Houston’s Jose Altuve, right, celebrates his home run with Kyle Tucker in the ninth inning Tuesday at Chicago. Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

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

Led by their October-tested stars, the Houston Astros are going back to the AL Championship Series for the fifth straight year.

Altuve hit a three-run homer, scored four times and stole a base, 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 RBI.

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.

“They know how to play the game,” Altuve said of Boston. “They’ve been in the playoffs before, so it’s going to be fun.”

It’ll be 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 fallout from the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal that also resulted in a one-year ban for Cora.

Gavin Sheets connected for Chicago, becoming the third rookie in franchise history to homer in a postseason game. But Carlos Rodon 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 2 of 3 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.

But the Astros, used to dealing with boos ever since the scandal came to light, brushed it all off. Asked about Tepera’s comments after Game 4 was postponed Monday because of rain, Bregman responded: “It’s all good. We’re focused on winning games. That’s it.”

No kidding.

Correa put Houston ahead to stay with his two-out double in the third, pulling Rodon’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.

Correa pointed to his left wrist and then pounded his chest and yelled “It’s my time!” as he stood on second after the big hit in his 67th career postseason game.

“Disrespectful words without facts,” Correa said of Tepera’s charge.

That was it for Rodon, 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.

Houston added three more in the fourth for a 5-1 lead. Kyle Tucker singled and swiped second and third – the latter without a throw – before coming home on Martin Maldonado’s first hit of the series.

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 worked four effective innings after pitching Houston to a 6-1 victory in Game 1 on Thursday. Yimi Garcia got three outs for the win.

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.

“We’ve been here five times,” Altuve said. “And we just try to pass it on to the guys who are getting here for the first time.”

Sheets’ drive in the second bounced off the top of the wall and over. Astros center fielder Jake Meyers crashed into the wall trying to make a leaping grab, and then departed with left shoulder discomfort.

The White Sox lost their center fielder when Luis Robert left with right leg tightness before the Astros batted in the seventh.

NLDS
BRAVES 5, BREWERS 4: Freddie Freeman homered off Milwaukee closer Josh Hader with two outs in the eighth inning and host Atlanta advanced to the NL Championship Series for the second year in a row,.

The Braves won the best-of-five Division Series three games to one, advancing to face either the 107-win San Francisco Giants or the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers with a trip to the World Series on the line.

The game was tied at 4 when the Brewers brought on Hader to make sure it stayed that way. The hard-throwing lefty struck out Eddie Rosario and Dansby Swanson, but he couldn’t get past the 2020 NL MVP.

Freeman caught up with an 84-mph slider, launching a 428-foot drive into the seats in left-center – only the fourth homer all season off Hader.

Freeman celebrated wildly on his way around the bases, and popped back out of the dugout for a curtain call as the crowd of 40,195 roared.

Will Smith pitched a scoreless ninth for his third straight save in the series, while Tyler Matzek claimed the win with a perfect eighth.

Braves Right fielder Jorge Soler was pulled from the lineup for Tuesday’s Game 4 of the NL Division Series against Milwaukee after testing positive for COVID-19.

Outfielder Cristian Pache took Soler’s spot on the roster, Major League Baseball announced.

Soler was replaced at the top of the order by shortstop Dansby Swanson. Joc Pederson, slated to start in left field, shifted to right. Guillermo Heredia was inserted in center field batting eighth, and Adam Duvall switched from center to left.

Soler batted .091 with no homers and no RBI through the first three games against Milwaukee. He hit a combined .223 with 27 homers and 70 RBIswith Kansas City and Atlanta during the regular season.

• Catcher Stephen Vogt underwent sports hernia surgery last week and won’t be available during the postseason.

He is expected to be recovered in time for spring training next year.

Vogt, 36, played just 26 games for the Braves after being acquired in a trade with Arizona. Overall this season, he batted .195 with seven homers and 25 RBI in 78 games.

Vogt last played Sept. 9, when he hit two homers in a win over Washington.

He wasn’t expected to be on the Braves’ postseason roster even if healthy. The team has Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras at catcher.

DODGERS 7, GIANTS 2: Mookie Betts homered and drove in three runs, Will Smith also went deep and the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the San Francisco Giants 7-2 on Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 5 in their NL Division Series.

The 107-win Giants host the 106-win Dodgers on Thursday night, with the winner advancing to face Atlanta in the NL Championship Series. The Braves eliminated Milwaukee earlier Tuesday.

The Dodgers managed just five hits in a 1-0 loss — their second shutout defeat — in Game 3 to put the defending World Series champions on the brink of elimination. They had that many by the second inning Tuesday and pounded out 12 total to back a brief but effective outing from Walker Buehler on three days’ rest.

Buehler went to manager Dave Roberts as early as the Dodgers’ 9-2 victory in Game 2 and said he wanted the ball in Game 4 to start on short rest for the first time in his career. The right-hander allowed one run and three hits in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out four and walked two on 71 pitches.

After giving up a leadoff single to Evan Longoria and walking pinch-hitter Steven Duggar, Buehler exited to a standing ovation from 52,935 blue towel-waving fans.

The Dodgers chased Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani in the second. He gave up two runs and five hits and struck out two.

The Giants ran through six pitchers by the fifth, leaving them with just three relievers. By the seventh, only backup catcher Curt Casali was available off the bench. He pinch-hit in the eighth.

The biting, steady wind that prevailed throughout Game 3 was gone, leaving just a slight breeze to ruffle the center-field flags.

Smith hit a two-run homer to center in the eighth, extending the lead to 7-2.

Betts homered in the fourth and his bases-loaded sacrifice fly scored Cody Bellinger in the fifth for a 5-1 lead.

The Giants’ runs came in the top of the fifth on Darin Ruf’s RBI groundout off Joe Kelly, and Kris Bryant’s RBI groundout in the eighth. All-Star catcher Buster Posey, a career .257 hitter in the postseason, went 0 for 4.

Buehler was safe at first leading off the fourth when his shot went off reliever Jarlin Garcia’s leg for an error. Betts followed with a two-run homer to the right-field pavilion, extending the lead to 4-0.

The Dodgers got on the board in the first with NL batting champion Trea Turner’s RBI double to right-center that rolled to the wall, scoring Corey Seager, who singled.

Chris Taylor’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0 in the second.

San Francisco had runners at the corners in the second on consecutive one-out singles by Bryant and LaMonte Wade Jr. But Buehler got out of the jam, retiring Longoria on a swinging strike and Mike Yastrzemski on a liner to second.

Last postseason, the Dodgers went 3-0 in elimination games, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to beat Atlanta in the NLCS.

NOTES

HALL OF FAME: Former New York Yankees star Joe Pepitone has dropped his lawsuit against the Baseball Hall of Fame that sought the return of a Louisville Slugger bat that Mickey Mantle used to hit his 500th career home run.

David M. Barshay, a lawyer for Pepitone, filed a notice of voluntary dismissal on Monday in U.S. District Court in Albany.

Pepitone had filed the suit in July, seeking compensatory damages of at least $1 million. The bat is currently valued at over $500,000, he claimed.

The suit alleged Pepitone agreed to lend the bat to the Hall of Fame “with the understanding and upon the condition that it would be returned to him at any time upon his request.”

The Hall of Fame says the bat was donated and that it has owned it for more than 50 years.

Mantle hit his 500th home run off Baltimore’s Stu Miller at the original Yankee Stadium in the seventh inning on May 14, 1967. The lawsuit claimed Mantle wanted to use a lighter bat than his signature model in order to generate bat speed and Pepitone obliged after going deep against Miller the previous inning.

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