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Astros clinch AL West behind Springer’s 3 HRs

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HOUSTON — George Springer hit a career-high three homers, Justin Verlander posted his MLB-leading 20th win and the Houston Astros clinched their third straight AL West title in grand fashion, routing the Los Angeles Angels 13-5 on Sunday.

A crowd at Minute Maid Park that was cheering from Verlander’s first pitch got even louder as Springer homered three times in the first four innings. The Astros kept breaking away and improved to 102-54, a half-game ahead of the New York Yankees for the best record in the majors.

After the final out, the Astros held a bouncing group hug in the middle of the diamond and posed for a team picture. It hasn’t been determined who they will face in the playoffs as they try for their second World Series championship in three years.

Manager AJ Hinch spoke to the team in the clubhouse as the players broke out the bubbly and began a spraying celebration.

Springer, the MVP of the 2017 World Series, had two chances to tie the big league record for home runs in a game. He popped up with the bases loaded in the fifth and grounded out in the seventh.

Verlander (20-6) yielded six hits and two runs in five innings to reach 20 wins for the second time in his career and the first since winning the AL MVP and Cy Young Award in 2011 when he went 24-5 for Detroit. This year’s AL Cy Young front-runner struck out five to leave him six strikeouts shy of becoming the 18th pitcher in MLB history to reach 3,000.

The 36-year-old righty has fanned 288 this season, second most in his career and second in the majors behind teammate Gerrit Cole.

Verlander, who leads the AL with a 2.53 ERA, is the first Astros pitcher to win 20 games since Dallas Keuchel went 20-8 in 2015 when he won the Cy Young.

The Astros won their ninth division title. They took the NL West in 1980 and 1986, the NL Central in 1997-99 and 2001 and their three most recent titles in the AL.

Springer homered on his first three at-bats to help Houston take a 4-2 lead in the fourth inning. The Astros added six runs in a fifth, highlighted by a two-run homer from Alex Bregman to make it 10-2.

Springer, who has a career-best 38 home runs this season, got to work immediately, sending Jose Rodriguez‘s first pitch into left-center field for his franchise-record 12th leadoff homer this season. That left him one shy of the MLB record for leadoff homers in a season set by Alfonso Soriano with the Yankees in 2003.

Jared Walsh and Michael Hermosillo hit back-to-back triples with two outs in the second to tie it up.

Aledmys Diaz singled with no outs in the second and Springer connected off Rodriguez (0-1) again with two outs to put the Astros up 3-1.

There were two outs in the fourth when Springer sent a fastball from Jose Suarez into the seats in left field to make it 4-2.

The record of four homers has been done 18 times, mostly recently by J.D. Martinez for Arizona in 2017. This was the 14th time in a regular-season game in franchise history that an Astros player has hit three homers and the second time this season after rookie Yordan Alvarez also did it.



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Oakland A’s owner admits ‘mistake,’ will resume paying minor leaguers

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The Oakland Athletics have reversed course on their controversial decision to cease payments for their minor league players.

A’s owner John Fisher said Friday that he “made a mistake” and will pay the organization’s minor leaguers their $400-a-week stipend for the remainder of what would’ve been a typical minor league season. Those players will also be paid retroactively for this week.

The A’s had informed their minor leaguers on May 26 that they would not be paid after the month of May. The organization faced backlash because of it, a sentiment that only grew while they became the only team to make such a decision.

Many — including the A’s own minor league players — believed it would greatly impact Oakland’s ability to sign undrafted free agents after this year’s shortened draft.

The A’s previously furloughed about two-thirds of their player-development staff and the vast majority of their scouts, but Fisher — who is worth $2.2 billion, according to Forbes — has now established an emergency assistance fund for those furloughed employees.

“After spending the last few days listening to the important input from our fans and others, we will immediately begin paying our minor league players,” Fisher said in a team-issued statement. “These players represent our future and clearly our decision to not pay them was a mistake. The truth is that we got this decision wrong, and I apologize to our minor league players and others involved.”

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MLB players say teams ‘depriving America of baseball games’

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NEW YORK — Players accused MLB teams of “depriving America of baseball games” as part of a money fight set off by the coronavirus pandemic and raised the possibility baseball commissioner Rob Manfred might push ahead with a shortened season over the union’s objection.

Bruce Meyer, the Major League Baseball Players Association’s chief negotiator, sent a letter to deputy MLB commissioner Dan Halem on Friday threatening that an attempt to play without an agreement could lead players to block any attempt to expand the playoffs and deny consent to neutral-site games in the postseason.

“The league’s cynical tactic of depriving America of baseball games in furtherance of their demand for unwarranted salary concessions is shortsighted and troubling,” Meyer wrote. “Meanwhile, other leagues are moving forward with their plans for resumption.”

Meyer’s letter was first reported by The Athletic, and a copy was obtained by The Associated Press.

Major League Baseball made its initial economic proposal on May 26, offering an 82-game regular-season schedule and a sliding scale of cuts beyond the prorated shares of salaries the sides agreed to on March 26.

Players responded on Sunday, proposing a 114-game regular-season schedule running through October and no additional cuts. Each player would get about 70% of his original salary under the union’s plan and roughly 22-47% under MLB’s proposal, including $200 million tied to the postseason being completed.

“We are disappointed that you are purportedly shutting down negotiations after making one proposal demanding over $800 million in further pay cuts,” Meyer wrote. “We reject your invitation at the end of the letter to negotiate against ourselves. We are similarly chagrined by your decision to carry through on Rob’s threat from last Sunday to intentionally play as few games as possible unless players agree to your demand for pay cuts.”

MLB has proposed expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to 14, which would create at least six new games with broadcast rights to sell. The union offered to agree to a playoff expansion through 2021.

Both sides have said they hope to start the season around the beginning of July, and talks might intensify next week.

Before the pandemic, players were set to earn about $4 billion in salaries, not including signing bonuses, termination pay and option buyouts. Under the March 26 agreement, that would be cut to around $2 billion in an 82-game season.

MLB’s offer would lower salaries to $1.2 billion plus the $200 million for the postseason. The union’s proposal would leave salaries at $2.8 billion.

“The league needs to tell us immediately when it plans to start the season if it plans to do so unilaterally,” Meyer wrote. “We assume the league understands that in the event of a unilateral implementation of a season by MLB there are numerous aspects of a season that the players’ association will not be under any obligation to agree to, most notably any changes to the existing playoff structure and the locations of playoff games. If you intend to seek the players’ agreement to any such changes, we suggest that you raise them expeditiously.”

Under the March agreement, the season cannot start without MLB’s consent until there are no government restrictions on playing in front of fans in home ballparks, no relevant travel restrictions in the U.S. and Canada, and a determination by Manfred there is no health risk to players, staff or spectators. The sides committed to “discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate substitute neutral sites.”

Halem had written to the union on Wednesday that “we do not have any reason to believe that a negotiated solution for an 82-game season is possible.”

“The commissioner is committed to playing baseball in 2020,” he added. “He has started discussions with ownership about staging a shorter season without fans. Assuming that those discussions go well, we will notify you at the appropriate time of our intentions.”

Meyer criticized MLB for the pace of negotiations and for not responding to all of the union’s document requests, which include agreements between clubs and regional sports networks. Some of the RSNs have elements of ownership overlapping with teams and individuals who own teams.

MLB claims that by playing in empty ballparks, it would lose $640,000 for each game. The union has challenged MLB’s analysis.

“We note that the league frequently claims that it has negative operating profits from playing baseball yet it still puts on baseball games every year,” Meyer said. “The league has done nothing to persuade us of the veracity of its claims. As an example, the RSN contracts finally produced by the league on June 1 were so heavily redacted as to be essentially meaningless.”

The union offered to defer up to $100 million in salaries if the postseason isn’t completed this year, but Halem said teams have assumed $2 billion in additional debt.

“Rob said at our last meeting that the league ‘can pay 100% of salaries right now’ and that MLB doesn’t have liquidity issues,” Meyer wrote. “Rob’s statement that the league can easily borrow the equivalent of the proposed deferral is also noteworthy in light of the league’s claims about clubs being buried in debt.”

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‘Long Gone Summer’ — How to watch and stream ESPN’s Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa documentary

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Few seasons in recent memory captured the attention of baseball fans in America like 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa embarked on a chase for the single-season home run record of 61 that was set by Roger Maris 37 years prior.

ESPN’s new 30 for 30 film “Long Gone Summer,” which airs Sunday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET, looks back at the twists and turns of the 1998 season — its exhilarating highlights, massive impact and lasting complications — including in-depth interviews with McGwire and Sosa talking at length for the first time in more than two decades.

Entering the season, the sport was still stinging from the labor battles that had cut the 1994 campaign short and forced the cancellation of the World Series. But when McGwire, who had hit 58 home runs in 1997, got off to a torrid start in ’98, and was joined on the home run leaderboard that June by the red-hot Sosa, the country became enthralled, desperate for updates. The race for 61 was on.

Both players would shatter the mark, with McGwire reaching 70 homers on the last weekend of the season. But when the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout the game came to light in the years that followed, the thrill was gone. Or was it? The PEDs might have cheapened the accomplishment, but the excitement at the time of the chase was real and undeniable.


How to watch “Long Gone Summer”:

Watch on ESPN: Download the ESPN App | WatchESPN | TV

Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access.

Don’t have ESPN+? Get it here.


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