Astros down Rays, Dodgers beat Braves to stay alive in MLB playoffs

Los Angeles (AFP) –


The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers are not backing down in the battles for World Series berths.

The Astros beat the Tampa Bay Rays 7-4 on Friday to force a decisive game seven in Major League Baseball's American League Championship Series, putting themselves on the brink of a historic comeback.

The Dodgers fended off elimination in the National League Championship Series with a 7-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Arlington, Texas, where Los Angeles trimmed the series deficit to 3-2.

After dropping the first three games of the ALCS in San Diego, California, the Astros have won three straight.

"We're relentless," Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said. "We said we didn't want to go home and we meant it."

Houston -- who have played the villain this pandemic-disrupted season after a sign-stealing scandal tainted their 2017 World Series victory -- are just the second team to advance to a game seven after trailing 3-0 in a series.

The Boston Red Sox did it in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees -- and won game seven on the way to the Major League Baseball crown.

Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez gave up one run on three hits with nine strikeouts over six impressive innings.

George Springer sparked a four-run fifth inning that put the Astros in control, his sharp single off Rays relief pitcher Diego Castillo scoring two.

Yuli Gurriel had walked to open the inning and Adelmys Diaz singled to left field off Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell -- spelling the end of Snell's day.

Martin Maldonado's sacrifice bunt advanced the runners, and Springer's ground ball to center field drove in two runs.

Jose Altuve followed with a crisp line drive to left field and Springer raced around from first to score.

Correa -- the walkoff homer hero of Thursday's game-five victory -- added another run-scoring single before Alex Bregman hit into a double play to end the inning.

Shane McClanahan took over on the mound for Tampa Bay in the sixth and gave up a home run to Kyle Tucker that made it 5-1 and the Astros added two more in the seventh.

Tampa Bay's frustration was evident in the bottom of the sixth, when Rays first baseman Yandy Diaz had strong words for Valdez after taking ball four from the pitcher.

Maldonado tried to soothe Diaz and Correa went to the mound to encourage Valdez -- who induced Brandon Lowe to hit into an inning-ending double play.

"I don't know what exactly happened," said Correa, adding his advice to Valdez was "focus ... let's go win this ball game."

Willy Adames had given Tampa Bay the lead in the bottom of the second, breaking out of his hitting slump with a two-out run-scoring double.

Manuel Margot hit two home runs off two different Astros relief pitchers -- a solo shot off Andre Scrubb in the seventh and a two-run blast off Cristian Javier in the eighth that cut the deficit to 7-4.

But Astros closer Ryan Pressly pitched a scoreless ninth to seal the win.

- 'Hungry' Dodgers -

In Arlington, Corey Seager homered twice for the Dodgers and Los Angeles catcher Will Smith belted a three-run home run off his namesake, Braves relief pitcher Will Smith, to power the Dodgers to a series-extending victory.

After the Braves chased Dodgers starter Dustin May runs in the first and second innings, six Los Angeles relief pitchers kept Atlanta's high-octane offense in check. Kenley Jansen, who has struggled recently in the closing pitcher's role, struck out three in the ninth to seal the victory.

Atlanta's starting pitcher A.J. Minter held the Dodgers without a run through three innings, but Los Angeles broke through against the Braves bullpen starting with Seager's solo homer in the fourth inning.

Smith built the lead in the sixth, showing tremendous patience through five pitches before launching a 94 mph fastball into the left-field seats.

"Last night hurt," Smith said of the Dodgers' game-four loss with ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw on the mound. "We were coming out tonight hungry and ready to go."

The Dodgers added three more runs in a seventh inning -- all with two outs.

Dodgers second baseman Chris Taylor was awarded first base when he appeared to be hit by a pitch, but replay showed the throw hit the knob of the bat and he returned to continue his at-bat -- smacking a double that set the stage for Mookie Betts' run-scoring single and a two-run blast by Seager.