CLEVELAND – The Houston Astros are orbiting in October once again.
The defending World Series champions advanced to the American League Championship Series for the second straight year, completing a division-round sweep of Cleveland on Monday with an 11-3 lashing in Game 3 helped by two key throwing errors from Indians reliever Trevor Bauer.
Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run double off Bauer on a shoulder-high pitch as the Astros scored three runs in the seventh inning and closed out a series that figured to be much more competitive.
George Springer homered twice, Carlos Correa belted a three-run homer for his first hit of the postseason and Houston’s bullpen combined for four scoreless innings as the A.L. West champions served notice that a second World Series title is on their itinerary.
After the Astros finished a three-game demolition, they briefly celebrated on the infield at Progressive Field before taking the party inside to their clubhouse.
“It’s a great day for us as a team, a great day as a city,” said Springer, who connected in the fifth and eighth innings. “I understand that personal results don’t mean anything now. It’s all about, ‘How can I help us win?’”
For the Indians, another postseason ended earlier than planned. Cleveland was beaten in the first round for the second year in a row – New York came back from a 2-0 deficit in 2017 – and baseball’s longest World Series championship drought will reach a 71st anniversary.
The Indians hit just .144 in the series, have lost six straight playoff games and were swept for the first time since the 1954 World Series.
“We got to go home now, before we’re ready to,” manager Terry Francona said. “That hurts. It always stings. I just told the guys, we’ve got a number of guys that are free agents. 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 to.”
Francisco Lindor homered off a circular digital clock in the fifth off Dallas Keuchel to give Cleveland a 2-1 lead that vanished in the seventh.
With a major assist – actually two of them by Bauer – the Astros rallied off the starter-turned-postseason reliever, who stooped behind the mound and dropped his head after his two errant throws.
Tony Kemp singled and was awarded second when Bauer’s pickoff throw hopped into the photographer’s pit. Springer reached on a dribbler that catcher Yan Gomes couldn’t make a play on as Kemp took third. Jose Altuve grounded into a forceout, with Kemp scoring to tie it at 2.
Bauer got the dangerous Alex Bregman to hit a comebacker, but the right-hander’s throw to second was off line and both runners were safe – a mistake that surely will haunt the enigmatic pitcher all winter.
Bauer then walked Yuli Gurriel and Gonzalez, whose two-run double to right broke a tie in Game 2, followed with his double to left to make it 4-2 and force Francona to change pitchers again. The pitch was 4.22 feet off the ground, the second-highest ever struck by Gonzalez for a hit, according to Major League Baseball.
As he walked to the dugout, Bauer, who did not commit an error in 28 appearances this season, received a polite ovation from Cleveland fans. They appreciated that the Indians had to ride him in October because of all the other problems in the team’s bullpen.
Mike Clevinger gave Francona a terrific outing – five strong innings before Bauer entered.
Springer, who struck out on three pitches in his first two at-bats against Clevinger, got him the third time and drove the first pitch into the left-field bleachers to tie it 1-all.
It was Springer’s franchise-record ninth homer in the postseason – he hit No. 10 in the eighth – and gave the Astros a homer in 12 straight playoff games, matching the A.L. record set by Baltimore (1983, 1997). After hitting just three home runs in the final 1 1/2 months of the regular season, Springer went deep three times against Cleveland.
The Indians came in batting just .100 after being dominated by Astros All-Stars Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in Houston, where they were managed just six hits. They finally strung a couple together to push across a run in the third.
Francona has been on both sides of postseason deficits.
He famously guided Boston from down 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS against New York and watched helplessly as his Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the 2016 World Series and another big advantage in last year’s Division Series. Francona said his pregame message to his players was to focus on “small samples” and he drove it home by channeling Yogi Berra.
“As long as you’re still breathing, you’re still breathing,” he said. “We just don’t have a lot of margin for error.”
Never mind two of them.
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