Bubbly Astros clinch AL West, bye with Texas loss


PHOENIX – On Saturday night, the Houston Astros celebrated clinching a playoff spot with T-shirts and a subdued toast.

One day later, after rallying to claim a bigger prize in their crosshairs, the Astros held an all-out locker room rager of cigars and champagne-and-beer showers that left puddles on the plastic-covered floors.

A season of injuries and inconsistencies ended with another division title. Even for a team that won the World Series last fall, that’s worth celebrating.

The Astros, with help from the Seattle Mariners, rallied to clinch their third straight AL West title, beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-1 on Sunday behind Christian Javier’s six strong innings and Alex Bregman‘s two-run homer.

“A lot of people wanted to know what it’s like if the Astros didn’t win the division,” Bregman said before popping the cork on a champagne bottle. “I guess we’ll never know.”

The Astros and the Texas Rangers finished with identical 90-72 records after the Rangers lost 1-0 to the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, but the Astros held the tiebreaker to win the division for the sixth time in seven years.

Instead of days of rest and home-field advantage, the Rangers will now visit the Tampa Bay Rays for Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series on Tuesday.

“Today’s loss hurts. Definitely a game that we wanted for our home fans, but we’re gonna have to take a different route now to get to our ultimate goal,” Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien said.

Including off days, the Rangers spent 159 days in first place this season. Yet it’s the Astros that now have a first-round bye in the playoffs and will be raising a division championship banner.

“At the end of the day, we kept it within striking distance and put it together at the end, which makes it very special,” Houston general manager Dana Brown said.

Said Rangers manager Bruce Bochy: “There’s always going to be disappointment because this game (vs. the Mariners) was big. It was huge. And so I’m sure there’s disappointment in there. Once we get on the plane realizing you’re in postseason, and like I said, you get your head back to where it needs to be.”

The game wasn’t the only loss for the Rangers on Sunday. Corey Seager lost the AL batting title on the final day to Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz, who didn’t play in the Rays’ season finale. Seager went 0 for 4 and finished at .327; he started the day leading Díaz .3298 to .3295.

Texas went 4-2 against Tampa Bay in the regular season. The Rangers went 1-2 during a three-game series at Tampa Bay in mid-June before sweeping a three-game series at home just after the All-Star break.

Arizona will play at the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card Series that starts Tuesday.

The Astros did their part by jumping on Kyle Nelson (7-4) from the first pitch. Houston had a 5-0 lead after two innings and Javier (10-5) held an Arizona lineup mostly devoid of everyday players to three hits.

Kyle Tucker had a sacrifice fly to finish with an American League-leading 112 RBIs. Jose Abreu added a two-run homer in the seventh.

The Astros’ fourth straight victory to close the regular season gave manager Dusty Baker his 13th season with at least 90 wins.

“I didn’t want to end on 89 and we got to 90,” Baker said in between champagne dousings.

The Diamondbacks backed into the playoffs, scoring two runs in three games against the Astros to close the regular season on a four-game losing streak. Arizona finished 84-78 after going 74-88 last season and losing 110 games the year before.

“You definitely want to finish on a high note, but it’s whatever and you’ve got to throw it away,” Diamondbacks outfielder Alex Thomas said. “Now we’ve got October baseball to focus on.”

The Astros jumped on the Diamondbacks early, needing two pitches to take a 2-0 lead.

Jose Altuve opened with a single and Bregman followed with his 25th homer, a two-run shot to left. Houston scored another run on Arizona first baseman Emmanuel Rivera‘s throwing error and went up 4-0 on Jeremy Pena‘s run-scoring single.

Tucker hit a sacrifice fly in the second inning and made it 6-0 in the fifth with a triple and head’s up baserunning after Diamondbacks shortstop Jordan Lawlar held the relay throw.

“Maybe we were a little flat, most of us were probably up a little late last night,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “For sure there was a little lull in focus and energy. I get that, but let’s push that aside.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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