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Astros near World Series diadem

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Houston rookie Jeremy Peña had a home run and a run-scoring single and star pitcher Justin Verlander battled through five innings as the Astros edged the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-2, to move to the brink of another World Series title on Thursday.

The Astros took a 3-2 lead in Major League Baseball’s Championship showcase and could close it out at home when the series shifts to Houston for Game 6 on Saturday.

“We’re just trying to stay grounded,” Peña said.

“We’re going to just lock back in and play our game.”

One night after Houston starting pitcher Cristian Javier and three relievers combined for a no-hitter, Verlander had to grind through another World Series start.

The veteran ace, who is favored to win a third Cy Young Award this season, gave up a first-inning home run to Phillies leadoff batter Kyle Schwarber on his second pitch of the night, making some unwanted World Series history in the process.

It was the 10th homer allowed by Verlander in World Series play — surpassing the record of Hall of Fame pitcher Catfish Hunter, who surrendered nine in six World Series appearances.

But Verlander was able to escape a bases-loaded jam in the second inning and induced a fly out from Bryson Stott to strand two Phillies runners in the third.

He was credited with a win for the first time in nine World Series starts.

After Verlander retired Nick Castellanos in a 10-pitch at-bat to end the fifth, Verlander exchanged a long hug with Astros manager Dusty Baker in the dugout.

“Well, it was battle and that’s what he said,” Baker said.

“He emptied the tank early and his pitch count got high, but that was as far as we thought we should take him,” Baker added of Verlander, who threw 94 pitches, giving up four hits with six strikeouts and four walks.

Peña’s solo homer in the fourth had staked Houston to a 2-1 lead. Leading off the inning, the 25-year-old belted a ball from Phillies starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard into the left field seats.

Peña had smacked a run-scoring single off Syndergaard in the top of the first after Jose Altuve lined a leadoff double and advanced to third when Brandon Marsh bobbled the ball in center field.

Peña also singled in the eighth inning, when Yordan Alvarez’s ground out drove in Altuve to make it 3-1.

The Phillies pulled back a run in the bottom of the eighth when Jean Segura’s one-out single off Rafael Montero plated Castellanos.

Ryan Pressly took over on the mound for the Astros with two runners on and one out and struck out Marsh. Then a stinging drive off the bat of Schwarber was scooped up at first base by Trey Mancini for the last out of the inning.

Mancini had entered the game after Yuli Gurriel was injured in a rundown collision.

Baker said Gurriel, who took a knee to the head as he was sprawled on the ground, had a sore right knee that would require treatment.

“We were afraid that it was his head,” Baker said. “But he’s day-to-day and he’ll get treatment tomorrow and the next day and then we’ll make a decision on how he is and how he’s moving.”

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