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AL Division Series B

Jays' (w)inning way: 53-minute, insane 7th

MLB.com

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are heading to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1993, and it was one of the biggest home runs in franchise history that got them there.

Jose Bautista's three-run homer capped a frenzied seventh inning and allowed Toronto to dispose of the Texas Rangers with a 6-3 victory in Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on Wednesday evening.

View Full Game Coverage

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are heading to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1993, and it was one of the biggest home runs in franchise history that got them there.

Jose Bautista's three-run homer capped a frenzied seventh inning and allowed Toronto to dispose of the Texas Rangers with a 6-3 victory in Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on Wednesday evening.

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALDS: Rangers vs. Blue Jays -- Results ::

Shop for official Blue Jays postseason gear

The Rangers had a 2-0 series lead, but the Blue Jays became just the third team in history to win a best-of-five postseason series after losing the first two games at home, joining the 2001 Yankees and the 2012 Giants. Both of them advanced to the World Series, and the Giants won it all. The Blue Jays will face the Royals in Game 1 of the best-of-seven ALCS on Friday night at 7:30 ET (FOX/Sportsnet) in Kansas City.

The whole series boiled down to a 53-minute, insane seventh inning with the highest of highs in one dugout and the polar opposite across the diamond. The dramatic twists and turns of events in that span were unlike any other in postseason memory.

Toronto tied the game, 2-2, on Edwin Encarnacion's home run in the sixth, but Texas reclaimed a 3-2 lead on a fluke play that started the seventh inning on a bizarre path that would define the series.

"I've never seen anything like that in 19 years in baseball," said Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey. "It was like a novel that you don't want to put down."

Rougned Odor was on third base with two outs when Shin-Soo Choo took a fastball for ball two. Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin tried to throw the ball back to relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez, but it hit Choo's hand, holding the bat, and ricocheted toward third base. Odor broke home and scored. Umpire Dale Scott called a dead ball and sent Odor back to third, but Rangers manager Jeff Banister asked Scott to convene with the other umpires to discuss the play. They reversed the decision and allowed Odor's run to count, calling a crew-chief review for a rule check in a sequence that prompted Blue Jays manager John Gibbons to initiate an official protest, which Toronto withdrew after its victory.

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Rangers, Blue Jays play memorable Game 5

"I really didn't see his hand out there," Martin said of Choo. "I just caught the ball and threw it back very casually and it hit his bat, and next thing you know a run scores. 

Rangers score bizarre run

"It never happened in my life before. I don't really know what the rule is. He was in the box. I mean, it's just one of those moments and it created an opportunity for us to do something special. Jose, the hero. My college teammate picking me up right there. Unbelievable man."

Video: Must C Curious: Rangers take the lead on crazy miscue

The Blue Jays didn't waste time grabbing back the momentum, however, thanks to a series of miscues in the bottom half of the inning. Before recording an out, the Rangers became the first team in postseason history to make three errors in a single inning of a sudden-death game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, loading the bases. Two batters later, the tying run scored on a little blooper off the bat of Josh Donaldson that barely went over the head of Odor at second.

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: LDS elimination game turns on crazy 7th

Bautista then followed with Toronto's biggest home run since Joe Carter hit a walk-off shot in Game 6 to win the 1993 World Series. It was a no-doubter that Bautista admired as it hit off the facing of the second deck, much to the delight of the sold-out crowd, but it led to the first of two bench-clearing scenes in the inning after Bautista flung his bat high into the air.

Bautista's homer cements his Toronto legacy

"I was looking for something up," Bautista said. "He throws hard with a sinker. He threw the first one down and I just said tee it up, and I put a great swing on it and it felt great."

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Bautista's 431-foot HR gives Jays lead

The loss went to Texas ace Cole Hamels, who began the seventh inning but was pulled after Toronto tied the game at 3-3. He allowed five runs (two earned) on four hits, two walks and eight strikeouts. Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman took the no-decision after he came through with six strong innings that saw him allow two runs on six hits and a walk.

Hamels: Rangers' future looks very bright

"I'm not ready to go home," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "I can't process it. I'm not ready for it to be over. It's not supposed to happen but it did."

Rangers proud, ready for more in 2016

ALDS intensity stokes Rangers' thoughts of '16

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Shades of Joe Carter: Bautista, the Blue Jays slugger, came through with the huge three-run shot in the seventh, giving Toronto its first lead of the game. With runners on the corners, Bautista took a 1-1 fastball from Rangers reliever Sam Dyson over the wall in left, capping off the scoring for what was a tense and confusing inning. According to Statcast™, the ball left Bautista's bat at 106 mph and traveled a projected 431 feet.

Video: Carter, Bautista homer in home postseason wins

"I knew it was gone. I was enjoying it," Bautista said of his demonstrative bat flip. "It was a huge moment in the game, I knew I did something great for the team and that's it. I don't remember much after that until I ran the bases and got into the dugout. That's when I started coming to again."
Huge 3-run blast by Bautista part of wild 7th

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Bautista on home run, ALDS victory

Surreal seventh inning: The Blue Jays' dramatic comeback put an end to one of the most bizarre and tense postseason games in recent memory. In addition to the cleared benches, there was an ejection of non-roster player Mark Buehrle and a strange play that saw Texas take a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh when Martin's throw to the mound hit Choo's hand and allowed Odor to score from third.

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Martin's throw hits bat, Odor scores

"That initially was called that kind of a no-call situation, but yet Choo's standing in the batter's box doing what he always does, the play's not dead," Banister said. "The ball was thrown, went off Choo's hand. It's still a live baseball. That's the rule. So how about my guy [Odor] being heads-up and scoring on that play and not keeping his head down, because that's who we are. We continue to play aggressively. We keep our heads up, and we stayed focused."

Video: HOU@KC Gm5: Rangers, Blue Jays discuss Odor scoring

Defensive disintegration: The Rangers made three errors to start the seventh inning and set up Bautista's big blow. Shortstop Elvis Andrus bobbled Martin's grounder, first baseman Mitch Moreland bounced a throw to second trying for a force on Kevin Pillar's grounder and Andrus dropped a throw from Beltre when the Rangers tried to get a force at third on Ryan Goins' bunt. With the bases loaded, the Rangers got a force at home on Ben Revere's grounder to first. After Dyson relieved Hamels, Donaldson followed with a blooper that Odor misjudged. He recovered to get a force at second, but the tying run scored and left runners at the corners for Bautista.

"That was very uncharacteristic of us," Moreland said. "It was a tough inning for us, that's for sure."

In the pivotal seventh, three of the four runs in the inning were unearned. After Dyson came in for Hamels, he retired a batter, then allowed the home run to Bautista. The last run was charged to Dyson, since none of the errors occurred when he was pitching. 

Uncharacteristic errors haunt Andrus, Rangers

Video: Must C Classic: Three errors lead to four runs in 7th

The Ed-wing: Encarnacion was making hard contact all series but didn't have a lot to show for it until the bottom of the sixth in Game 5. With Toronto trailing, 2-1, Encarnacion unloaded on a 93-mph fastball from Hamels and sent it over the wall in left field for the first home run of his postseason career. According to Statcast™, the solo shot was projected to travel 436 and left his bat at 110 mph.

"It's something we've been waiting for a long time for," Encarnacion said of the Blue Jays' run. "We're here."

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Encarnacion hits a mammoth 436-foot HR

Bautista strikes: Toronto trailed, 2-0, heading into the bottom of the third and desperately needed a spark vs. Hamels. They got it when Bautista stepped to the plate with a runner on second and two outs. Toronto's veteran slugger smacked an 0-1 fastball into the left-field corner for an RBI double that easily scored Revere. According to Statcast™, the exit velocity off Bautista's bat was 113.36 mph.

"The guy's amazing. He's my hero," Donaldson said. "For myself, personally, I haven't been able to make it to this next step that we're about to reach, and I'm very excited to be a part of that. Our team is just amazing."

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Bautista doubles in first Blue Jays run

Fielder breaks RBI drought: Prince Fielder had gone 22 postseason games and 93 plate appearances without an RBI before finally coming through in the first inning. He came up after Delino DeShields led off with a double and went to third on Choo's grounder. Fielder hit a slow bouncer to first baseman Chris Colabello, who bobbled the ball slightly in his glove before throwing home. But DeShields beat the throw to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead and Fielder an RBI, although he is still hitless in his last 17 postseason at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Prince plates DeShields with ground ball

Interesting facts from the Blue Jays' Game 5 win

FURTHER REVIEW
Andrus, with runners on first and second, tried to steal third base with two outs in the second inning and was thrown out by Martin. The Rangers challenged the call, but it was confirmed by replay and the Rangers' budding rally was over.

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Martin catches Andrus stealing third

QUOTABLE
"This is going to go down as one of the great games that we ever played here." -- Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos

Game 5 brings out fan in GM Anthopoulos

"I think it's possibly a new rivalry. I think everybody is going to circle that one for next year." -- Rangers catcher Chris Gimenez, on the Blue Jays

Gregor Chisholm and T.R. Sullivan are reporters for MLB.com.

Jose Bautista, Shin-Soo Choo, Delino DeShields, Josh Donaldson, Sam Dyson, Cole Hamels, Rougned Odor, Marcus Stroman

Unforgettable 7th changes tide in Game 5

Bizarre run, rule check, game protest, record 3 errors, benches clear -- and 1 monster HR
MLB.com

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are moving on to the American League Championship Series, and they got there by surviving and thriving in a wild seventh inning that first ripped the hearts out of Toronto baseball fans and then had them screaming for joy.

The unforgettable sequence of events ended with the Blue Jays on their way to a 6-3 win in Game 5 of the AL Division Series against the Rangers, setting them up for Friday's Game 1 of the ALCS in Kansas City at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX/Sportsnet.

View Full Game Coverage

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are moving on to the American League Championship Series, and they got there by surviving and thriving in a wild seventh inning that first ripped the hearts out of Toronto baseball fans and then had them screaming for joy.

The unforgettable sequence of events ended with the Blue Jays on their way to a 6-3 win in Game 5 of the AL Division Series against the Rangers, setting them up for Friday's Game 1 of the ALCS in Kansas City at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX/Sportsnet.

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALDS: Rangers vs. Blue Jays -- Results ::

But there were a ton of twists before it was decided, and the seventh inning had it all.

Texas scored one run on a throw back to the pitcher, the Blue Jays scored four unearned runs following three consecutive errors, there were two benches-clearing incidents and one of the biggest home runs ever hit in Toronto franchise history. It was the first time in history that a team committed three errors in one inning of a winner-take-all postseason game.

"I've never seen anything like that whole inning," Blue Jays veteran starter R.A. Dickey said. "Nineteen years of playing, I was talking to the guys on the bench, and even [Mark] Buehrle said [he had] never seen anything like that. That's like 40 years of experience between us. That's something else."

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: LDS elimination game turns on crazy 7th

The wackiness began in the top of the frame with Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor on third base and two outs for outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Following a pitch during the at-bat, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin casually attempted to toss the ball back to his pitcher, Aaron Sanchez.

Video: Must C Curious: Rangers take the lead on crazy miscue

But Martin's throw bounced off Choo's hand, which was holding the bat, while Choo was standing in the batter's box. The ball ricocheted down the third-base line, and Odor easily scored the go-ahead run. Odor was initially sent back to third after home-plate umpire Dale Scott called a dead ball, but Rangers manager Jeff Banister asked Scott to convene with the other umpires to discuss the play.

Rangers score bizarre run on catcher throw

They reversed the decision and allowed Odor's run to count after calling a crew-chief review for a rule check, which cited 6.03(a)(3), determining the ball to be in play.

As members of the crowd delayed the game by throwing items on the field in protest, Toronto seemed to be on its way to a heartbreaking defeat in the worst way possible, and Blue Jays manager John Gibbons initiated an official protest -- which was withdrawn after the victory. 

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Wild 7th inning at Rogers Centre

Martin admitted that the right call was made and the rules were clear, but that he felt "karma" was going to work in the Blue Jays' favor.

"Choo didn't do anything wrong, and you think either they're lucky or we're unlucky," Martin said. "It's a situation where you feel [one of] two ways -- you either feel sorry for yourself or you do something about it."

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Martin on bizarre play, moving to ALCS

Toronto definitely did something about it, but it wouldn't have been possible without a helping hand from the shaky Rangers infield defense. In the bottom of the seventh, Elvis Andrus made two of the three consecutive errors that loaded the bases with nobody out.

Video: Must C Classic: Three errors lead to four runs in 7th

Ben Revere then followed with a grounder to first base, which resulted in a force at home. The Rangers felt a sliding Dalton Pompey interfered with the catcher, but his play was determined to be legal.

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Pompey is cut down at the dish

Another Rangers mistake soon followed as Odor misread a little blooper off the bat of Josh Donaldson. Instead of a catch that would have kept the runners in place, the ball went over Odor's head and landed as Kevin Pillar scored from third. Texas had to settle for a force at second, and the tying run had scored.

Video: TEX@TOR Gm5: Pillar comes home with tying run

That set the stage for Jose Bautista, and his shot to left field drew memories of Joe Carter's walk-off homer that won the 1993 World Series. According to Statcast™, Bautista's second home run of the postseason was projected to travel 431 feet from home plate and left his bat at 106 mph. Dugouts emptied after he demonstratively flung his bat high in the air.

Video: Must C Clutch: Bautista's blast puts Blue Jays ahead

"This is the toughest time of my career right now," Andrus said of his errors that led to the unearned runs. "I couldn't make plays I've made a hundred times before. I feel like I let down my team, the city. And it hurts."

On the Blue Jays' side, the reaction was totally the opposite.

"We erupted like everybody did," Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "A special moment. Besides Joe Carter's home run, I would say the biggest home run in Blue Jays history."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, Jose Bautista, Shin-Soo Choo, Russell Martin, Rougned Odor

Reigning champion Astros better than last year

MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- The floor was soaked and the air had that, uh, effervescent stench of victory, and let's just say Alex Bregman was in a talkative mood.

"To be honest with you," Bregman said, assessing these 2018 Astros, "[Jose] Altuve goes down, [George] Springer goes down and [Carlos] Correa goes down, and we win 103 games. If those three don't go down and play a full season, you're looking at the most wins in the history of the game. We're going to be honest. You are."

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CLEVELAND -- The floor was soaked and the air had that, uh, effervescent stench of victory, and let's just say Alex Bregman was in a talkative mood.

"To be honest with you," Bregman said, assessing these 2018 Astros, "[Jose] Altuve goes down, [George] Springer goes down and [Carlos] Correa goes down, and we win 103 games. If those three don't go down and play a full season, you're looking at the most wins in the history of the game. We're going to be honest. You are."

View Full Game Coverage

ALCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 1: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET/7:09 CT on TBS

Bregman turned to Astros special assistant to the general manager Kevin Goldstein.

"Am I wrong?" he asked.

"You're wrong," Goldstein replied, "but I love you."

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

Bregman, the Majors' hottest hitter this side of Christian Yelich, might very well be wrong about the best-record-in-history boast, but you didn't have to be swept up in the celebration, as the Astros were after completing the 11-3 Game 3 victory on Monday afternoon at Progressive Field that sent them back to the American League Championship Series against either the Yankees or Red Sox, to make some dynamic declarations.

Here's one: The Astros are better than they were a year ago.

You know, when they won the franchise's first World Series?

Now, that doesn't mean the Astros will become the first back-to-back champs since the Yankees' dynasty of 1998-2000, because this tournament has a way of presenting some pinball-worthy quirks and caroms. But it does mean that their rotation is better, their bullpen is better, their lineup is relentless as ever, and, well, they've got that look in their eye, for whatever that's worth.

On Monday, they outlasted the tension that hovered over Game 3 until the back-breaking seventh. They outlasted the crowd that left in droves before the ninth. And yes, they outlasted the Indians, who ran out of answers to every question this loaded Houston roster proposed.

It's funny (and a bit embarrassing) to reflect on our ignorance and innocence now, but a week ago, some of us actually thought this might be the best series of the postseason. These were two of the best starting staffs in the Majors. These were the two toughest teams to strike out. These were the past two AL champs. These were two of the game's more respected skippers in AJ Hinch and Terry Francona. These were two teams that deserved each other, in the best sense possible.

And it was a mismatch basically from the beginning. The Astros took it to Tribe ace Corey Kluber, wrangled Cleveland's lineup with the strikeout artistry of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, beat up on what's left of the Indians' bullpen and supposed X-factor Trevor Bauer, and then cut through all the clamor of this road date in front of a desperate fan base by shaking off some Francisco Lindor heroism and burying the home nine in the late innings.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Hinch on advancing to ALCS after sweep

With the way it ended, it's hard to believe Game 3 was ever an actual ballgame. Oh, but it was. In the third inning, facing Mike Clevinger, Marwin Gonzalez hit a long fly ball to right that, instead of going left of the foul pole for a game-changing grand slam, sailed wide right, into the area in front of The Corner Bar, where frazzled fans probably needed a drink after such a close call. Clevinger somehow escaped that inning unscatched, and, in the bottom half, the Indians got the game's first run on a sacrifice fly.

And even after the Astros tied it in the fifth on a solo shot from George Springer, whose name keeps climbing up the all-time postseason homer ranks, the Indians got what felt like a galvanizing moment in the bottom of the inning, when Lindor literally clocked the digital clock that hangs above the left-field porch -- a 446-foot poke off Dallas Keuchel that made it 2-1.

If teams fold after taking a 2-0 lead in a Division Series, that's about when they fold. They break in a big spot. They invite the other team -- and, just as importantly, its crowd -- back in the best-of-five series. They lose their killer instinct.

In case the final score doesn't make it clear, the Astros didn't do that. And in fact, they rarely do.

"They do a really good job of playing until the game's over," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It's been noticeable for a while. Sometimes, when you beat them, they just run out of time. You gotta have talent, but when you have talent and you play the game the right way, they have a lot of ways to come at you."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer on Astros' return to the ALCS

To Francona's point, no team in this postseason field had fewer blowout losses (defined here as five runs or more) this season than the Astros' eight. They're a tough team to put away, period.

"Not to be, like, cocky at all, but it's really, really tough to blow us out," Bregman said. "I don't remember those eight times, but it must have been, like, the [worst] day of all time for us."

So a little thing like a clock-clanging, potentially season-saving dinger from Lindor wasn't going to affect the Astros much. They just waited around for the seventh, when they got to Bauer's head and his pitches, with his two throwing errors advancing runners and with Gonzalez smacking his four-seamer above the zone into left for the two-run double that changed this game for good.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer, Marwin power offense to sweep

That the Astros were relentless (six runs in the eighth, another totally unnecessary insurance run in the ninth) was befitting of a ballclub that has posted a plus-459 run differential over the past two regular seasons -- the highest in a two-season span since the aforementioned 1998-99 Yankees.

"They keep coming, regardless of whether they're up, down or even," Bauer said.

And they're better than a year ago in that most key of October areas -- the pitching staff. Does anybody want any part of Verlander and Cole in succession in a Game 1 and 2 scenario right now? They front a starting staff that posted an adjusted ERA+ 30 percent better than league average this season -- by far the best in the Majors. That starting staff then hands it over to a bullpen that, a year ago, survived on Hinch's creativity (with Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton memorably closing out the LCS and World Series rounds) and now survives on the straight filth dealt by in-season acquisitions Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna, the convincing conversion of Collin McHugh, and the re-emergence of lefty Tony Sipp.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Astros complete ALDS sweep vs. Indians

"When you look down my card, I'm like, 'Man, I've got something for everybody in different areas of the game,'" Hinch said. "It's comfortable. These games aren't comfortable, but it's a comfortable feeling knowing I've got a couple cards to play when the time matters the most."

Every team has imperfections, and with Correa's back still hindering his hitting and Altuve limping around the bases after tweaking his right knee, the Astros will welcome their earned respite.

"The best thing we did today, for our team, was keep our foot on the gas pedal and finish it in three," Bregman said. "So that way, the guys who are banged up, which is 50 percent of this clubhouse, can get some time off."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Correa feeling great to move to ALCS

But as Bregman said, this team has already overcome some jarring injury issues to put together a special regular season. And in holding the Indians to a team-wide average (.144) only a bit better than your average pitcher posted for the year, it has just made a convincing case that the starting and relief situation are in fairly decent shape.

This, in short, is not your basic back-to-back bid. And you don't have to be soaked in champagne to see or say that.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Houston Astros

What we learned from Astros' ALDS win

Confidence of Bregman, Springer, dominant staff are key
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Coming off a sweep of the Indians in the American League Division Series, the Astros set their sights on what should be a riveting AL Championship Series against either the Red Sox or the Yankees, both of whom were eliminated by Houston in the postseason last year on its way to the World Series title.

The Astros smothered the Indians with dominant starting pitching in Games 1 and 2 in Houston, and then they rocked Cleveland's bullpen in Game 3, earning the team's first postseason sweep. They'll be rested for whichever team comes next, and they'll have to prepare for a best-of-seven series against another 100-win team.

HOUSTON -- Coming off a sweep of the Indians in the American League Division Series, the Astros set their sights on what should be a riveting AL Championship Series against either the Red Sox or the Yankees, both of whom were eliminated by Houston in the postseason last year on its way to the World Series title.

The Astros smothered the Indians with dominant starting pitching in Games 1 and 2 in Houston, and then they rocked Cleveland's bullpen in Game 3, earning the team's first postseason sweep. They'll be rested for whichever team comes next, and they'll have to prepare for a best-of-seven series against another 100-win team.

ALCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 1: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET/7:09 CT on TBS

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

Here are five things we learned about the Astros as a result of their ALDS victory:

1. Their confidence is through the roof.
The Astros have had a chip on their shoulder all season. Really, it started in the spring, when the Yankees were picked by many to win the World Series, and it continued through the summer en route to Houston's club-record 103 wins. But this team was as confident as it could get in the ALDS, and it played with swagger. The Astros took their game to another level, and they looked like a team that wasn't going to let anybody stop it from repeating.

2. The revamped bullpen is the real deal.
The Astros left three quality, playoff-seasoned relief pitchers off their ALDS roster: Hector Rondon, Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock. And they didn't even need to use relievers Tony Sipp and Josh James to sweep the Indians. Talk about depth. The Ryan Pressly, Lance McCullers Jr. and Roberto Osuna trifecta at the back end of games looks untouchable. So does Collin McHugh, who struck out four in two innings in Game 3.

3. George Springer is the Astros' Mr. October.
Springer trudged through an unspectacular second half of the season dealing with a sore thumb and not hitting for much power. He hit only three homers in his final 120 at-bats, but he cranked a pair of big flies in Game 3 and reminded everyone he's one of the game's best clutch playoff performers. He socked five homers in last year's World Series to win Most Valuable Player honors, and now he has 10 postseason homers in his career, which is two more than any other Astros player. Good luck to opposing pitchers.

4. Their starting pitching is nearly untouchable.
Imagine winning a postseason series without needing to use Charlie Morton? That's the kind of luxury the Astros had with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole dominating in Games 1 and 2 and Dallas Keuchel holding his own in Game 3. Verlander and Cole looked like the early-season versions of themselves, pitching deep and piling up strikeouts. It's hard to imagine anyone being able to beat Verlander and Cole twice in a seven-game series. Add Morton to the mix with the game's best bullpen waiting in the wings, and it's an intimidating scenario for opponents.

Video: CLE@HOU Gm1: Verlander K's 7 Indians, 4 with big heat

5. Alex Bregman is worth the price of admission.
Bregman is one of the best players in baseball, and he is easing into a role as the guy whom opposing fans love to hate. Astros fans, though, can't get enough him -- and he's proven to be pretty clutch in the playoffs, too, hitting homers in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS. So far, Bregman's playoff interviews have been as entertaining as his play. He struts to the plate and you sit up. He's confident, maybe even cocky, but he speaks the truth. And if you don't like it, it's probably because he tore your team's heart out. The game needs more Alex Bregman.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros

Impending Tribe free agents reflect on tenure

MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- In a far corner of the Indians' clubhouse, amid all the hugs and handshakes and the murmur of cliches into microphones about a season ending too soon, three of Cleveland's veterans huddled on Monday night. Josh Tomlin, Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes sat with each other, talking quietly with somber expressions.

They will see each other in the coming days -- during the locker cleanout at Progressive Field and perhaps for some dinners before they go their separate ways for the offseason -- but it is unlikely that they will all wear the same uniform next year. Tomlin and Brantley are among the handful of players facing free agency, which will create a changing of the guard in Cleveland's locker room.

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CLEVELAND -- In a far corner of the Indians' clubhouse, amid all the hugs and handshakes and the murmur of cliches into microphones about a season ending too soon, three of Cleveland's veterans huddled on Monday night. Josh Tomlin, Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes sat with each other, talking quietly with somber expressions.

They will see each other in the coming days -- during the locker cleanout at Progressive Field and perhaps for some dinners before they go their separate ways for the offseason -- but it is unlikely that they will all wear the same uniform next year. Tomlin and Brantley are among the handful of players facing free agency, which will create a changing of the guard in Cleveland's locker room.

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

"I've got a lot of thinking to do," Brantley said before sitting with his teammates. "I've got my family to talk to. I've got these guys in this room to still talk to. Then, we'll go from there. You never know what's going to happen in the offseason."

And if Brantley did just play his final game for the Indians?

"This organization is in great hands," Brantley said. "You look around this room. They've got phenomenal leaders still, great players. They're going to be good for a long time. I hope to be a part of it."

In the aftermath of the Indians' three-game sweep at the hands of the Astros, who finished off their American League Division Series victory by dealing the Tribe an 11-3 rout, silver linings were not on the minds of Cleveland's players. For a considerable portion of the Indians' roster, this may have been their last chance to win a World Series together.

Brantley has played in parts of 10 seasons for the Indians, who acquired him as a prospect in 2008 to complete the trade that sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers. Tomlin is Cleveland's longest-tenured player, having been picked in the 19th round of the 2006 Draft. Joining them in free agency will be the Indians' all-time saves leader, Cody Allen, who was selected in the 23rd round of the '11 Draft.

Andrew Miller, Josh Donaldson, Lonnie Chisenhall, Melky Cabrera, Oliver Perez and Rajai Davis are also among the players poised to hit the open market this coming offseason.

Only a few minutes after the loss, that reality was not lost on manager Terry Francona.

"We've got a number of guys that are free agents," Francona said. "You know there's going to be some turnover, and it's a real special group to all of us. So that's a hard one, when you're saying goodbye before you're ready."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm 3: Francona on falling in ALDS again

Miller and Allen helped a depleted Indians pitching staff reach the World Series in 2016, but they have not been able to rekindle the same October magic over the past two years. Cleveland's bullpen was a trouble area all season and wound up being the weak spot again in Monday's defeat. The Indians held a 2-1 lead through six innings, but then the relief corps was charged with 10 runs the rest of the way.

In an effort to stabilize the bullpen in the postseason, starter Trevor Bauer took on a relief role. Two throwing errors by Bauer in the seventh inning helped swing the game in Houston's favor, but that was not what Allen focused on in the wake of the Tribe's last loss. Allen saw a pitcher willing to help out in any way possible -- a move necessitated by the rest of the relievers' issues.

"For a guy to want to embrace that challenge and face it head on, you've got to root for a guy like that," Allen said. "Watching what he's done, watching what guys like Josey [Ramirez] and Frankie [Lindor] continue to do, just overall, the culture here is unbelievable. We've seen so many guys get better. It's just unfortunate that I wasn't able to help out in the way that I would've liked to."

Allen then echoed Brantley's belief that -- should they leave via free agency this offseason -- the Indians' roster is in good shape going forward.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Indians discuss ALDS loss to Astros

"I really do [believe that]," Allen said. "This organization's done a pretty good job of putting some pretty good teams on the field without making the big free-agent splashes. ... Guys like Jose Ramirez, Frankie Lindor, Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco -- the backbones and the core and the centerpieces of this club -- either came up in this organization or they got traded for in the Minor Leagues and were developed.

"This organization's going to be just fine with or without whoever the guys are that are free agents."

Miller agreed with that sentiment.

"Every year you have new guys," Miller said. "This organization is set for a long time. There's guys that are going to make this team a contender certainly in the near future. I'm not worried about that right now. I'm worried about trying to process this and move on from it. It's just not the ending we wanted."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians

Brantley savors playoff run after beating injuries

Indians outfielder is 'very appreciative' of return to form
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- Rather than heading home to Texas two winters ago, Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin and his family remained in Cleveland for most of the offseason. One of the driving factors behind that decision was that Michael Brantley was staying back to focus on his rehab from a second right shoulder surgery.

Tomlin knew all too well the mental anguish of rehabbing an injury in solitude. He understood the thoughts that start to infiltrate a player's mind, causing confidence to erode when the finish line is far from view. Tomlin heard Brantley talk about spending his post-playing days at home in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where the outfielder could spend his down time fishing and playing with his kids.

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CLEVELAND -- Rather than heading home to Texas two winters ago, Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin and his family remained in Cleveland for most of the offseason. One of the driving factors behind that decision was that Michael Brantley was staying back to focus on his rehab from a second right shoulder surgery.

Tomlin knew all too well the mental anguish of rehabbing an injury in solitude. He understood the thoughts that start to infiltrate a player's mind, causing confidence to erode when the finish line is far from view. Tomlin heard Brantley talk about spending his post-playing days at home in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where the outfielder could spend his down time fishing and playing with his kids.

View Full Game Coverage

Tomlin knew Brantley needed a close friend nearby to help swat such thoughts away.

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

"You need someone there pushing you," Tomlin said. "You need someone there telling you, 'Hey, you're full of crap. You're going to play. You're going to play again. You're one of the best players in the league. Keep fighting. Keep going forward.'"

Now, the only part of Brantley's future that is in doubt is which uniform he will don next year. Following three seasons hindered by health setbacks, Cleveland's veteran left fielder turned in a remarkable comeback campaign in 2018. Brantley's swing was as smooth as ever, and his presence in the lineup's No. 2 spot gave the Indians' offense a steady hand between Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.

That is where Brantley batted on Monday, when the Indians were eliminated in Game 3 of the American League Division Series with an 11-3 loss to the Astros, during which Brantley hit a sacrifice fly.

The early exit hastens the questions surrounding Brantley, who will be eligible for free agency after parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues with the Tribe.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Brantley's sacrifice fly opens scoring

Given his comeback, given his inability to impact the past two postseason runs and given his uncertain future, Brantley has been savoring as much as possible this year.

"Every day," Brantley said. "When you go through basically almost a two-year rehab, you don't always know that you're going to come back. Every day that I'm there to be with my teammates, that I'm healthy enough to be in that lineup, where I can joke around and know that I'm going out to left field to play with these guys, I'm very appreciative. I don't take it for granted."

In 143 games this season, Brantley hit .309 with 17 home runs, 36 doubles, 76 RBIs, 89 runs and an .832 OPS for the Indians. He was not the AL Most Valuable Player Award candidate that he was in 2014, but Brantley returned to his status as one of the elite contact-oriented hitters in the game. Brantley led qualified MLB hitters in contact rate (90.9 percent) and swinging-strike rate (4.0 percent), while ranking second in strikeout rate (9.5 percent).

Video: BOS@CLE: Brantley walks it off with a single to left

It took countless hours of work behind the scenes for Brantley to become that type of player again.

Late in the 2015 season, an ill-fated dive on the road in Minnesota caused the initial injury to Brantley's right shoulder. He had surgery, but complications limited him to just 11 games in '16. When the Indians clinched the first of three straight AL Central crowns in Detroit that September, Brantley leaned against a wall outside the visitors' clubhouse at Comerica Park, observing the champagne celebration from afar.

Throughout the run to the World Series that October, Brantley stayed with the team, offering hitting advice or any other insight he could for his teammates. If he could not swing a bat, Brantley wanted to find some other way to help his club.

"I really looked at myself as a coach," Brantley said. "I was talking to guys about at-bats. I was talking to them about their approach with certain pitchers. If anyone had a question of me, I made sure I was in the dugout cheering them on and made sure they knew I was there. I accepted the role, even though I didn't want to."

Brantley returned by the start of the 2017 season and made the AL All-Star team, but then a severe right ankle injury that he sustained in August hobbled him for the remainder of the year. The left fielder made the ALDS roster against the Yankees, but he was playing hurt, and following New York's victory to clinch the series, Brantley exited Progressive Field in a walking boot.

"He's a dying breed," Tomlin said.

Brantley had no such setbacks this season. When the Indians clinched their latest division crown, the outfielder was in the thick of the party in the home clubhouse. All those monotonous hours in the training room or batting cage -- where Brantley would swing one-handed if that was all he could handle -- had paid off.

"On a personal level, I'm just so happy for him, that he can be a part of this," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I saw what he went through. When everybody's getting announced during the World Series and all the excitement, he was back there [in the training room]. He never missed a day."

"You never know when it's going to be your last game or what could happen," Brantley said. "Every day that I came in this season, to be with that group that worked so hard day in and day out by my side, it's an honor."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley

Springer joins Mr. October in exclusive club

Astros slugger has 8 homers in past 9 postseason games; also sets club record for most playoff homers
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- If the Astros are to repeat as World Series champs, they will also need repeat performances from several old reliables who got them that far into the postseason this time last year.

Fittingly, the 2017 World Series Most Valuable Player is at the top of that list, and though it's still early in the postseason, he's already delivering.

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CLEVELAND -- If the Astros are to repeat as World Series champs, they will also need repeat performances from several old reliables who got them that far into the postseason this time last year.

Fittingly, the 2017 World Series Most Valuable Player is at the top of that list, and though it's still early in the postseason, he's already delivering.

View Full Game Coverage

ALCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 1: Saturday, 8:09 p.m. ET/7:09 CT on TBS

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

Though he's one of several Houston hitters battling nagging aches and pains, George Springer has become otherworldly in the playoffs. His recent heroics not only helped the Astros sweep the Indians on Monday afternoon, but they also etched his name in the record books with some of the greatest postseason performers of all-time.

"He's Super Springer," Marwin Gonzalez said, concisely, following the Astros' decisive 11-3 win over the Indians in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Springer hit three homers in the final two games of Houston's sweep, including two in the finale. He tied the game at 1-1 with a solo homer off Mike Clevinger in the top of the fifth, and he extended the Astros' lead to 5-2 with another solo shot off Cody Allen in the eighth.

The historic part of his day arrived following the second homer. Springer now has eight long balls in his past nine postseason games, tying him with Reggie Jackson, Jim Thome and his former teammate, Carlos Beltran, for the most over such a stretch.

And Springer has 10 career postseason homers, two more than Beltran and Jose Altuve, a new mark in Astros history.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer mashes a solo homer in the 5th

Springer may not have had all of this information at his disposal when he was fielding questions in a champagne-and-beer soaked visitors' clubhouse at Progressive Field following the win, so when trying to explain why he's so good in October, he opted to keep it simple.

"I just think it's one of those times where the lights get brighter, the stage gets a little bigger and I think guys tend to concentrate more," he said.

Springer said he was a "little reserved" in his first two at-bats Monday, which resulted in strikeouts. Then he simplified his approach.

"It's hard to hit in this league behind in the count," Springer said. "So I just told myself to go get something to hit, and hit it hard. And then, honestly, I don't know. I was just trying to hit the ball hard, and whatever happens, happens."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer on Astros' return to the ALCS

Heading into this series, the unknowns were plentiful -- not just with Springer, but with several hitters who missed time this season with injury. A sprained left thumb sidelined Springer, officially, for a couple of weeks in August. But the discomfort lingered longer than the disabled list stint.

He struggled after returning from the DL on Aug. 17, hitting just three home runs in the final six weeks of the regular season.

Then, October arrived.

"I said this to our team in there -- special teams do special things in October," manager AJ Hinch said. "And I believe that about players. George is one of them. We've seen him come up as an uber prospect, produce at an uncanny level, hit the lowest of the lows in the World Series and then be the World Series MVP. I don't think this should surprise anyone. He's a really special player."

That sentiment was repeated numerous times throughout the clubhouse celebration, though some had more creative ways to express how much they've grown to expect -- and respect -- Springer's October output.

"Conor McGregor said when he beat Nate Diaz in the Octagon," said Alex Bregman, the team's unofficial keeper of all things pop culture. "'I'm not surprised.' I'm not surprised.'"

The Astros' ability to sweep the series could prove helpful as the postseason progresses. Not only does it give them a chance to reset their rotation, but it also enables some of those hobbling hitters to rest for a few days before the AL Championship Series begins Saturday.

Springer, it appears, will be ready.

"I don't care how hurt you are, how hurt I am," he said. "This is all about the team, and you have to do whatever you have to do to play the nine-plus innings, for as long as it takes. I'm happy to be out there. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I stay out there."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Houston Astros, George Springer

Astros power past Indians, cruise into ALCS

MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- The Astros passed their first October test as the defending World Series champions with flying colors, burying the Indians with a relentless offense and solid pitching on Monday afternoon to earn a champagne celebration they hope won't be their last.

Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run double in the seventh inning to break a tie, and George Springer etched his name in history by cranking two first-pitch solo homers to send the Astros to an 11-3 win over the Indians at Progressive Field and a three-game sweep of the American League Division Series.

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CLEVELAND -- The Astros passed their first October test as the defending World Series champions with flying colors, burying the Indians with a relentless offense and solid pitching on Monday afternoon to earn a champagne celebration they hope won't be their last.

Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run double in the seventh inning to break a tie, and George Springer etched his name in history by cranking two first-pitch solo homers to send the Astros to an 11-3 win over the Indians at Progressive Field and a three-game sweep of the American League Division Series.

View Full Game Coverage

ALCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 1: Saturday, 8:09 p.m. ET/7:09 CT on TBS

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

A three-run homer by Carlos Correa -- his first hit of the ALDS -- capped a six-run eighth inning as the Astros secured their first playoff sweep in franchise history.

"When we have an opportunity to advance, you've got play well against really good teams," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "Cleveland is really good. Their pitching staff is really good. I know we scored runs, I know we put pressure on them, but our team stays the course. We don't back down and don't settle. Our team really shows up."

The Astros advanced to the AL Championship Series, awaiting the winner of the Red Sox-Yankees ALDS that was tied at one game apiece entering Monday. Game 1 would be on Saturday in Boston (if the Red Sox advance) or in Houston (if the Yankees move on).

"They present a lot of challenges, and they're worthy of moving on," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Whoever they play, they'll be a handful."

The Astros dominated the series, outscoring the Indians, 21-6, with the pitching staff posting a 0.70 WHIP. Houston was 11-for-30 with runners in scoring position, compared with 0-for-6 for Cleveland.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer, Marwin power offense to sweep

"We just came in here knowing we were a better ballclub," Astros outfielder Josh Reddick said. "Going up 2-0 at home was huge. We've been the best ballclub I've seen on the road. We came in here with all the confidence in the world we were going to get the job done. Credit the pitching staff for setting the tone for us so we can stay in games."

Dress for success: Get Astros gear for ALCS

Springer, last year's World Series MVP, homered in the fifth inning to tie the score and become the Astros' franchise leader with nine career playoff homers. He added a solo blast in the seventh for No. 10, and his eighth in his past nine postseason games, tying a record held by Reggie Jackson (1977-78), Jim Thome (1998-99) and Carlos Beltran (2004 with the Astros).

"It's not about personal stuff here," said Springer, whose 32 playoff hits are the third-most in franchise history, behind Craig Biggio (39) and Lance Berkman (34). "It's about the team. So I'll take it."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer cranks his 2nd homer of game

After smothering the Indians with dominant starting pitching in Games 1 and 2, the Astros withstood five solid innings from Tribe starter Mike Clevinger before Cleveland's defense unraveled in the seventh. The Indians' bullpen imploded an inning later.

Trevor Bauer, who came on in the sixth inning with a 2-1 lead, made two errors throwing to the bases in the seventh that helped Houston tie the score on Jose Altuve's fielder's choice. With the bases loaded, Gonzalez hit a shoulders-high fastball off Bauer into the left-corner for a two-run double to score a pair and put Houston ahead, 4-2.

"It was an ugly swing, but I was lucky enough to keep it fair and get the lead by that time," Gonzalez said. "What I just wanted to do in that at-bat was at least get a fly ball and bring in a run and then get the lead. Everybody knows what Bauer can do on the mound. He's a good pitcher. I was looking to keep the ball fair."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Gonzalez's double off 4.22-ft high pitch

The Astros batted around in the seventh and eighth, scoring nine runs to blow open the game, and scored 14 of their 21 runs in the series in the seventh inning or later. Houston's bullpen allowed one run and four hits in 9 2/3 innings.

"We gave ourselves so many opportunities, and at the end we broke through," Hinch said. "I love this team, because we can beat you in a couple of different ways. We put up really good at-bats. Our bullpen was unbelievable, and you have guys step up who had up-and-down seasons. Marwin Gonzalez, up-and-down season, comes through. Obviously, [Alex] Bregman had a great series. Yuli [Gurriel] didn't get a lot of love but had some big at-bats. It doesn't matter where we are in the order. We can hurt you."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Hinch on Marwin's performance in sweep

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The score was tied at 2 with one out in the seventh when Bregman hit a chopper back to the mound. It was a tailor-made double-play ball for Bauer, who had a chance to end the inning and keep the game even if he could turn it. Instead he turned and threw wide of second base, allowing Altuve to slide in safely, and the relay throw to first was late. A walk to Gurriel loaded the bases, then Gonzalez doubled to give the Astros the lead.

"Honestly, I was trying to put something in play," Bregman said. "It was hard to see with the shadows. I got jammed. He threw a good fastball in, a two-seamer in."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Altuve, Bregman safe after Bauer's error

SOUND SMART
The Astros are 14-2 in the postseason when Altuve has at least one hit, and 11-0 when he has at least one RBI.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Altuve hits game-tying fielder's choice

HE SAID IT
"Our guys came out ready to play and ready to show we're the World [Series] champions. The World Series runs through us and runs through Houston, and that's what we came out and did from the jump." -- Collin McHugh, who got the win in Game 3

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: McHugh K's 4, earns win in Astros' sweep

UP NEXT
The Astros advance to face either the Red Sox or the Yankees in the ALCS. Justin Verlander is likely to be Houston's Game 1 starter.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Carlos Correa, George Springer

Drama short-lived as Tribe's season ends in G3

Clevinger fans 9 in 5 IP before Lindor's 446-foot HR provides lead, but 'pen yields 10 runs down stretch
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- As the baseball caromed off the clock beyond Progressive Field's intimidating left-field wall, and as Francisco Lindor jumped in the air, pumped his fist and then tossed his bat away, it felt like the Indians just might be able to complete Step 1 in their improbable comeback bid.

For that moment in the fifth inning on Monday afternoon, while the Cleveland crowd shook the stadium, the past seven decades of baseball in this city were an afterthought. Then the Astros quickly reminded everyone that they are the reigning World Series champions, storming back to deal the Tribe an 11-3 defeat that sealed a three-game sweep of the American League Division Series.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- As the baseball caromed off the clock beyond Progressive Field's intimidating left-field wall, and as Francisco Lindor jumped in the air, pumped his fist and then tossed his bat away, it felt like the Indians just might be able to complete Step 1 in their improbable comeback bid.

For that moment in the fifth inning on Monday afternoon, while the Cleveland crowd shook the stadium, the past seven decades of baseball in this city were an afterthought. Then the Astros quickly reminded everyone that they are the reigning World Series champions, storming back to deal the Tribe an 11-3 defeat that sealed a three-game sweep of the American League Division Series.

View Full Game Coverage

"We've got to go home now -- before we're ready to. That hurts. It always stings," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "You know there's going to be some turnover, and it's a real special group to all of us. So that's a hard one, when you're saying goodbye before you're ready."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Francona on Indians being swept in ALDS

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

All that energy that was unleashed from the stands -- fueled further by Lindor's celebratory sprint around the bases after a go-ahead home run -- will now give way to the frustration of another early-arriving offseason. A 10-run collapse by Cleveland's bullpen across the seventh, eighth and ninth innings paved the way for the final loss of the 2018 campaign.

With no World Series title since 1948, the Indians have the longest drought in the Majors. The defeat carries with it the lingering sting of the past two Octobers, too. Cleveland reached the World Series in 2016, only to lose Game 7 to the Cubs. A year ago, the Tribe had a stacked roster that looked prime for a deep run, but the team was bounced in the ALDS by the Yankees.

"I didn't expect us to lose the way we lost -- 3-0," said Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion. "With the talent we have in this clubhouse, that's not supposed to happen."

The relief corps was an issue for most of this season, so the Indians devised a different strategy for October. Starter Trevor Bauer would be utilized as a multi-inning leverage weapon to aid the shaky staff. In the finale of this best-of-five series, a pair of throwing errors by Bauer gave Houston the opening it needed to soak another clubhouse with champagne.

"It was my job to get us to the finish line," Bauer said. "I didn't do that."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Bauer on his performance in Game 3

Following a drama-free sixth, and with the Indians clinging to a 2-1 lead, Bauer remained on the hill for the seventh. The righty promptly allowed a single to the fleet-footed Tony Kemp and then misfired on a pickoff attempt to allow the runner to reach second. Next up was George Springer, who sent a dribbler up the third-base line for an unlikely single.

With runners on the corners, Bauer induced a grounder off the bat of Jose Altuve, but Cleveland was only able to convert the out at second. Kemp scored with ease on the play to pull the game into a 2-2 deadlock. That set things up for Alex Bregman, who chopped a pitch back to the mound, where Bauer gloved the ball.

In an attempt to start an inning-ending double play, Bauer fired the ball wildly to Lindor, pulling the shortstop off the base for the pitcher's second error of the inning.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Altuve, Bregman safe after Bauer's error

"There's no way around it. That shoulda been the end of the inning," Bauer said. "It's a 2-2 game in the seventh. We've got a chance. And I didn't execute."

Bauer then walked Yuli Gurriel to load the bases for Marwin Gonzalez, who connected on a 95-mph fastball elevated and out of the zone, sending it into left for a two-run double. The three-run outburst by the 103-win Astros put the Indians in a 4-2 hole that the club was unable to overcome.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Gonzalez's double off 4.22-ft high pitch

That rendered an outstanding effort by Tribe starter Mike Clevinger moot. Over five innings, Clevinger piled up nine strikeouts and allowed only a solo home run to Springer in the fifth. The right-hander generated 18 swinging strikes against Houston, which had 16 swinging strikes combined in Games 1 and 2 against starters Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Clevinger K's 9, limits Astros to 1 run

"It doesn't mean anything," Clevinger said of his performance.

Springer, who holds the Astros' club record for playoff home runs with 10 in his career, also launched a solo shot in a six-run eighth that transformed the game into a blowout.

After being overpowered by Houston righties Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in the first two games, Cleveland had to contend with the left-handed Dallas Keuchel, who takes the sting out of bats more than he blows batters away. For much of his five frames, Keuchel succeeded in that regard, limiting the Tribe to a sacrifice fly from Michael Brantley until Lindor's game-changing shot.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Brantley's sacrifice fly opens scoring

With two outs in the fifth, Lindor crushed a first-pitch fastball over the middle to left field, where it rocketed out at 109.6 mph, per Statcast™. The 446-foot shot was Lindor's longest of the season and the farthest home run of his career from the right side of the plate. The shortstop jumped out of the batter's box, pumped his fist around second, howled to the heavens and clapped his hands hard upon reaching the dugout.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Lindor launches 446-ft dinger off clock

Overall, in the series, the Indians' lineup scored six runs and hit .144 as a team. Lindor launched two home runs, but he downplayed his personal performance.

"I wish I could have helped my team a little better," said the shortstop.

Lindor did not want the Tribe's 2018 journey to end. Neither did his audience. Now, Cleveland's long wait for a World Series triumph continues.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Indians discuss ALDS loss to Astros

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Allen's last outing?
With the bases loaded and Houston holding a 4-2 lead in the seventh, the Tribe handed longtime closer Cody Allen the ball for what may have been his final game in a Cleveland uniform. Allen -- eligible for free agency this offseason -- then struck out Tyler White to end the threat.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Allen K's White with bases loaded in 7th

Allen returned in the eighth, but he allowed Springer's second home run, gave up a double to Altuve, threw a wild pitch and issued two intentional walks. After Allen's exit, lefty Brad Hand gave up a three-run blast to Carlos Correa.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer cranks his 2nd homer of game

"I was not good," Allen said. "I was not good, and I feel bad for the guys who were extremely good this year and carried us to this point, because I did not help in getting us past a very, very good team in Houston. We knew we were going to have to play our best baseball, and we didn't, and I didn't."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm 3: Brantley, Allen, Miller on free agency

Impending Tribe free agents reflect on tenure

Clevinger's escape: Following a leadoff walk to Kemp in the third, Encarnacion could not corral a pickoff attempt at first base, resulting in an error that allowed the runner to reach second. Clevinger later yielded a one-out single to Altuve and hit Bregman with a pitch to load the bases with one out. It was a critical point in the game, and the Tribe starter was up to the challenge. Clevinger struck out Gurriel and induced a flyout from Gonzalez, leaving Houston empty-handed.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Clevinger strands the bases loaded

"He battled like crazy. I thought he had great stuff," Francona said. "Obviously, a lot of deep counts. I mean, he was close to 100 after 5. They had some really good opportunities, but he made some really good pitches to keep it [close]."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Francona on Clevinger's outing in loss

SOUND SMART
Clevinger's nine strikeouts against the Astros set a franchise record for a pitcher making his first career postseason start. Kluber (seven strikeouts in Game 2 of the 2016 ALDS) and Carrasco (seven strikeouts in Game 3 of the 2017 ALDS) shared the previous mark for the Indians.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Clevinger on his start in Game 3

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Cody Allen, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Francisco Lindor

Lindor homers off clock for 2nd blast of playoffs

MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- Big postseason home runs are all about timing. Sometimes literally.

Francisco Lindor's 446-foot home off Dallas Keuchel in the fifth inning not only gave the Indians a temporary lead over the Astros in Monday afternoon's 11-3 loss in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, but it also struck the digital clock that hangs from the walkway above Progressive Field's left-field home run porch. It was believed to be the first dinger to clock the clock, and the timing of the 109.6-mph blast was impeccable for a Tribe team that couldn't keep its season alive.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- Big postseason home runs are all about timing. Sometimes literally.

Francisco Lindor's 446-foot home off Dallas Keuchel in the fifth inning not only gave the Indians a temporary lead over the Astros in Monday afternoon's 11-3 loss in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, but it also struck the digital clock that hangs from the walkway above Progressive Field's left-field home run porch. It was believed to be the first dinger to clock the clock, and the timing of the 109.6-mph blast was impeccable for a Tribe team that couldn't keep its season alive.

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:: ALDS schedule and results ::

Lindor's two-out solo homer -- his second of the ALDS and his longest from the right side of the plate in his career, per Statcast™ -- came on a first-pitch four-seamer and in the bottom half of an inning in which the Astros evened things up at 1 apiece on a George Springer shot off Mike Clevinger.

The long balls were all part of a tense and entertaining tilt filled with frightening fly balls, frayed nerves and frantic home fans with the Indians in an 0-2 hole in the best-of-five set.

There was even some bunting to go with the bunting.

In the third inning, Clevinger pitched himself into a jam. He gave up a leadoff walk to No. 9 hitter Tony Kemp. Then, with Kemp a stolen-base threat, Clevinger made a pickoff attempt that Edwin Encarnacion could not snare, allowing the runner to reach scoring position. Clevinger struck out Springer but gave up a ground-ball single through the left side to Jose Altuve, putting runners on the corners. He got ahead of the red-hot Alex Bregman but lost the matchup when he plunked Bregman, who had just missed a hanging breaking ball by lining it into the seats down the third-base line, in the left hip with a fastball to load the bases.

Up came Yuli Gurriel, and Clevinger put him away with a beautiful breaking ball that Gurriel swung through for strike three. All that separated Clevinger from escape was Marwin Gonzalez, who smacked a first-pitch four-seamer high and deep to right. The ball just barely went wide of the foul pole, landing in front of Progressive Field's Corner Bar, whose patrons no doubt needed a drink after that sudden scare.

When Gonzalez lined out harmlessly to left, Clevinger had escaped the big threat unscathed. In the bottom of the inning, the Indians got something going against Keuchel with back-to-back singles from Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis. Lindor bunted back to Keuchel to advance the runners before Michael Brantley lifted a fly ball to deep center to score Gomes from third on the sacrifice that brought home the game's first run.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Brantley's sac fly opens scoring on TBS

Brantley's sacrifice fly snapped a string of eight consecutive scoreless frames for the Tribe's offense, its first run since Lindor's homer in the third inning of Game 2. Cleveland also scored first in that game and did not win. Including Monday's loss, teams that score first this postseason are 11-2, with both defeats courtesy of the Indians.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley, Mike Clevinger, Yan Gomes, Francisco Lindor