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BIG GUNS ADVANCE — Astros soar; Diamondbacks make NLCS

‘It’s going to be a heck of a series’

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - OCTOBER 11: Jose Abreu #79 of the Houston Astros kisses his bat after popping out against the Minnesota Twins during the fourth inning in Game Four of the Division Series at Target Field on October 11, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Adam Bettcher/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Adam Bettcher / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Defending champions Houston and the Arizona Diamondbacks advanced in the Major League Baseball playoffs on Wednesday while Philadelphia smashed a
record-tying six home runs to defeat Atlanta.

Jose Abreu belted a two-run homer and Michael Brantley hit a solo homer for Houston, who won, 3-2, at Minnesota to reach the American League Championship Series for a seventh consecutive campaign.

“It was a great victory,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.

“This was a team win.”

The Astros defeated Minnesota, 3-1, in their best-of-five AL second-round series to book a berth against the Texas Rangers in the best-of-seven ALCS, which starts on Sunday at Houston. Texas swept out Baltimore earlier.

Houston went 9-4 against AL West division rival Texas in the Lone Star State matchup this season, edging the Rangers for the division crown on the final day of the season.

“They know us and we know them,” Baker said.

“It’s going to be a heck of a series.”

Houston has won four of the past six AL finals on the way to capturing World Series titles last year and in 2017.

The Astros are one shy of Atlanta’s MLB-record eight consecutive trips to the league finals in the 1990s.

Also advancing were the Diamondbacks, who swept out the Los Angeles Dodgers in their National League series with a 4-2 home victory.

Arizona had solo homers in the third inning from Geraldo Perdomo, Ketel Marte, Christian Walker and Gabriel Moreno to take a 4-0 edge.

The Dodgers rallied with two runs in the seventh on consecutive two-out singles by Max Muncy, Will Smith, Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez.

Arizona reliever Kevin Ginkel retired at the top of the Dodgers batting order in the eighth and reliever Paul Sewald delivered the final outs to keep the Diamondbacks unbeaten in the playoffs.

“It was a team effort. It’s people caring about people. That’s what stood out to me,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said.

“There’s a lot of love in this clubhouse. It’s real and it’s here every day.”

The Diamondbacks, in the last four for the first time since 2007, await either Atlanta or Philadelphia in the NL Championship Series that starts Monday.

At Philadelphia, Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos each smashed two homers in the Phillies’ 10-2 romp over Atlanta.

The Phillies, who matched the 2015 Chicago Cubs for the most homers in a single MLB playoff game, grabbed a 2-1 series lead with game four Thursday at Philadelphia.

The Braves, who had this season’s best MLB record, fell one game from being ousted by the Phillies in the playoffs for a second straight year.

In Minneapolis, Royce Lewis smashed a solo homer off Houston’s Jose Urquidy in the first inning, but Brantley answered with a solo homer in the second to equalize.

Houston grabbed a 3-1 lead in the fourth when Yordan Alvarez singled and Abreu smashed a homer, his third in two days, to the upper right-field grandstands.

In the sixth, Minnesota’s Edouard Julien smacked a solo homer over the left-field wall off Urquidy to pull the Twins within 3-2.

But Minnesota couldn’t manage another hit much less the tying run.

In the ninth, Houston relief pitcher Ryan Pressly, now 13-for-13 in playoff saves, struck out Jorge Polanco, Lewis and Max Kepler to end the game.

In Philadelphia, Harper belted a three-run homer in the third inning and a solo homer in the fifth while Castellanos smacked solo homers in the third and eighth.

“It was good. Just trying to set the tone at home,” Harper said.

“We just tried to put pressure on them early. This was a really good win.”

Atlanta opened the scoring in the third when Ronald Acuna doubled and scored on an Ozzie Albies single.

But the Phillies equalized on a solo blast by Castellanos. Singles by Brandon Marsh and Trea Turner set the stage for Harper’s three-run homer to right field and J.T. Realmuto added a
two-run double.

Harper swatted a towering homer to center field in the fifth for his first multi-homer post-season contest.

Atlanta crept within 7-2 in the sixth but Turner, Castellanos and Marsh added solo homers for the final margin.

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