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Powerhouses square off when Yankees host Astros

UNDATED (AP) — American League powerhouses square off tonight when Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees host Yordan Álvarez and the Houston Astros in the opener of a highly anticipated four-game series.

New York boasts the best record in the majors at 51-28, and the 43-25 Astros are second to the Yankees in the AL standings. Both clubs already hold double-digit division leads, so this matchup could certainly serve as another playoff preview come October. Still seething over ALCS losses to Houston in 2017 and 2019, Yankees fans are sure to boo and jeer the Astros again for their 2017-18 cheating scandal.

Judge leads the big leagues with 27 home runs after hitting a pair in Wednesday night’s comeback victory at Tampa Bay. Álvarez is tied for second with 21 after launching three in a two-game sweep of the New York Mets at home. He has nine homers in his last 20 games.

Framber Valdez starts for Houston against Jameson Taillon (TY’-ahn).

Elsewhere around the majors Thursday:

— José Ramírez and the red-hot Cleveland Guardians go for a three-game sweep at Minnesota that would give them a two-game lead in the AL Central over the Twins. The young Guardians rallied for four runs in the ninth inning last night to stun Minnesota 11-10. Cleveland has won seven straight series and is 17-4 since May 30. Zach Plesac (PLEE’-sak) pitches for the Guardians against Devin Smeltzer. The teams also meet five times in four days next week in Cleveland.

— Three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers against Reds rookie Hunter Greene, who threw 39 pitches at more than 100 mph when he faced his hometown team in April. Freddie Freeman has seven RBIs in the first two games of the series at last-place Cincinnati, which has dropped six straight overall and eight in a row over two seasons to the Dodgers at Great American Ball Park.

— Nolan Arenado and the Cardinals have a one-game lead in the NL Central over the Brewers heading into the finale of their four-game series in Milwaukee. Over the last two games, St. Louis relievers have permitted just one hit and three walks while pitching 10 1/3 scoreless innings. Dakota Hudson faces 29-year-old Milwaukee rookie Jason Alexander.

— After watching three players exit early, the White Sox are a bit banged-up going into their series opener at home against Baltimore. Chicago outfielder Luis Robert extended his hitting streak to 13 games Wednesday in a 9-5 loss to Toronto. But he slowly ran to first and stayed there when his hit skipped past left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and eventually left the game in the eighth. White Sox infielder Danny Mendick left because of discomfort in his right knee after colliding with outfielder Adam Haseley on a foul pop. Right fielder Adam Engel exited because of right hamstring soreness. Star shortstop Tim Anderson, who returned Monday after missing 18 games because of a right groin strain, didn’t play under doctor’s orders. And first baseman Jose Abreu was relegated to designated hitter duties because of a hip issue.

— Joe Musgrove comes off the COVID-19 injured list to start for the San Diego Padres against Bryce Harper and the visiting Phillies. Musgrove went on the IL last Friday after he tested positive. Ranger Suarez pitches for Philadelphia in the opener of a four-game series. Kyle Schwarber has reached base in 26 consecutive games for the Phillies. But they’ve lost three in a row after winning 14 of their first 16 under interim manager Rob Thomson, who took over when Joe Girardi was fired. Harper returned to the lineup Wednesday at Texas after missing three games with an infected blister on his left index finger. Padres manager Bob Melvin returned to the dugout Wednesday after missing 11 games while in COVID-19 protocols.


Biden administration moves to expand Title IX protections

UNDATED (AP) — The Biden administration has proposed a dramatic overhaul of campus sexual assault rules. The goal is to expand protections for LGBTQ students, bolster the rights of victims and widen colleges’ responsibilities in addressing sexual misconduct. The proposal comes on the 50th anniversary of the Title IX women’s rights law. It’s intended to replace a set of controversial rules issued during the Trump administration by then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The current education secretary, Miguel Cardona, says Title IX has been “instrumental” in fighting sexual assault and violence in education. The new proposal is almost certain to be challenged by conservatives, and it’s expected to lead to new legal battles over the rights of transgender students in schools, especially in sports.


NHL, players union, alumni association team up for NFT deal

UNDATED (AP) — The NHL, NHL Players’ Association and NHL Alumni Association are teaming up to get hockey into the NFT marketplace. The organizations announced a multiyear deal Thursday to make Sweet their official digital collectibles partner.

NHL executive VP of business development and innovation Dave Lehanski says the lucrative agreement is one of the biggest licensing deals in league history. Sweet CEO Tom Mizzone called it a very favorable deal for all parties. The partnership by the league, NHLPA and alumni is a rare sight but one that could help grow revenue moving forward.

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