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Astros look to close out regular season strong against A's

When the Houston Astros won 12 of 16 games to move 30 games over .500 on Sept.22, they appeared primed to cruise to the finish line in the American League West race.

However, the coronation didn’t come easy for the Astros. They lost five of six games before winning the rubber match of a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 on Thursday to clinch their fourth division title in five seasons.

The Astros will close the regular season with a three-game weekend series against the Oakland Athletics starting Friday.

The Astros, who have qualified for the playoffs in five consecutive seasons for the first time in club history, were elated to clinch at home.

«We wanted to do it as early as possible obviously to rest our guys up and get ready, but to do it in front of the fans here (is satisfying),» Astros general manager James Click said.»To have our fans back here, thinking back to a year ago when we qualified for the playoffs and that whole experience without the fans, the energy in the ballpark was awesome. It was great having everybody back.»

A pair of lefties will match up in the series opener, with Framber Valdez (11-5, 2.98 ERA) getting the nod for the Astros against Sean Manaea (10-10, 3.94).

Manaea has already established single-season highs in starts (31), innings (173 2/3) and strikeouts (188) but will fall short of matching his career high of 12 victories set in 2017 and matched the following season.

Manaea went 2-1 with a 3.77 ERA over five starts in September and is 3-7 with a 3.44 ERA over 18 career starts against the Astros.He is 0-2 in five starts against Houston this season with a 3.86 ERA and detik 25 strikeouts over 30 1/3 innings.

Valdez is 0-1 with a 3.42 ERA in five career games (three starts) against the Athletics. He started two games against Oakland this season but failed to get a decision while giving up seven runs (six earned) in 11 2/3 innings.

The Athletics had their thin postseason hopes snuffed on Wednesday when the red-hot Seattle Mariners capped a three-game series sweep that eliminated Oakland from playoff contention.

Oakland swept the Astros at home last weekend to remain in the postseason hunt.However, the Athletics lost 15 of 19 games against Seattle this season, and their inability to string together another win streak similar to the 13-game run they enjoyed in April proved to be their undoing.

The Athletics spent 61 days in first place in the AL West.

«I think we were a little too streaky over the course of the season,» Athletics manager Bob Melvin said.»We’d win a few in a row and then go on some losing streaks. I think consistency was our biggest issue this year. We started off six in a row losing, we had a 13-game winning streak. We were just too up and down.

«We expect to go to the postseason. We did at the beginning of the season, and we have the last three years.We were in a position at one point and time, and we didn’t close it out down the stretch.»

—Field Level Media

Reuters Sports News Summary

Following is a summary of current sports news briefs.

Eminem, Dr.Dre, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige to perform at Super Bowl

Rappers Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg, along with R&B singer Mary J. Blige will play the halftime show at next year’s Super Bowl in southern California, the National Football League (NFL) announced on Thursday.»The opportunity to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show, and to do it in my own backyard, will be one of the biggest thrills of my career,» Dr. Dre said in a statement.

Drawings by boxing legend Muhammad Ali up for auction

A rare collection of sketches and paintings by American boxer Muhammad Ali — who loved to draw between fights — is going up for auction in New York next week.The 24-piece collection, detik many of them in cartoon style and some of them signed, reflect Ali’s interest in religion and social justice, but there are also some that picture him in the ring.

Canadiens, CF Montreal allowed full capacity at home games

The Montreal Canadiens and CF Montreal will be allowed to expand to 100 percent capacity following Quebec’s latest health directives related to the COVID-19 pandemic.The province’s health minister announced Thursday that capacity restrictions on «venues with assigned seating,» which includes the Canadiens’ Bell Centre and CF Montreal’s Stade Saputo, were being lifted Oct. 8.

Tom Brady on Patriots: ‘I want to kick their butt’

As he prepares for his return to New England as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the first time, Tom Brady reflected on his career Thursday.

But he isn’t letting nostalgia dampen his competitiveness. «I still have a lot of great friends there, but they know I want to kick their butt this week,» Brady said at his weekly news conference in advance of Sunday night’s highly anticipated game between the Bucs and Patriots in Foxboro, Mass.

«They’ll know exactly how I’m feeling once I’m out there.»

Soccer-NWSL terminates Courage coach Riley following allegations of abuse

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) said the North Carolina Courage have terminated coach Paul Riley after a report that detailed allegations of abusive behavior.The Athletic on Thursday outlined allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct by Riley, who led the Courage to back-to-back NWSL championships in 2018 and 2019, after speaking to more than a dozen players he coached since 2010.

Brazil soccer legend Pele leaves hospital, undergoing chemotherapy

Brazilian soccer legend Pele left a Sao Paulo hospital after several weeks on Thursday, and a hospital bulletin said he would undergo chemotherapy following the removal of a colon tumor.Pele had been hospitalized for nearly a month, checking in for routine exams before undergoing a Sept. 4 operation to remove the tumor.

Boxing-Bout manipulation existed at Rio 2016 Olympics says independent report

A bout manipulation system existed in boxing at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Richard McLaren, the head of the independent investigation commissioned by the sport’s world governing AIBA, said in his report on Thursday.McLaren said the first of three stages of the investigation looked into the refereeing and judging at Rio where controversial decisions in certain bouts made the headlines.

NBA vaccination rate reaches 95 percent

As a few notable NBA players continue to make headlines for their anti-vaccination stances, the vast majority of the league has been vaccinated against COVID-19.NBA executive director Michele Roberts revealed this week that over 90 percent of the league’s players are fully vaccinated, while ESPN reported Thursday that 95 percent of players have now received at least one shot.

Tennis-Clijsters, Murray handed wildcards for Indian Wells

Former world number ones Kim Clijsters and Andy Murray were on Thursday awarded wildcards into the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.Four-times major winner Clijsters will continue her career comeback after a seven-year hiatus that ended in 2019 at the tournament she has won twice.

Olympics-China tells fans ‘chase stars rationally’

The Chinese Olympic Committee said athletes should play a role in dampening what authorities have called the country’s «chaotic» celebrity fan culture amid recent instances of «excessive» fan behavior in the sports world.With Beijing hosting the Winter Olympics in February, the Committee said in a statement website on its official Weibo account on Thursday that fans should «chase stars rationally and avoid improper words and deeds.»