Astros, Braves surge towards World Series showdown

Los Angeles (AFP) – The Atlanta Braves thrashed the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros handed out another drubbing to the Boston Red Sox as both teams moved within one victory of a World Series showdown on Wednesday.

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The Braves, who had suffered an agonizing late defeat to the Dodgers in game three on Tuesday, roared back with a 9-2 thrashing of the reigning World Series champions at Dodger Stadium to take a 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series.

The Astros were similarly impressive on the road, demolishing the Red Sox 9-1 at Fenway Park.

The Braves can clinch a World Series berth with victory over the Dodgers in game five in Los Angeles on Thursday.

The Astros, meanwhile, will take a 3-2 lead back to Houston, needing just one win to clinch the American League crown and a place in the World Series.

The Dodgers' stirring fightback in game three on Tuesday had been viewed in some quarters as a possible momentum shift in the series.

But the Braves stomped all over that idea early on Wednesday, smashing Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urias for three home runs from Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Freddie Freeman.

A run-scoring single from Joc Pederson and a sacrifice fly from Duvall put Atlanta 5-0 up in the fifth, and although A.J. Pollock closed the gap with a two-run single to make it 5-2, the Braves were always on top.

Atlanta capped the victory in the ninth after Freeman drove in another run, before Rosario lashed a three-run homer off reliever Tony Gonsolin to spark celebrations in the Braves dugout.

The Braves bullpen restricted the Dodgers vaunted batting line-up to just four hits, while Atlanta scored 12 as the Los Angeles challenge wilted.

"It was an incredible night, very emotional for me and I'm glad the team won," said Atlanta's two-homer hero Rosario.

"All I really want to do is get to the World Series, I have that deep desire. It's been an incredible postseason for me to be honest," the 30-year-old Puerto Rican outfielder said.

Valdez gem

In Boston, meanwhile, Houston pitcher Framber Valdez shut down Boston's batting line-up as the Astros romped towards a third World Series appearance in five seasons.

Houston pitcher Framber Valdez walks off the mound after helping the Astros to a 9-1 victory over Boston at Fenway Park
Houston pitcher Framber Valdez walks off the mound after helping the Astros to a 9-1 victory over Boston at Fenway Park ELSA GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

Dominican lefthander Valdez delivered a superb performance from the mound, striking out five through eight innings.

Valdez's gem was backed by another ruthless performance from the Astros bats, with Cuban slugger Yordan Alvarez leading the charge.

Alvarez opened the scoring for Houston in the second inning, smashing an opposite field home run off Red Sox starter Chris Sale.

The 24-year-old drove in three more runs with three hits from five visits to the plate as the Astros picked up where they left off on Tuesday in game four, which ended in a 9-2 victory.

After three scoreless innings following Alvarez's early homer, Houston cut loose in the sixth inning with five unanswered runs.

A leadoff walk by Sale saw Jose Altuve get to first, before a fielding blunder by Kyle Schwarber allowed Astros slugger Michael Brantley to get on base.

With runners on first and third, Alvarez stepped up with a double down the line to score Altuve and Brantley for a 3-0 lead.

Yuli Gurriel drove in another run with a double to send Alvarez home for a 4-0 lead, prompting Red Sox manager Alex Cora to replace Sale with reliever Ryan Brasier. Brasier was unable to stop the bleeding, however, and Jose Siri's single brought Kyle Tucker and Gurriel home to make it 6-0.

Brantley then drove in another Astros run in the seventh, before Rafael Devers finally got Boston on the board with a home run lashed to home field.

But any hopes of a miraculous turnaround were snuffed out by Houston in the ninth inning, with Gurriel's double scoring Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa.

Astros right-hander Ryne Stanek then closed it down in the ninth, getting Enrique Hernandez, Schwarber and Xander Bogaerts out in quick succession to wrap up the win.

Game six in the series takes place in Houston on Friday.