday. The Astros, meanwhile, will take a 3-2 lead back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday, needing just one win to clinch the AL pennant

The Dodgers’ stirring rally in Game 3 was viewed by some as a possible sign momentum had shifted in the series.

The Braves stomped all over that idea early on Wednesday, with Rosario and Duvall connecting off Dodgers starter Julio Urias in the second inning and Freeman going deep in the third. A run-scoring single from Pederson and a sacrifice fly from Duvall put Atlanta 5-0 up in the fifth. Although the Dodgers’ A.J. Pollock closed the gap with a two-run single to make it 5-2, the Braves never trailed.

Atlanta capped the victory in the ninth after Freeman drove in another run and Rosario hit a three-run homer off reliever Tony Gonsolin to spark celebrations in the Atlanta dugout.

The Braves’ bullpen limited the Dodgers’ vaunted lineup to just four hits.

“It was an incredible night, very emotional for me and I’m glad the team won,” Rosario said.

“All I really want to do is get to the World Series, I have that deep desire. It’s been an incredible postseason for me to be honest,” the 30-year-old Puerto Rican outfielder said.

Astros starter Framber Valdez pitches against the Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS in Boston on Wednesday. | USA TODAY / VIA REUTERSAstros starter Framber Valdez pitches against the Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS in Boston on Wednesday. | USA TODAY / VIA REUTERS
Astros starter Framber Valdez pitches against the Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS in Boston on Wednesday. | USA TODAY / VIA REUTERS

In Boston, Valdez delivered a superb performance from the mound, striking out five through eight innings.

His gem was backed by another breakout performance from the Astros’ bats, with Cuban slugger Yordan Alvarez leading the charge.

Alvarez went 3-for-5 and provided the offensive punch for the Astros, hitting a solo homer in the second before adding a two-run double in Houston’s five-run sixth. Yuli Gurriel also had three RBIs while Jose Siri had a two-run single and Michael Brantley drove in a run.

Houston will look to close out the best-of-seven series Friday night. Game 7, if necessary, would be played Saturday. Game 5 winners in best-of-seven postseason series that were tied after four games have gone on to win the series 70% (44 of 63) of the time.

“We lost the (Game 3), but we were able to get the next two,” Alvarez said through an interpreter regarding the Astros’ three-game run in Boston. “Now we’ve got to go home and just look for one game, and we hope to be able to do it to win it all.”

Rafael Devers had a solo homer and a single for the Red Sox. It was the eighth career postseason home run for the 24-year-old third baseman, who tied Mickey Mantle, Albert Pujols and Houston’s Carlos Correa for the most before turning 25.

After recording just five hits in a 9-2 loss in Game 4 Tuesday, the Red Sox finished with only three on Wednesday. Boston racked up 22 hits and outscored Houston 21-8 in Games 2 and 3.

“We got to win two games to go to the World Series. That’s the bottom line,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “It’s not the first time we’ve been in this situation that is a must-win. We did it in (game) 162, and we did it in the wild-card game.”

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