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Torres stars as Yankees sweep Twins

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Gleyber Torres of the New York Yankees hits a solo home run against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on Monday in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hannah Foslien/Getty Images/AFP

Torres stars as Yankees sweep Twins

Gleyber Torres clubbed a second inning home run and made a couple of clutch defensive plays as the New York Yankees punched their ticket to the American League Championship Series by sweeping the Minnesota Twins in three games.

Torres, of Venezuela, started things off with a homer in the second and belted two doubles as the Yankees sent the Twins crashing out of the Major League Baseball playoffs with a dominant 5-1 win on Monday night.

“I compete everytime, it doesn’t matter who is pitching,” the 22-year-old Torres said. “I just try to focus and do my job, going to home plate, getting a really good at bat, and keeping it simple.”

The Yankees advanced to the ALCS for the second time in three years as they outscored the Twins 23-7 in the best-of-five series.

Didi Gregorius hit two RBI singles for the Yankees, who extended their playoff winning streak over the Twins to 13 consecutive games.

“Our pitching did a great job,” said Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner, who added an RBI single. “Anytime we get a little lead and turn it over to our bullpen we feel good about our chances.

“It is just a lot of fun. We got a young team they are pumped up about moving on.”

New York starts the AL Championship Series on Saturday, at home against the Tampa Bay Rays or at the Houston Astros.

Earlier on Monday, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier smashed a three-run homer to help power the Rays over Houston 10-3 to sustain their title hopes.

The host Rays pulled within 2-1 in the series and will host game four on Tuesday, when Houston’s Justin Verlander will pitch on short rest to seek a series-winning victory.

Houston’s Jose Altuve opened the scoring on Monday with a first-inning solo homer but Kiermaier’s blast in the second inning put the Rays ahead to stay.

“Running around the bases not feeling my feet hit the ground was a great feeling,” Kiermaier said.

Tampa Bay pitcher Charlie Morton, a 35-year-old American right-hander who played with Houston the past two seasons, struck out nine batters while issuing only three hits and two walks over five innings.

Morton improved to 4-0 in career playoff elimination games.

“Nothing ever bothers him. He’s so composed,” Kiermaier said.

In St Louis, catcher Yadier Molina drove in the tying and winning runs to rally the Cardinals past Atlanta 5-4 in 10 innings and force a one-game showdown to advance in the playoffs.

The Cardinals pulled level at 2-2 in the series with the final game on Wednesday in Atlanta, the winner advancing to the National League Championship Series.

St Louis second baseman Kolten Wong doubled down the left-field line off Atlanta reliever Julio Teheran in the 10th and Marcell Ozuna, who hit two home runs, reached on a fielder’s choice that moved Wong to third.

Molina, who had singled in the tying run in the eighth inning, then blasted a sacrifice fly to left field, sending Wong to home plate for the winning run.

“I was ready to hit the fastball and he gave it to me right down the middle,” said Molina, in his 93rd career playoff start. “We put some good at-bats together in the last inning and we got the win.”

Scherzer shines

Elsewhere, Max Scherzer pitched seven quality innings on a short rest and the Washington Nationals routed the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-1 to even their series 2-2.

The 35-year-old Scherzer allowed just one run on four hits and struck out seven for the Nationals, who forced a decisive game five Wednesday in southern California.

Ryan Zimmerman hit a three-run homer and Anthony Rendon drove in three runs. Right hander Scherzer threw 72 of his total 109 pitchers for strikes and walked three.

Dodgers relief pitcher Julio Urias took the loss, giving up three runs on three hits and getting just two outs.

Left hander Rich Hill started the game for Los Angeles and was followed by five relievers including Urias. Hill lasted just 2 2/3 innings.

The Dodgers loaded the bases in the seventh, but their rally was snuffed ou when Joc Pederson grounded out to second base to end the inning.

The Dodgers are trying to book a third straight trip to the NL Championship series.