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Jose Altuve, Jason Castro key Houston Astros’ late rally to rout Boston Red Sox in Game 4 of ALCS



BOSTON — A seven-run ninth inning capped a comeback by the Houston Astros in their 9-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night.

Houston trailed 2-1 after the first inning of play, until second baseman Jose Altuve homered in the eighth off reliever Garrett Whitlock to tie the game before the visitors broke it open in the ninth to even the series at 2-all.

“He lives for those moments,” teammate Carlos Correa said of Altuve. “He’s one of the all-time greats in the playoffs. He’s going to be one of the all-time greats when it’s all said and done. Nothing surprises me about him anymore.”

Of Altuve’s 21 career postseason home runs, it was his 12th that either tied the game or gave his team the lead. That ties former New York Yankees great Derek Jeter for the most such home runs in postseason history.

“We need to tie the game right there,” Altuve said. “Was happy to score with a homer right there. What we did in the ninth inning was amazing.”

Correa’s double to lead off the ninth ignited the game-winning rally, but it was backup catcher Jason Castro who came through with the biggest hit after Altuve’s homer.

With two on and two outs — and the score still stuck at 2-all — Castro hit an 87 mph cutter from Red Sox starter-turned-reliever Nathan Eovaldi to right field for an RBI single. The floodgates opened after that.

“That was pretty cool to be in that spot,” Castro said afterward with a smile. “It was a great team effort to put us in that spot.”

Moments later, Michael Brantley‘s three-run double off lefty Martin Perez sent Red Sox fans to the exits as the Astros changed the momentum of the series when they needed it most. It was a dramatic turn of events.

“This is one of the great things about baseball,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “When you’re dead in the water and things aren’t going good, and then all of a sudden, boom, boom, boom, and you’ve got seven runs.

“That’s what they’ve been doing to us this whole series, and we’re capable of doing that as well.”

The seven-run inning is tied for the most runs scored in the ninth inning of a game in major league history. And they all came with two outs.

In fact, the Astros have scored 36 runs with two outs this postseason. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that’s the most two-out runs ever in a team’s first eight games of a postseason.

“I’m just glad that we didn’t quit,” Baker said. “What a job our bullpen did.”

The Astros pen covered the final 7 2/3 innings after starter Zack Greinke came out after 37 pitches. He wasn’t scheduled to go long. Greinke gave up a two-run home run in the first inning to Xander Bogaerts after Alex Bregman homered for the Astros in the top of the inning. But that’s all the scoring the Red Sox would manage. Boston walked seven times but had only five hits, breaking its string of consecutive games with 10 or more hits at six.

Altuve’s home run and the work of the bullpen was impressive but the talk after the game was about Castro. He battled one of the best Red Sox pitchers and came out on top.

“He was sitting on the bench for seven innings on a cold night,” Correa said. “You don’t have batting cage nearby to warm up because the ballpark is so old. I don’t know how he did it but I admire that because I wouldn’t be able to do that.”

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MLB Players Association to make counteroffer to league in Monday meeting



The Major League Baseball Players Association plans to make an in-person labor proposal to the league on Monday, sources told ESPN, countering MLB’s offer last week that did little to loosen the gridlock that has gripped the sport after the league locked out the players Dec. 2.

Should the players’ offer do little to advance the negotiations that thus far haven’t yielded any substantive progress, the scheduled start to spring training in mid-February will grow that much unlikelier. And the longer discussions on a new collective-bargaining agreement last, the more they jeopardize Opening Day on March 31.

The gap between the players and league remains significant, with the union seeking major financial gains in a number of areas and owners trying to hold firm with what they currently pay in salaries. Other issues players have said remain a priority include anti-tanking measures and fixing service-time manipulation.

Any concessions players make in their offer could provide a roadmap to the negotiations. Before implementing the lockout, the league asked the union to drop three areas of discussion: earlier free agency for players, salary arbitration after two years instead of three and changes to the revenue-sharing plan. The union did not agree to the condition when presented with it Dec. 1, and the league left the bargaining table, locking out the players hours later.

Forty-three days later, the league returned to the union with an offer that included paying players with two to three years of service based on a formula, slight modifications to the draft lottery it previously had proposed and a mechanism that would reward teams with draft picks when top prospects who started on opening day rosters win awards.

The proposal did little to entice players, who after losing financial ground during the previous labor agreement want to make gains this time around.

News of the MLBPA’s expected counterproposal was first reported by The Associated Press

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Robot umpires at home plate moving up to Triple-A for 2022, one step away from major league baseball



NEW YORK — Robot umpires have been given a promotion and will be just one step from the major leagues this season. Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.

MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball-Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game in July 2019 and experimented with ABS during the second half of that season. The system also was used in the Arizona Fall League for top prospects in 2019, drawing complaints of its calls on breaking balls.

There were no minor leagues in 2020 because of the pandemic, and robot umps were used last season in eight of nine ballparks at the Low-A Southeast League.

The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if commissioner Rob Manfred decides to use the system at the major league level.

“It’s hard to handicap if, when or how it might be employed at the major league level, because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March.

MLB said the robot umpires will be used at some spring training ballparks in Florida, will remain at Low A Southeast and could be used at non-MLB venues.

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Tampa Bay Rays say split-season plan with Montreal rejected by MLB



ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays‘ proposed plan to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news on Thursday.

“Today’s news is flat-out deflating,” Sternberg said.

The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.

Montreal had a big league team from 1969, when the expansion Expos began play, through 2004. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season.

The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.

Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field but not at the box office.

Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.

St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch feels a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.

“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”

Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area.

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