LEADING OFF: Cole, Astros host Rays in Game 5 of ALDS

MLB

A look at what’s happening around the majors Thursday:

IT’S ALL ON THE LINE

Houston Astros ace Gerrit Cole has won a franchise-record 17 straight decisions heading into the deciding Game 5 of their AL Division Series against visiting Tampa Bay. The winner meets the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series starting Saturday.

Cole is 17-0 in 23 starts since a May 22 loss to the Chicago White Sox. He has allowed 92 hits over 154 1/3 innings during that span, striking out 241 and walking 32. That includes an outstanding outing in a 3-1 Game 2 win over the Rays, when he struck out 15, didn’t walk a batter until his final one, and allowed four hits over 7 2/3 scoreless innings.

Tyler Glasnow starts for the Rays after taking a 6-2 loss in the opener, when he gave up two runs and four hits in 4 1/3 innings, including Jose Altuve’s go-ahead, two-run homer in the fifth.

Both starters came up with the Pirates organization and were teammates in Pittsburgh from 2016-17.

Cole was the top pick in the 2011 amateur draft and was traded to Houston in January 2018 for right-handers Michael Feliz and Joe Musgrove, outfielder Jason Martin and infielder Colin Moran.

Glasnow was a fifth-round selection in that same draft, and was dealt to the Rays on July 31 last year along with outfielder Austin Meadows and a player to be named (right-hander Shane Baz) for right-hander Chris Archer, who went 3-9 for Pittsburgh this year.

FLYIN’ HIGH

St. Louis has reached the NL Championship Series for the first time in five years after a 13-1 rout Wednesday at Atlanta in Game 5 of their Division Series. Marcell Ozuna and the Cardinals set a postseason record with 10 runs in the opening inning and handed the Braves yet another playoff heartbreak.

Before many fans had reached their seats, the Cardinals were already booking their plans for the NLCS, where they will face the wild-card Washington Nationals in a best-of-seven set beginning Friday night in St. Louis.

Howie Kendrick hit a tiebreaking grand slam in the 10th inning and the Nationals overcame a three-run deficit with a late rally against Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles bullpen to win 7-3 in their own Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.

”We know we can beat anyone at this point,” Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong said.

Atlanta has lost 10 consecutive postseason rounds since the last time the team advanced 18 long years ago, tying an ignominious mark set by the Chicago Cubs between 1908 and 2003.

WAITING GAME

The Yankees could be getting back a pair of injured players for the ALCS.

CC Sabathia threw a bullpen Wednesday and manager Aaron Boone said the 39-year-old left-hander is feeling ”considerably better.” Sabathia was replaced by left-hander Tyler Lyons on the Division Series roster, and Lyons pitched a perfect inning in the second game of the three-game sweep against Minnesota.

Center fielder Aaron Hicks, who last played on Aug. 3, has recovered from a right elbow flexor strain and returned to New York from the team’s complex in Tampa, Florida.

Rosters are due at 10 a.m. local time the day of the opener.

HANGING `EM UP

Atlanta catcher Brian McCann is retiring after a terrific 15-year career that included two stints with his hometown Braves. He made the announcement Wednesday following a 13-1 loss to St. Louis in the decisive Game 5 of their NL Division Series.

”It’s sad, but it’s time,” the 35-year-old said softly in a somber Atlanta clubhouse. ”I had a long career. Fifteen years is a long time, catching every day. I got to play in my hometown.”

McCann played his first nine seasons with the Braves. Following three seasons with the New York Yankees and two with Houston, he returned to Atlanta to renew a friendship with Braves manager Brian Snitker that began in the minors.

The seven-time All-Star won a World Series title with Houston in 2017 but couldn’t realize his dream of helping to bring Atlanta its second championship. He finishes with a .262 batting average, 282 home runs and 1,018 RBIs.

”I went to high school here, I grew up here, I got to play nine years here to start my career,” McCann said. ”I got to play with some of my heroes growing up and coming back to play with a new generation, I’d say it was a success.”

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