ALCS: Astros sweep Yankees for fourth pennant in six years

AP photo by John Minchillo / Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel and third baseman Alex Bregman celebrate after a 6-5 win against the host New York Yankees on Sunday night to complete a sweep of the ALCS.

NEW YORK — A delay for weather Sunday night before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series turned out to be only that.

There was no stopping the Houston Astros from finishing off the New York Yankees on their way to the pennant, something that has almost become an October ritual in recent years.

Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman delivered big hits, and the Astros advanced to the World Series again, finishing a four-game sweep of New York in the ALCS with a 6-5 victory aided by another defensive gaffe from the Yankees.

Taking advantage of a costly error by second baseman Gleyber Torres to produce the go-ahead rally in the seventh inning, Houston repeated as the AL champ and won its fourth pennant in six years.

Rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña hit a three-run homer off ailing New York starter Nestor Cortes to help the AL West Division champions overcome an early 3-0 deficit. Peña was picked as the MVP of the series.

"It's surreal. You dream about this stuff when you're a kid," he said. "We're a step away from the ultimate goal."

Houston opens the World Series at home Friday night against the wild-card Philadelphia Phillies, who beat the San Diego Padres earlier Sunday to close out the National League Championship Series in five games. It was the first time both pennants were decided on the same day since 1992.

After losing to the Atlanta Braves in last year's World Series, Houston improved to 7-0 in this postseason, earning the fifth pennant in franchise history and another chance at its second MLB championship. The team's 2017 title was tainted by a cheating scandal, though it still stands in the record books.

With the playoffs expanded to 12 teams this year, the Phillies became the first club in MLB history to finish third in the standings and still reach the World Series. Philadelphia went 87-75 during the regular season, behind Atlanta and the New York Mets in the NL East Division.

The Astros finished 106-56 under manager Dusty Baker, seven games better than any other AL team.

"These are the greatest guys that I've ever been around!" Baker said during the postgame celebration on the field. "They come to play every day — all day."

The 73-year-old Baker is headed to his third World Series in 25 seasons as a manager, and still seeking his first championship as bench boss. He did win as a player with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"It's a very exciting time for me and the organization," Baker said before the game. "These guys have come to expect winning. Winning breeds winning."

After racing to a 61-23 record in early July, AL East champion New York was no match for the Astros in October — again. Houston went 9-2 against the Yankees overall this year and has eliminated them from the playoffs four times an eight-year stretch, including in the ALCS in 2017 and 2019.

New York has lost in its past five trips to the ALCS and hasn't won a pennant since the 2009 season, when it went on to its record 27th World Series championship. No. 28 has proved most elusive.

"This is as bad as it gets," manager Aaron Boone said.

Back in the leadoff spot, Harrison Bader had three hits and scored three times for New York. He connected off winning pitcher Hector Neris for his fifth home run in this postseason, giving the Yankees a 5-4 lead in the sixth. They couldn't hold it when they absolutely had to.

Peña hit what should have been an inning-ending double-play ball to Torres in the seventh. But his flip to second base went wide of shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa as the crowd of 46,545 groaned, and the Astros had two on.

Alvarez singled home the tying run on the next delivery from losing pitcher Jonathan Loáisiga, and Bregman put Houston ahead with an RBI single off Clay Holmes.

It was the sixth error of this postseason for the Yankees, who also gave the Astros a pivotal gift in Game 3. Chas McCormick hit an early two-run homer off New York ace Gerrit Cole after Bader, a Gold Glove outfielder, dropped a two-out fly when he nearly collided with Aaron Judge in right-center.

Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly shut the door with perfect relief.

Pressly retired Judge on a comebacker for his third save of the series and fourth this postseason, sending the Astros rushing out of the dugout for ecstatic hugs and handshakes on the infield.

Moments later, a throng of orange-clad Houston fans chanted "Sweep! Sweep!" behind the team's dugout on the third-base side of a mostly empty Yankee Stadium.

Handed an early 3-0 lead, Cortes walked No. 9 batter Martín Maldonado to start the third and fell behind 2-1 on slumping Jose Altuve. Something wasn't right. Boone and head athletic trainer Tim Lentych went to the mound for a quick check on Cortes, who initially remained in the game.

But he walked Altuve, marking the first time the All-Star left-hander had issued consecutive free passes this season. And eight pitches after the mound visit, Peña launched a 3-1 slider into the left-field seats to tie it.

That was it for Cortes, who exited with a left groin injury that he apparently reaggravated. He was sidelined from Aug. 22 through Sept. 7 with a strained left groin.

"We could tell that something was wrong with Nestor because he never throws that many balls," Baker said. "Usually he has pinpoint control. So that helped us a lot."

Alvarez doubled off Wandy Peralta and went to third when Peralta got nailed by Kyle Tucker's line drive that went for an infield single with one out. Yuli Gurriel bounced an RBI single through an open right side to put Houston ahead 4-3, but Peralta prevented further damage.

Needing a win to extend their season, the Yankees got off to a fast start in the first inning after an 84-minute delay due to a threat of rain. Giancarlo Stanton laced an RBI single off starter Lance McCullers Jr., and Torres blooped a run-scoring single into center.

That ended New York's scoreless streak at 14 innings. Houston had gone 19 innings without permitting an earned run.

Anthony Rizzo's two-out RBI double made it 3-0 in the second, but Stanton struck out with runners at second and third. Rizzo also delivered a two-out RBI single that tied it 4-all in the fourth.

McCullers, who closed out the Yankees with 24 straight curveballs in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, lasted five innings. He gave up four runs (three earned) and eight hits.