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LEADING OFF: Astros on verge of clinch, Cards baffling Cubs

LEADING OFF: Astros on verge of clinch, Cards baffling Cubs

A look at what's happening around the majors Saturday: TEXAS ONE-STEP The Astros can clinch a third straight AL West title with a win over the Angels or a loss by Oakland. Houston has won six straight games and is already assured a postseason spot, and it's getting shortstop Carlos Correa in the swing of things at just the right time. Correa homered twice Friday in his second game after missing nearly a month with a sore back, and he finally looks healthy after missing 80 games total with various injuries. 'We can feel it,' second baseman Jose Altuve said. 'We're excited. We all are anxious about things right now which is normal because we want to make it happen.' CENTRAL CONTROL The NL Central-leading Cardinals are sending another red-hot pitcher to the Wrigley Field mound with a chance to ensure a series victory in their crucial four-game set against the Cubs. Right-hander Dakota Hudson (16-7, 3.35) is 6-1 with a 1.59 ERA in his last seven starts. That's bad news for slumping Chicago, which has totaled nine runs while losing four straight games. St. Louis won the first two games of the series, and its starters have given up two runs in 12 innings — including eight one-run innings from emerging ace Jack Flaherty on Thursday. The Cubs are two games behind Milwaukee for the second NL wild card and five back of St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They will start left-hander Jose Quintana (13-8, 3.35), pitching on an extra day of rest after Chicago shuffled its rotation to let veteran Cole Hamels rest his fatigued left shoulder. The Brewers again face Pittsburgh, with right-hander Zach Davies (10-7, 3.70) facing Pirates rookie righty James Marvel (0-2, 9.00). ON THE LINE Stephen Strasburg tries to strengthen his NL Cy Young Award case and help the Nationals regain their cushion in the wild-card standings with a start against Miami. Strasburg (17-6, 3.49) leads the NL in wins, and his 235 strikeouts trail only Mets ace Jacob deGrom (239), the reigning Cy Young winner who is also Strasburg's stiffest competitor this year, along with teammate Max Scherzer. Washington leads Milwaukee for the top NL wild card by a game, and it's now out of the running for the NL East after Atlanta clinched that title Friday night. LET'S GET WILD The A's remain two games ahead of the Rays and Indians for the top AL wild card and are set to continue a home series against Texas. Cleveland, which got a save from Carlos Carrasco on Friday night, is set to continue a series against Philadelphia, while Tampa Bay will face the Red Sox with right-hander Tyler Glasnow (6-1) making his third start since returning from a right forearm strain. NO CHILL Mets slugger Pete Alonso crushed his major league-leading 50th home run Friday night and is two big swings away from tying Aaron Judge's 2017 total for the rookie record. Alonso has nine games to catch Judge, and the Polar Bear could get there quick after homering in his past three games. He'll face Reds right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (9-9, 3.93), who has allowed a team-high 28 homers this year. SEPTEMBER SCARE The Yankees are keeping an eye on Gleyber Torres after his right leg buckled while fielding a grounder Friday night. The Yankee Stadium crowd gasped when Torres went down, and the star second baseman was pulled a bit later in New York's 4-3 loss to Toronto. He said he felt some weakness in his lower legs, and Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he expects Torres to be OK but pulled him as a precaution. Torres leads the AL East champions with 38 homers and is hitting .284 with 94 RBIs and an .889 OPS. STRONG RETURN Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto has thrown 10 scoreless innings since returning from Tommy John surgery, and he may not see Atlanta's best lineup after the Braves clinched a second straight NL East title Friday night. Cueto returned with five innings of one-hit ball against Pittsburgh on Sept. 10, then shut down Miami for five innings on Sept. 15. The 33-year-old is under contract for two more seasons with San Francisco. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Backup QB Matt Fink leads USC past No. 10 Utah, 30-23

Backup QB Matt Fink leads USC past No. 10 Utah, 30-23

Matt Fink decided to stay at Southern California even after finishing third in the Trojans' four-man quarterback competition in training camp last month. A few weeks later, Fink found himself passing for 351 yards, leading a victory over No. 10 Utah at the roaring Coliseum, and sitting between Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart for a postgame interview on national television. Fink didn't give up on his USC dream, and the Trojans are grateful they had such a talented backup to their backup. Michael Pittman Jr. caught 10 passes for a career-high 232 yards and a touchdown from Fink in USC's 30-23 victory over the Utes on Friday night. Fink went 21 of 30 with three touchdown passes for USC (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12) after taking over when freshman Kedon Slovis left with a possible concussion on the second play of the game. Fink mostly looked sharp as the third quarterback to play important snaps in four games for the Trojans, who lost starter J.T. Daniels to a season-ending knee injury in their opener. 'I don't think this moment was too big for me,' Fink said. 'I've been in the era of Sam Darnold, and I've seen things that are much crazier. Getting in today and showing what I can do is what I really wanted to do by staying here.' After barely playing the past two seasons, Fink nearly went to Illinois as a graduate transfer last spring. The Los Angeles-area native instead decided to stay home and wait for a chance, however remote. 'In a world where everybody goes different places, this one stayed for his family, waiting for his moment, waiting for his memory,' USC coach Clay Helton said. 'And what a memory it was tonight. When his number was called, he made the most of it tonight.' Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Pittman all caught TD passes from Fink, while Pittman had the fifth-biggest receiving yardage game in USC history. His remarkable 42-yard catch in the fourth quarter eventually led to a 4-yard TD run by Markese Stepp , who celebrated by handing the ball to Bush, the Trojans great attending the game as a broadcaster despite his NCAA-mandated disassociation from his school. Devontae Henry-Cole rushed for an early touchdown and Cole Fotheringham caught a TD pass for the Utes (3-1, 0-1), who struggled after star running back Zack Moss left in the first half with an apparent shoulder injury. Utah still has never won at the 96-year-old Coliseum. Tyler Huntley passed for 210 yards and ran for 60 more, but the Utes committed 16 penalties for 120 yards and struggled to get key defensive stops against a green Trojans quarterback and his stellar receivers. 'Mostly we had no answer for their receiving corps,' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. 'Michael Pittman did a number on us. We just didn't do a good enough job on him. We've got to rethink some things coaching-wise.' With Bush and Urban Meyer watching at the Coliseum as part of Fox Sports' broadcast crew, USC's roller coaster season went on the upswing again after last week's embarrassing overtime loss at BYU. Slovis had played two encouraging games as the starter after replacing Daniels, but he couldn't continue after 335-pound Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu landed on him. Helton said Slovis 'got dinged,' and the USC medical staff held him out. Fink jumped into USC's Air Raid offense and completed eight of his first nine throws during two game-opening touchdown drives in which he relied heavily on his receivers' playmaking abilities. Pittman then scored on a brilliant 77-yard catch early in the third quarter, snatching a long pass away from defenders and fending them off on his run. UTES UPSET Utah's mistakes weren't limited to penalties. USC blocked a field goal attempt, and the Utes also fumbled near the USC goal line 16 seconds before halftime, when they trailed 14-10 despite racking up 284 yards and controlling the ball for more than 20 minutes. 'We were supposed to take advantage of our chances in the red zone,' said Huntley, who took his first two sacks of the season. 'We all know the plays were there. We just had to make them.' BIG D USC's defense came up big in the second half. Isaiah Pola-Mao's third-down sack from the USC 1 forced Utah to kick a field goal, and Trojans freshman sensation Drake Jackson then got hold of Huntley in the end zone and forced intentional grounding for a safety with 8:51 to play. REGGIE RETURNS Fans around the Fox Sports broadcast stage let loose several chants of 'Reggie! Reggie!' for Bush. The retired tailback is still formally disassociated from USC under terms of the NCAA ruling against the school in 2010, but he remains wildly popular among USC fans and current players whose first Trojans memories include Bush's feats. Meyer is on top of many USC fans' lists of coaches to replace Helton, but the embattled incumbent is off to a fairly strong start. THE TAKEAWAY Utah: Losing Moss is an enormous blow to any offense, and his long-term health could determine the Utes' chances for a run at a second straight Pac-12 title. Utah's inability to finish drives only gets worse with Moss sidelined, and while Huntley's valiant effort might win future games, it wasn't enough against the Trojans. USC: Another quarterback injury wasn't enough to slow down the Trojans, even against a solid Utah defense that essentially wiped out their running game. Fink did enough to win, and USC's defense made several big plays. USC is somehow 3-1 after four games of an extremely difficult six-game start to the season, with Helton finding yet another way to fend off the doubters for another week. UP NEXT Utah: A late-night visit from Washington State and its Air Raid offense next Saturday, Sept. 28. USC: The brutal early schedule continues at defending Pac-12 champion Washington next Saturday, Sept. 28. ___ More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Big 2nd half leads No. 20 Boise State past Air Force 30-19

Big 2nd half leads No. 20 Boise State past Air Force 30-19

Hank Bachmeier's arm and poise carried No. 20 Boise State until Robert Mahone took over in the fourth quarter. And the Broncos' defense? It continued to stymie opponents in the second half, even if it finally gave up some points. 'The second half we just went out there and tried to put the game away,' Mahone said. 'It was a close game, but the second half we knew we had to finish and that's what we did.' Bachmeier threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, Mahone rushed for a pair of scores in the fourth quarter, and Boise State pulled away in the second half for a 30-19 win over Air Force on Friday night. Bachmeier's arm made up for a Broncos' running game that was ineffective until the fourth quarter. He hit CT Thomas on a 36-yard touchdown pass in the first half while getting crunched by a defender, and added a 28-yard TD toss to tight end John Bates late in the third quarter to give the Broncos a 17-13 lead. Mahone added a pair of 10-yard TD runs in the fourth as the Broncos (4-0, 1-0 Mountain West) won their 20th straight conference opener. Bachmeier was 19 of 26 passing in another impressive performance by the freshman in just his fourth start. 'He came back in the second half even better. He's a strong kid back there in the pocket. He took a couple of licks, but he gets right back up,' Thomas said. Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III had an 8-yard touchdown run in the first half and threw a 31-yard TD to Geraud Sanders late in the fourth quarter. Taven Birdow led Air Force (2-1, 0-1) with 67 yards rushing, but the second-best rushing attack in the country was held to 242 yards, more than 100 yards under its season average. 'They've got a really, really good team,' Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. Bachmeier also got help from his receivers, who made terrific catches. Thomas, who had a career-high 119 yards receiving, made a diving 29-yard catch to set up Eric Sachse's 40-yard field goal in the first half. John Hightower made a juggling reception surrounded by two defenders on a key third-down in the fourth quarter, and Mahone scored on a 10-yard TD run on the next play to give the Broncos a 23-13 lead. 'We knew coming into the game Air Force does a great job being physical,' Thomas said. 'Our mindset was we had to compete for the ball, every ball that comes our way.' Tied 10-10 at halftime, Hammond spent the start of the second half in the injury tent while Isaiah Sanders took over at quarterback. Sanders led the Falcons to a 32-yard field goal by Jake Koehnke midway through the third. It was the first second-half points allowed this season by the Broncos. Bachmeier responded with his best drive of the night, taking the Broncos 77 yards in 11 plays, capped with the TD pass to Bates. The biggest play of the drive was Bachmeier's 13-yard strike to Akilian Bulter on fourth-and-10 at the Air Force 38. Two plays later, Bates was in the end zone and Boise State was ahead for good. Air Force was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Boise State 48 on the next possession and the Broncos answered with the first of Mahone's TD runs. PROTECTING THE FRESHMAN Bachmeier had been hit a lot through the first three games, and continued to get battered in the first half. He was sacked only once in the first half, but took a handful of big hits as protection broke down. His willingness to take a hit, though, can lead to big plays, like the Broncos' first touchdown. Bachmeier allowed Thomas to develop his route and hit the speedy receiver on a 36-yard touchdown to give the Broncos a 10-7 lead. 'That's the sign of a good quarterback. ... When you play that position you're going to get hit differently, but you're going to get hit if you're going to stand and deliver it sometimes and those guys have to be able to do that and not flinch and he seems to be able to do that,' Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. FINALLY Koehnke's field goal with 6:29 left in the third quarter was the first points scored against Boise State's defense in the second half this season. The Broncos held Florida State, Marshall and Portland State scoreless in the final 30 minutes of the first three games. Boise State went 98 minutes, 31 seconds of combined second-half action before allowing points. THE TAKEAWAY Air Force: The Falcons were unable to keep the momentum from last week's upset win at Colorado and still have not beaten a ranked team on the road since winning at California in 2002. Boise State: It's a result of facing a run-first team, but Boise State nose tackle Sonatane Lui set a career-high with 16 tackles. Lui had eight combined tackles through the first three games. ... Pass rusher Curtis Weaver didn't have a sack after having four last week against Portland State. UP NEXT Air Force: The Falcons return home to host San Jose State next Friday. Boise State: The Broncos have an open weekend and next play at UNLV on Oct. 5. ___ More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25