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Altuve, Astros going back to ALCS after routing White Sox

CHICAGO (AP) — It was Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman once again.

The Houston Astros are going to the AL Championship Series for the fifth straight year. Their October-tested stars led the way.

Altuve hit a three-run homer and scored four times, and Houston eliminated the Chicago White Sox with a 10-1 victory in Game 4 of their AL Division Series on Tuesday.

Correa and Bregman each hit a two-run double as the Astros bounced back from Sunday night’s 12-6 loss with their usual relentless brand of baseball. Michael Brantley had three hits and two RBIs.

Next up for Altuve and company is Game 1 of the ALCS against former Astros bench coach Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox on Friday in Houston. The Red Sox eliminated Tampa Bay with a 6-5 victory in Game 4 on Monday night.

“We’re playing another good team,” Altuve said.

It’s Houston’s second ALCS under 72-year-old manager Dusty Baker, whose club got the best of 77-year-old Chicago skipper Tony La Russa. Baker replaced A.J. Hinch, who was fired in the fallout from the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal that also resulted in a one-year ban for Cora.

A testy La Russa argued with umpire Tom Hallion after he felt Houston reliever Kendall Graveman hit reigning AL MVP José Abreu intentionally with two out in the eighth. Abreu was plunked 22-times during the season.

“There is a character choice there that they should answer for,” La Russa said. “Stupid, too.

Baker, who has sparred with La Russa in the past, said his team did not throw at Abreu intentionally.

Gavin Sheets connected for Chicago, becoming the third rookie in franchise history to homer in a postseason game. But Carlos Rodón was knocked out in the third inning of his first start since Sept. 29, and the AL Central champions left eight runners on base.

The White Sox also lost in the first round of the 2020 playoffs, dropping two of three in Oakland. Before this year, the franchise had never made consecutive postseason appearances.

The Astros are looking for the franchise’s second championship after winning it all in 2017, a title that still evokes a strong reaction around the game after the team was punished for using electronics to steal signs.

The crowd at Guaranteed Rate Field chanted “Cheater! Cheater!” at times during the two games in Chicago, and White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera implied late Sunday night that Houston may
have been stealing signs in Games 1 and 2.

Correa put Houston ahead to stay with his two-out double in the third, pulling Rodón’s high 0-2 fastball into left. The Astros loaded the bases on two walks and a fastball that hit Altuve, drawing a round of cheers from the crowd of 40,170.

That was it for Rodón, who was limited down the stretch because of shoulder soreness and fatigue. Running his fastball into the upper 90s again after another extended break, the left-hander was charged with two runs and three hits in his first career playoff start.

“He gave us everything he had,” La Russa said.

Bregman drove in Maldonado and Altuve with his two-out double on a 3-0 pitch from Garrett Crochet. The left-handed reliever then struck out the lefty-batting Yordan Alvarez, ending the inning.

The big hits by Correa and Bregman supplied more than enough offense for Lance McCullers Jr., who departed with right forearm tightness after four effective innings. Yimi García got three outs for the win.

McCullers also pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Houston’s 6-1 victory in Game 1 on Thursday. If he can’t go in the ALCS, it would be a big blow for the Astros.

Altuve punctuated Houston’s big day with his 19th career postseason homer, a three-run shot off All-Star closer Liam Hendriks in the ninth.

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