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MLB: Scorecard for the winners, losers of the 2017 Winter Meetings

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)    —-    ORLANDO, Fla. – There was more talk than action at baseball’s Winter Meetings, which concluded on Thursday at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort.

With more action sure to follow in the coming weeks leading up to spring training, here’s a brief scorecard on what happened this week.

Winners

YANKEES

Rebounding from the miss on Shohei Ohtani, the Yankees seized on the Giancarlo Stanton situation, completing a dynamic trade and introducing the reigning NL MVP at a Winter Meetings press conference.

Next, the Yankees further assured they’d finally get under the nagging payroll luxury tax, trading Chase Headley’s $13 million salary to San Diego and creating the salary flexibility to add a significant pitcher or two.

CARDINALS

After their whiff on Stanton, who exercised his no-trade clause, the Cardinals used their extensive talks with Miami to net outfielder Marcell Ozuna, a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner in 2017.

St. Louis was also reportedly inquiring on Baltimore’s Manny Machado and Toronto’s Josh Donaldson.

ANGELS

Just days before the Winter Meetings began, the Angels beat out an aggressive field of six other finalists for Ohtani, the intriguing two-way star know as “Japan’s Babe Ruth.’’

At the Meetings, the Angels were first to act on the trade market for second basemen, acquiring Ian Kinsler from Detroit for two prospects. They were also linked to interest in ex-Yankees third basemen Headley (Padres) and Todd Frazier (free agent).

Losers

MARLINS

Miami’s new CEO and part-owner Derek Jeter wasn’t at the Meetings, but he received another dose of criticism for the mixed messages in handling the departure of Stanton, who nixed trades to St. Louis and San Francisco.

The Marlins’ threats to Stanton that he’d essentially be prisoner to Miami’s latest makeover if he didn’t accept already agreed-upon trades to the Cardinals or Giants were weak (he also has a 2020 opt-out) and the consensus was that they could have exacted a greater return for Stanton and Ozuna.

REST OF THE AL EAST

What will be the division’s response after the Yankees became World Series favorites after obtaining Stanton and threatening to add more pitching?

The rival Red Sox havn’t directly countered yet, though they’re likely to add an impact bat. But the rest of the East is reeling, with the Orioles now considering deals for Machado, the Rays pondering whether to swap Evan Longoria or Chris Archer and the Blue Jays just wishing to steal free agent CC Sabathia.

ROYALS

Only because they’re poised to lose several prominent players to free agency, in first baseman Eric Hosmer (reportedly getting heavy interest by the Padres), third baseman Mike Moustakas and center fielder Lorenzo Cain – a key trio from their 2015 world championship. And would they package lefty Danny Duffy in a trade?

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Major League Baseball just wrapped up its least eventful winter meetings in the event’s history.

It did see a handful of All-Stars changing teams during the four-day meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. this week, including Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna.

A list of transactions officially announced by the clubs this week:

Monday

  • New York Yankees – Acquired OF Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins for INF Starlin Castro, INF Jose Devers and RHP Jorge Guzman.
  • Tampa Bay Rays – Acquired 2B Joey Wendle from the Oakland Athletics for a player to be named later or cash considerations.
  • Seattle Mariners – Claimed OF Caumeron Perkins off waivers from the Phillies.
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Signed free agent RHP Miles Mikolas.

Tuesday

  • Chicago Cubs – Signed free agents RHP Brandon Morrow and LHP Drew Smyly.
  • San Diego Padres – Acquired 3B Chase Headley and RHP Bryan Mitchell from the Yankees for OF Jabari Blash.
  • Rays – Acquired 2B Ryan Schimpf from the Padres for INF Deion Tansel.

Wednesday

  • Los Angeles Angels – Acquired 2B Ian Kinsler from the Detroit Tigers for RHP Wilkel Hernandez and OF Troy Montgomery.
  • Minnesota Twins – Signed free agent RHP Michael Pineda.
  • Seattle Mariners – Acquired RHP Shawn Armstrong from the Cleveland Indians for international slot money.
  • Miami Marlins – Released RHP Edinson Volquez.
  • Houston Astros – Signed free agent RHP Joe Smith.

Thursday

  • Oakland Athletics Acquired RF Stephen Piscotty from the Cardinals for 2B Max Schrock and SS Yairo Munoz.
  • Texas Rangers – Signed free agents RHP Kevin Jepsen, 3B Hanser Alberto.
  • Cardinals – Acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marins for RHP Sandy Alcantara, OF Magneuris Sierra, RHP Zac Gallen and LHP Daniel Castano. Signed free agent RHP Luke Gregerson.

MLB winter meetings preview: Five furious days ahead in Orlando

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —-    LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Children, innocently letting their emotions overwhelm them, ran around the lobby of the Swan and Dolphin Resort Sunday morning, eyeing the holiday decorations, gifts scattered around the enormous Christmas trees, hoping to catch an early glimpse of Santa Claus before the big day.

By the evening, the sugar high will wear off, and they’ll be exhausted, headed back to the airport with TSA officials returning them to reality.

Replacing them on this massive Walt Disney property are thousands of cantankerous adults, mostly grumpy men whose only objective these next five days is to return home with a baseball team that’s a lot better than it was when they arrived.

They’ve got no interest in the Sugar Plum Candy Stand, the nightly Campfire and S’mores, the tree lighting ceremony or even the Dancing Light Special.

They just want some damn ballplayers, and will gladly hibernate the rest of the holiday season with a World Series championship parade dancing in their heads.

It’s baseball’s annual winter meetings, a convention where 30 teams and their entire front offices and field managers storm the hotel, followed in close pursuit by hundreds of agents and reporters.

This is where the New York Yankees can formally announce the acquisition of National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, say how they still want to somehow squeeze under the $197 million luxury tax despite assuming $265 million of Stanton’s contract, while still somehow adding free-agent pitching.

This is where the Miami Marlins, a franchise $400 million in debt, can look in the cameras with a straight face and tell us they really liked the prospects they received in return for Stanton and Gordon, while skipping down the hallways, knowing they just saved $303 million without those two contracts.

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This is where agent Scott Boras will be peddling the likes of offensive stars Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez and Mike Moustakas, starter Jake Arrieta and closer Greg Holland, too, telling teams they can’t possibly win without them.

This is where the Boston Red Sox, who won two consecutive division titles but fired their manager anyway, get cozy with Boras, desperately needing one of his sluggers, Hosmer or Martinez, with Boras trying to convince them they actually need two.

This is where the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, still seething at all the wasted hours pursuing Stanton only to be rebuffed by the player exercising his no-trade rights, return with a vengeance, letting everyone they’ve got pockets full of cash and are ready to spend it.

The Cardinals, who offered pitching prospects Sandy Alcantara and Jack Flaherty, and were willing to pay nearly $250 million of Stanton’s $295 million guarantee, will return to the bargaining table with the Marlins. This time, they’ll focus their talks strictly on outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who they wanted in the first place, after hitting .312 with 37 homers last year.

Oh, and while they’re at it, they’ll be sitting down with the other Florida team, too, the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays, who have seen the disparity grow even greater in the AL East with Stanton coming aboard, are listening to anyone and everyone.

The Cardinals are making no secret they’d love to land Rays closer Alex Colome, who led the American League with 47 saves, and will take Gold Glove third baseman Evan Longoria and the remaining $92 million of his contract, along with him.

Their nemesis, the Chicago Cubs, want in, as well. They already signed starter Tyler Chatwood, but would love to get an audience with Tampa Bay to bring ace Chris Archer back home, too, even if it means parting with beloved slugger Kyle Schwarber or Ian Happ. If not, they likely will dip back into the free-agent market for starter Alex Cobb, whose only pitching coach has been Jim Hickey, now reunited with manager Joe Maddon in Chicago.

The Giants, who offered pitching prospect Tyler Beede and catching prospect Aramis Garcia while taking on about $230 million of Stanton’s contract, now will be trying to buy their way back to respectability.

After hitting a major league low 128 home runs – a mere 113 shy of the Yankees – they’re frantically seeking a reincarnation of Barry Bonds, and if they can’t sign Martinez, who hit 45 home runs in just 119 games last season with the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks, they likely will turn to slugger Jay Bruce at a discount price.

There are so many teams who need impact bats right now that the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays realize they’d be foolish not to listen.

The Orioles insist they aren’t shopping All-Star third baseman Manny Machado, but revealed that they’re listening to offers. This is a guy who could get $400 million a year from now in free agency, but if you really want him, what better way to get acquainted than spending the 2018 season with him.

The Blue Jays find themselves in a similar predicament. Their passionate fan base is imploring them to win now, but privately, they’d instead love to rebuild the farm system. They will listen to offers for third baseman Josh Donaldson knowing that a year from now, he’ll be gone as a free agent, too.

The Chicago White Sox stole the show a year ago at these meetings by trading ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox, and while they’re about to begin Year 2 of their rebuilding project, are shopping Jose Abreu, who has driven in at least 100 runs in each of his first four seasons with 30 or more homers in three of the years. The Red Sox are listening, but the White Sox would have to be overwhelmed to move him.

The Detroit Tigers, who unloaded ace Justin Verlander last summer, now have second baseman Ian Kinsler on the block, with the Los Angeles Angels and New York Mets intrigued. They also have future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera available, but with $192 million over the next six years still on the books, are waiting for the phone to ring.

The Pittsburgh Pirates could also keep teams from entering the free agent market with ace Gerrit Cole and center fielder Andrew McCutchen available, saying they want to win a World Series again one day, but still can’t afford their stars.

We may not see any executives take advantage of the free swan paddle boat rides, or swimming at the Mermaid Academy, or even tucked in with the elves, but with a few adult beverages inside them, there is Karaoke at Kimonos, adults-only after 11 p.m.

So shoo the kids away, take a deep breath, and watch baseball executives turn this joint into their own winter playground, with a week of baseball activity that has all of the promise of that thrill ride brought to you by the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers two months ago in the World Series.

This week is threatening to get absolutely goofy.

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There were 166 free agents that hit the market this winter.

Who signed, for how much, who left and where they went. This chart will be updated throughout the offseason. (Player in italics have agreed to a deal.)

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AMERICAN LEAGUE

BALTIMORE (10) — DH/1B Pedro Alvarez; C Wellington Castillo; 2B Ryan Flaherty; OF Craig Gentry; SS J.J. Hardy; RHP Jeremy Hellickson; RHP Ubaldo Jimenez; OF Seth Smith, LHP Wade Miley; RHP Chris Tillman.

  • Departed: Castillo to Chi. White Sox.

BOSTON (8) — LHP Fernando Abad; RHP Blaine Boyer; OF Rajai Davis; RHP Doug Fister; 1B Mitch Moreland; INF Eduardo Nunez; RHP Addison Reed; OF Chris Young.

  • Departed: Fister to Texas.

CHI. WHITE SOX (2) — RHP Mike Pelfrey; C Geovany Soto.

  • Signed: C Wellington Castillo (2-yr., $15M)

CLEVELAND (7) — LHP Craig Breslow; OF Jay Bruce; OF Austin Jackson; LHP Boone Logan, C Carlos Santana; RHP Bryan Shaw; RHP Joe Smith.

DETROIT (1) — RHP Anibal Sanchez.

HOUSTON (5) — DH Carlos Beltran; RHP Tyler Clippard; RHP Luke Gregerson; LHP Francisco Liriano; OF Cameron Maybin.

KANSAS CITY (9) — OF Melky Cabrera; RHP Trevor Cahill; OF Lorenzo Cain; SS Alcides Escobar; 1B Eric Hosmer; LHP Mike Minor; 3B Mike Moustakas; RHP Peter Moylan; LHP Jason Vargas.

  • Departed: Minor to Texas.

L.A. ANGELS (11) — RHP Andrew Bailey; RHP Jesse Chavez; 3B Yunel Escobar; RHP Ricky Nolasco; RHP Bud Norris; INF Cliff Pennington; RHP Yusmeiro Petit; 2B Brandon Phillips; OF Ben Revere; RHP Fernando Salas; RHP Huston Street.

  • Departed: Petit to Oakland.

MINNESOTA (5) — RHP Matt Belisle; RHP Bartolo Colon; RHP Dillon Gee; LHP Glen Perkins; LHP Hector Santiago.

N.Y. YANKEES (5) — 3B Todd Frazier; LHP Jaime Garcia; DH Matt Holliday; RHP Michael Pineda; LHP CC Sabathia.

OAKLAND (0) — None.

  • Signed: RHP Yusmeiro Petit (2-yrs., $10M)

SEATTLE (7) — 1B Yonder Alonso; INF Gordon Beckham; OF Jarrod Dyson; RHP Yovani Gallardo; RHP Hisashi Iwakuma; C Carlos Ruiz; 1B/3B Danny Valencia.

  • Re-signed: Iwakuma (Minor league deal)

TAMPA BAY (9) — OF Peter Bourjos; RHP Steve Cishek; RHP Alex Cobb; 1B Lucas Duda; RHP Tommy Hunter; 1B Logan Morrison; 3B Trevor Plouffe; OF Colby Rasmus; RHP Sergio Romo.

TEXAS (6) —RHP Tony Barnette, RHP Andrew Cashner; OF Carlos Gomez; RHP Miguel Gonzalez; RHP Jason Grilli, 1B Mike Napoli.

  • Re-signed: Barnette (1-yr., $1.5M)
  • Signed: RHP Doug Fister (1-yr., $4M), RHP Mike Minor (3-yrs., $28M)

TORONTO (5) — LHP Brett Anderson; 2B Darwin Barney, OF Jose Bautista; C Miguel Montero; OF Michael Saunders.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

ARIZONA (7) — OF Gregor Blanco; LHP Jorge De La Rosa; RHP David Hernandez; C Chris Iannetta; OF J.D. Martinez; RHP Fernando Rodney; INF Adam Rosales.

ATLANTA (2) — RHP R.A. Dickey; RHP Jason Motte.

CHI. CUBS (8) — RHP Jake Arrieta; C Alex Avila; RHP Wade Davis; LHP Brian Duensing; OF Jon Jay; RHP John Lackey; C Rene Rivera; RHP Koji Uehara.

  • Signed: RHP Tyler Chatwood (3 yrs., $38M).

CINCINNATI (4) — RHP Bronson Arroyo; SS Zack Cozart; RHP Scott Feldman; RHP Drew Storen.

COLORADO (9) — OF Alexi Amarista; RHP Tyler Chatwood; OF Carlos Gonzalez; C Ryan Hanigan; RHP Greg Holland, C Jonathan Lucroy; LHP Jake McGee; RHP Pat Neshek; 1B Mark Reynolds.

  • Departed: Chatwood to Chi. Cubs.

L.A. DODGERS (7) — RHP Yu Darvish; OF Andre Ethier; OF Curtis Granderson; OF Franklin Gutierrez; RHP Brandon Morrow; 2B Chase Utley; LHP Tony Watson.

MIAMI (4) — INF Mike Aviles; C A.J. Ellis; RHP Dustin McGowan; OF Ichiro Suzuki.

MILWAUKEE (3) — RHP Matt Garza; RHP Anthony Swarzak; 2B Neil Walker.

N.Y. METS (1) — INF Jose Reyes.

PHILADELPHIA (4) — INF Andres Blanco; RHP Clay Buchholz; OF Hyun-Soo Kim; OF Daniel Nava.

PITTSBURGH (3) — RHP Joaquin Benoit; 1B John Jaso; C Chris Stewart.

ST. LOUIS (4) — LHP Zach Duke; RHP Lance Lynn; RHP Juan Nicasio; RHP Seung-Hwan Oh.

SAN DIEGO (4) — SS Erick Aybar; RHP Jhoulys Chacin; RHP Jordan Lyles; RHP Craig Stammen.

SAN FRANCISCO (4) — RHP Matt Cain (retired); C Nick Hundley; 1B/3B Jae-Gynn Hwang; OF Michael Morse.

WASHINGTON (12) — RHP Matt Albers; RHP Joe Blanton; OF Alejandro De Aza; 2B Stephen Drew; RHP Edwin Jackson,; OF/2B Howie Kendrick; RHP Brandon Kintzler; 1B Adam Lind; C Jose Lobaton; LHP Oliver Perez; OF Ryan Raburn; OF Jayson Werth.

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MLB MVP: Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton edges out Reds’ Joey Votto for NL MVP / Jose Altuve tops Aaron Judge for AL MVP

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —-    If the Miami Marlins follow through on their apparent intentions to trade Giancarlo Stanton, they’ll have the rare distinction of dealing away a newly minted MVP.

Stanton earned the award in the National League on Thursday by only two points after a career season in which he belted 59 home runs, the highest total in the majors since 2001.

In the fourth-closest MVP race ever, Stanton received 10 of the 30 first-place votes and had 302 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America. He edged out Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who also received 10 first-place votes but 300 points.

Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt finished third with 239 points.

Finally free of the injuries that sidetracked him the last two years, Stanton put together the kind of monstrous season long envisioned of him. He batted .281 and set career highs in home runs and RBI, leading the majors with 132. Stanton also finished second in the league in on-base plus slugging percentage with a 1.007 mark and was a finalist for the Gold Glove in right field.

Mechanical adjustments that included closing his stance contributed to a staggering home run outburst for Stanton, whose blasts typically left little doubt they would leave the yard.

During a 48-game stretch from July 5-Aug. 29, Stanton banged out 30 homers to help the Marlins go 29-19 and briefly climb above .500. However, they went on a tailspin shortly after that and finished 77-85, well out of the playoff race.

A new ownership group headed by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter has since taken over and made it clear it plans to shed payroll, and Stanton’s contract – which calls for him to earn $295 million over the next 10 years – may be the starting point.

If so, the 28-year-old Stanton would join Alex Rodriguez as MVPs traded in the offseason when they won the award. The Texas Rangers sent Rodriguez and the remainder of his $252 million contract to the New York Yankees in February 2004, months after he claimed baseball’s top individual honor in the American League.

This year’s MVP race rekindled the longstanding debate over whether a player from a contending team is more worthy than an elite performer on an also-ran.

Goldschmidt, a runner-up for the third time in five years, was a major factor in the Diamondbacks improving by 24 wins and reaching the postseason for the first time since 2011. The five-time All-Star batted .297 with 36 homers, 120 RBI and a .966 OPS. In addition, Goldschmidt stole 18 bases and collected his third Gold Glove.

He looked like the favorite going into September, but batted just .171 in the final month – likely in part because of an elbow injury – while Stanton was following up his 18-homer August with another eight in September.

None of the top MVP candidates could claim more consistency than Votto, the OPS leader in the NL with a 1.032 mark. Previously dogged by charges that he was too picky at the plate and did not drive in enough runs, Votto led the league in walks for the fifth time but also hit 36 homers to go along with 100 RBI. He had an OPS above .875 in every month.

Like Stanton, though, Votto played for a losing team, as the Reds finished last in the NL Central at 68-94.

In Stanton’s case, the astonishing power display was enough to overcome the bias toward players on contending teams. Now he awaits to find out whether he’ll soon join one.

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Jose Altuve tops Aaron Judge for American League MVP Award

As a three-time batting champ and four-time American League hits leader, Jose Altuve long ago erased any concerns about his height. Now it’s his stature within the game that’s talked about.

On Thursday, the Houston Astros second baseman rose to baseball’s highest individual level when he was chosen as the AL MVP.

The 5-foot-6 Altuve was named on 27 of 30 first-place ballots to collect 405 points as he outdistanced New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge, who received two first-place votes for 279 points. Cleveland Indians infielder Jose Ramirez was third with 237 points.

Altuve, 27, was the catalyst of baseball’s most prolific offense, hitting a majors-best .346 with 24 homers, 81 RBI, 32 steals and a .957 on-base plus slugging percentage.

He became the first AL player to win a World Series and MVP award in the same year since the Detroit Tigers’ Willie Hernandez in 1984.

A native of Venezuela, Altuve was one of four Houston players remaining from the 2013 team that lost 111 games. As such, he brought a desire for constant improvement to the Astros, who rampaged to the AL West crown, came from behind to beat the Yankees in the AL Championship Series and outlasted the Los Angeles Dodgers in a memorable World Series to claim the first championship in franchise history.

In a season when Judge put up spectacular power numbers but endured several peaks and valleys, Altuve remained a picture of consistency, batting .347 in the first half and .344 in the second. He hit at least .298 with an .850 OPS in every month and went on a stunning tear in July, batting .485 for the month.

Altuve paired up with emerging superstar Carlos Correa to become the only keystone combo in the big leagues featuring both players with an OPS above .900. In the 40 games Correa missed in the second half with a thumb injury, Altuve batted .384 with a 1.015 OPS.

“Everything Altuve is about makes an MVP,’’ Astros manager A.J. Hinch said late in the season. “His strength, his consistency, his dominance in a lot of aspects of the game. He really embodies what an MVP is.’’

Not that Judge, who stands 13 inches taller, didn’t have a strong case of his own.

The unanimous AL rookie of the year led the league with 52 home runs and finished second in RBI with 114 and OPS at 1.049, which was 92 points higher than Altuve’s third-place mark. Displaying the grace and poise of former Yankees icon Derek Jeter, Judge quickly won over fans not just in New York but nationwide as he pounded titanic home runs at record pace.

Judge had 30 by the All-Star break, won the Home Run Derby, then fell into a deep slump that saw him bat .179 over the next 44 games and served as a reminder he was still a rookie.

A big September that included 15 home runs and helped power the Yankees to a wild-card spot rekindled Judge’s MVP candidacy, but not enough to match Altuve’s all-around greatness.

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MANAGERS OF THE YEAR

In his first year as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Torey Lovullo lifted the franchise from a 69-win season in 2016 to 93, third most in the National League, and a postseason appearance in 2017.

For his accomplishments, Lovullo was named the NL’s Manager of the Year, the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America announced on Tuesday.

In the American League, Paul Molitor, a finalist for the award for the second time in three years, led the Minnesota Twins to a surprise run to the AL Wild Card Game to win his first Manager of the Year award.

Molitor received 18 of 30 first-place votes and 111 total points. Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians received 11 first place votes and A.J. Hinch of the Houston Astros received one to finish second and third, respectively.

Lovullo received 18 of 30 first-place votes and 111 total points. Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers received five first place votes and Bud Black of the Colorado Rockies received three to finish second and third, respectively.

Under Lovullo, the D’backs finished second in the NL West with a 93-69 record to earn a wild card berth. They beat the Rockies in the wild-card game and advanced to the NL Division Series, where they were swept by the eventual NL champion Dodgers.

The players credit Lovullo’s success by helping create a good clubhouse culture and the ability to communicate freely.

Lovullo, 52, became the third Diamondbacks manager to win the award, following Bob Melvin (2007) and Kirk Gibson (2011).

The Twins, with the ninth lowest payroll in the majors, turned a 103-loss season in 2016 to an 85-win year — an MLB-high 26-game improvement. In doing so, the Twins became the first club to go from losing 100 games to making the postseason the next year.

In a mid-season twist, the Twins became sellers at the July 31 trading deadline after going 50-53. But after winning 20 games in August, Molitor led the Twins to the second wild card berth.

Molitor, a Hall of Famer, and the Twins lost to the New York Yankees 8-4 in the wild card game.

MLB: Scherzer, Kluber win Cy Young Awards by wide margins

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —   Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles — and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Kluber’s win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled “yes!” when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding — also with expletives — that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call “Klubot.” Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn’t react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn’t thrilled.

“Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one,” Kluber said.

Scherzer’s win moves him into rare company. He’s the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren’t in the Hall of Fame.

“That’s why I’m drinking a lot of champagne tonight,” Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

“This one is special,” he said. “When you start talking about winning three times, I can’t even comprehend it at this point.”

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington’s training staff was high on his thank-you list.

“Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field,” he said. “I’m very thankful for all their hard work.”

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota’s Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games — nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn’t even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

“That will eat at me this whole offseason,” he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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MLB ROOKIES OF THE YEAR 2017

Aaron Judge began the year just hoping to have a locker in the Yankee Stadium clubhouse.

He ends it with his own rooting section in right field, a strong celebrity profile, a rookie-record 52 home runs – and the American League Rookie of the Year award.

Judge, the 6-foot-7, 25-year-old slugger whose “Judge’s Chambers” became a Bronx fixture as he kept pounding home runs, on Monday was named the first unanimous AL rookie winner since the Chicago White Sox’s Jose Abreu in 2014. He received all 15 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America. Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi received 23 of 30 second-place votes, while Baltimore Orioles slugger Trey Mancini finished third.

He also becomes the first Yankee to win the award since Derek Jeter in 1996. While Judge has a long way to go to match the Cooperstown-bound shortstop’s two decades of accomplishments, there were times in his rookie year that Judge proved able to handle the spotlight with Jeter’s aplomb.

Even for a guy rightfully concerned he wouldn’t make the club out of spring training.

“I’m still sitting back trying to think of what all happened this year,” Judge said in a conference call Monday evening. “From battling in spring training, to the highs and lows all year, to the playoffs and coming up short. It’s nothing I ever could have dreamed about. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

“The highs and lows mold you. It was an incredible year.”

At times, Judge made it look easy.

Judge hit the All-Star break with 30 home runs, and commanded significant attention at the Midsummer Classic. The buzz continued after Judge won the Home Run Derby at Marlins Park, but a cold streak dogged the strikeout-prone slugger – he fanned 208 times in 2017- through much of July and August. In one 20-game stretch, he struck out 37 times while batting just .171.

But Judge got hot again, hitting 15 homers in his final 27 games to zoom past Mark McGwire’s rookie record of 49 homers set in 1987. The Yankees, meanwhile, won the wild card game against Minnesota and came within one win of their first World Series appearance since 2009.

They’ll try again next year – when Judge will have a solid idea that he’ll make the squad from the get-go.

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For the first time since they captured five consecutive National League Rookie of the Year awards from 1992-96, the Los Angeles Dodgers have won the top rookie award back-to-back.

Monday, it was Cody Bellinger following in Corey Seager’s footsteps, a core that figures to position the Dodgers at the top of the NL for years to come.

Bellinger, like Seager, captured the award in unanimous fashion, after slugging an NL rookie record 39 home runs – a feat he pulled off despite not making his major league debut until April 25.

Now, he’s the 18th Dodger to earn top rookie honors – a group that began with Jackie Robinson, the man for whom the rookie award is now named.

“It’s a huge honor,” Bellinger said in a TV interview after earning the award. “Now that the season’s over, I’m really trying to reflect how crazy this season was. To top it off and be part of those big-name guys is really special.”

Bellinger received all 30 first-place votes – Kris Bryant and Seager make it three consecutive unanimous NL winners – to outpoint St. Louis shortstop Paul DeJong (56 total points) and Pittsburgh first baseman Josh Bell (32).

A fourth-round pick in 2013 and the son of former major league utilityman Clay Bellinger, the Dodgers first baseman reached 21 home runs in 51 games, faster than anyone to start a major league career. Bellinger reached the All-Star break with 25 home runs, and the Dodgers raced out to a 91-36 start.

Both player and team saw their rolls slowed in August, when Bellinger suffered an ankle injury and the Dodgers began a skid of 16 losses in 17 games.

Bellinger – and Seager, as well – returned from injury and the Dodgers steadied themselves, all the way to their first World Series since 1988.

That’s a feat never achieved by the Dodger quintet that owned the NL rookie award in the early ’90s – Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo and Todd Hollandsworth.

That core began dismantling in 1998, when Piazza was traded away. The Dodgers need not worry about their new core for a while: Bellinger and Seager will be around through at least 2021.

Bellinger says the Dodgers’ seven-game loss to the Houston Astros in the World Series was “pretty exhausting,” although he doesn’t anticipate a Dodgers hangover in 2018.

“The taste in everyone’s mouth after we lost was definitely sour,” Bellinger said on a conference call. “Obviously the young guys are hungry, and those (more experienced) guys are hungry. It’s going to be a fun year.”

MLB: Finalists for MVP, Cy Young, rookie of the year awards unveiled

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —   With the postseason completed, award season has officially began.

Let the debates begin.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced the top three vote-getters for the MVP, Cy Young and rookie of the year awards on Monday.

The honors will be announced next week on MLB Network. Voting was completed by the end of the regular season.

With the postseason completed, award season has officially began.

Let the debates begin.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced the top three vote-getters for the MVP, Cy Young and rookie of the year awards on Monday.

The honors will be announced next week on MLB Network. Voting was completed by the end of the regular season.

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Award date and finalists (times ET):

Nov. 13

AL rookie of the year (6:15 p.m.)

  • OF Andrew Benintendi. Red Sox
  • OF Aaron Judge, Yankees
  • 1B Trey Mancini, Orioles

NL rookie of the year (6:43 p.m.)

  • 1B Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
  • 1B Josh Bell, Pirates
  • SS Paul DeJong, Cardinals

Nov. 14

NL manager of the year (6:15 p.m)

  • Bud Black, Rockies
  • Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks
  • Dave Roberts, Dodgers

AL manager of the year (6:43 p.m.)

  • AJ Hinch, Astros
  • Terry Francona, Indians
  • Paul Molitor, Twins

Nov. 15

AL Cy Young Award (6:15 p.m.)

  • RHP Luis Severino, Yankees
  • LHP Chris Sale, Red Sox
  • RHP Corey Kluber, Indians

NL Cy Young Award (6:43 p.m.)

  • LHP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  • RHP Max Scherzer, Nationals
  • RHP Stephen Strasburg, Nationals

Nov. 16

NL MVP (6:15 p.m.)

  • 1B Paul Goldschmidt. Diamondbacks
  • OF Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
  • 1B Joey Votto, Reds

AL MVP (6:45 p.m.)

  • 2B Jose Altuve, Astros
  • OF Aaron Judge, Yankees
  • 2B/3B Jose Ramirez, Indians

Award date and finalists (times ET):

Nov. 13

AL rookie of the year (6:15 p.m.)

  • OF Andrew Benintendi. Red Sox
  • OF Aaron Judge, Yankees
  • 1B Trey Mancini, Orioles

NL rookie of the year (6:43 p.m.)

  • 1B Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
  • 1B Josh Bell, Pirates
  • SS Paul DeJong, Cardinals

Nov. 14

NL manager of the year (6:15 p.m)

  • Bud Black, Rockies
  • Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks
  • Dave Roberts, Dodgers

AL manager of the year (6:43 p.m.)

  • AJ Hinch, Astros
  • Terry Francona, Indians
  • Paul Molitor, Twins

Nov. 15

AL Cy Young Award (6:15 p.m.)

  • RHP Luis Severino, Yankees
  • LHP Chris Sale, Red Sox
  • RHP Corey Kluber, Indians

NL Cy Young Award (6:43 p.m.)

  • LHP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  • RHP Max Scherzer, Nationals
  • RHP Stephen Strasburg, Nationals

Nov. 16

NL MVP (6:15 p.m.)

  • 1B Paul Goldschmidt. Diamondbacks
  • OF Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
  • 1B Joey Votto, Reds

AL MVP (6:45 p.m.)

  • 2B Jose Altuve, Astros
  • OF Aaron Judge, Yankees
  • 2B/3B Jose Ramirez, Indians

2017 World Series: Astros win 1st World Series crown, top Dodgers 5-1 in Game 7

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — From laughingstock to lift off.

George Springer and the Houston Astros rocketed to the top of the baseball galaxy Wednesday night, winning the first World Series championship in franchise history by romping past the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in Game 7.

Playing for a city still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, and wearing an H Strong logo on their jerseys, the Astros brought home the prize that had eluded them since they started out in 1962 as the Colt .45s.

“I always believed that we could make it,” All-Star slugger Jose Altuve said. “We did this for them.”

For a Series that was shaping up as an October classic, Game 7 quickly became a November clunker as Houston scored five runs in the first two innings off Yu Darvish. Hardly the excitement fans felt during the Cubs’ 10-inning thriller in Cleveland last fall.

Well, except for everyone wearing bright orange. Back in Houston, a huge crowd filled Minute Maid Park to cheer as fans watched on the big video board, and the train whistle wailed when it was over.

“We’re coming home a champion, Houston,” Springer said after accepting the World Series MVP trophy named this year for Willie Mays.

Star shortstop Carlos Correa turned the party into a proposal. After doing a TV interview, he got down on one knee and asked girlfriend Daniella Rodriguez, a former Miss Texas USA, to marry him.

“Yes?” he said, putting a ring on her finger as she cried.

Altuve, one of four holdovers from a club that lost an embarrassing 111 times in 2013 after switching from the NL to the AL, and this collection of young stars silenced Dodger Stadium from the get-go, taking a 5-0 lead in the second inning.

Altuve was in perfect position for the final out, a grounder by Corey Seager to the 5-foot-6 second baseman.

“I caught the last out for the Houston Astros to become a world champion. It was a groundball to me, I threw to first, and I think it was the happiest moment of my life in baseball,” Altuve said.

The Astros streamed from the dugout and bullpen to go wild, tossing their gloves in the air. A thousand or so fans crowded behind the first base dugout, chanting “Hou-ston! Hou-ston!”

Later, some little Astros kids ran around the outfield grass dressed in Halloween outfits. Their dads, meanwhile, were putting on championship hats and shirts.

At last, they had completed the ascent some predicted after a rebuilding club purged payroll and stripped down to bare bones a few years back.

Famously, now, there was the Sports Illustrated cover in 2014 — after Houston had lost more than 100 games for three straight seasons — that proclaimed: “Your 2017 World Series Champs” and featured a picture of Springer in a bright Astros jersey.

On the other side, ace Clayton Kershaw and several Dodgers leaned against the dugout railing, watching the Astros celebrate. Los Angeles led the majors with 104 wins and a $240 million payroll, and rallied to win Game 6, yet it didn’t pay off for part-owner Magic Johnson and his team.

“Obviously, this one hurts,” manager Dave Roberts said. “And like I told the guys, when you put everything, every ounce of your being into something and you come up short, it hurts. And it’s supposed to hurt.”

Normally a starter, Charlie Morton finished up with four stellar innings of relief for the win.

“We held down a really tough lineup,” Morton said. “For my teammates, for the city of Houston, it’s just unbelievable.”

Springer led off the evening with a double against Darvish, and soon it was 2-0.

Springer hit his fifth homer — tying the Series mark set by Reggie Jackson (1977) and matched by Chase Utley (2009) — when he connected for a record fourth game in a row, making it a five-run lead.

That was plenty for Houston manager A.J. Hinch. He pulled starter Lance McCullers Jr. soon after the curveballer crazily plunked his fourth batter of the game , and began a parade of four relievers that held the lead.

Throughout the postseason, Hinch and the unconventional Astros overcame a shaky bullpen by using starters in relief.

“I knew yesterday I didn’t have much,” said McCullers, the Game 3 winner. “I knew I didn’t have much to give other than to gut it out as long as I could.”

In a dramatic Series marked by blown leads and late rallies, when Houston twice outlasted the Dodgers in extra innings, McCullers did enough.

Forever known for their space-age Astrodome, outlandish rainbow jerseys and a handful of heartbreaking playoff losses for stars like Nolan Ryan, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, these Astros will be remembered as champions, finally, in their 56th season.

The club that wears a star on its hat also filled out the Texas trophy case. Teams from the Lone Star State had won most every major crown — the Super Bowl, NBA and NHL titles, championships in college football, and men’s and women’s hoops — except the World Series.

Built on the skills of homegrown All-Stars Dallas Keuchel and more, helped by veteran offseason acquisitions such as Brian McCann and 40-year-old Carlos Beltran, who won his first ring, and boosted by the slick trade for ace Justin Verlander, general manager Jeff Luhnow oversaw the team’s resurgence.

Houston won 101 times this year to take the AL West, then won Games 6 and 7 at home in the AL Championship Series against the New York Yankees. The Astros joined the 1985 Royals as the only clubs to win a pair of Game 7s in the same year.

When it was over, Bagwell and Biggio posed for pictures together with the World Series trophy.

For the Dodgers, the quest to win a Series for the first time since 1988 fell short.

Kershaw provided four shutout innings of relief for Los Angeles , but it was too late. What the Dodgers really needed was a better starter than Darvish, someone more like the lefty who tossed out a ceremonial first ball: the great Sandy Koufax.

Acquired from Texas on July 31 for these big games, Darvish lasted 1 2/3 innings in both his World Series starts — the two shortest of his career.

“This pain is going to stay in me for a while,” the four-time All-Star said through a translator.

After Springer lined a leadoff double , Alex Bregman hit a bouncer that first baseman Cody Bellinger threw past Darvish for an error, allowing a run to score . Bregman aggressively stole third and scored on Altuve’s grounder , and it was 2-0 after eight pitches.

A double by Marwin Gonzalez helped set up perhaps McCullers’ biggest contribution, a slow grounder for his first pro RBI. Springer followed with a no-doubt, two-run drive into the left-center field bleachers.

That was the Series-most 25th homer in a Major League Baseball season that set a record for home runs. It was easily enough for the Astros to offset pinch-hitter Andre Ethier’s RBI single in the Los Angeles sixth.

Only once have the Dodgers clinched a crown at home, that coming in 1963 when Koufax outpitched Yankees star Whitey Ford to finish a sweep. They’ve never won Game 7 of the Fall Classic at their own park, dating more than a century ago to their days on the streets of Brooklyn as the Trolley Dodgers.

As pockets of Houston fans got louder and louder in the later innings, the crowd at Dodger Stadium was left to repeat the sad, but hopeful cry that used to echo in Brooklyn: Wait till next year.

Just 106 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

2017 World Series: Under new rule, Dodgers host Game 7

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — All you fans who hated the rule that linked the All-Star Game to home-field advantage in the World Series, guess what?

This is your year.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are set to host the Houston Astros in Game 7 on Wednesday night, thanks to a change that went into effect this season.

Now, teams earn the right: Los Angeles posted the most wins in the majors, so the all-or-nothing matchup is at Dodger Stadium.

“The home-field advantage, having the last at-bat, it’s definitely huge. Especially in this Series, you see how many times it’s gone back and forth, so to be able to have that last at-bat is huge,” Dodgers star Justin Turner said.

No more giving home field to the league that wins the All-Star Game. This summer, in fact, the AL won 2-1 at Miami on Robinson Cano’s home run in the 10th inning — under the old rules, this Game 7 would’ve been at Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros.

It was a concept that drove many fans crazy. Any method would be better, they argued — alternating sites like the old days, best interleague record, coin flip, anything.

But that’s the way it had been since a 2002 fiasco in Milwaukee when the AL and NL both ran out of pitchers after 11 innings and the game was declared a 7-7 tie.

In that span, the American League went 11-3 in All-Star play. The edge and the ability to use the designated hitter helped a little, maybe — of those 11 times they had home field, AL clubs won six titles.

Before this season, that provision was scrapped. As part of the new labor deal between owners and players, World Series home field goes to the team that wins the most games in the regular season.

The Dodgers won 104, including a major league-high 57 at home, and those victories added up to a final game at their place. Houston won 101, and matched Cleveland for the most road wins with 53.

“We feed off the crowd, for sure. Especially at home,” Los Angeles leadoff man Chris Taylor said. “We feel we have a huge home-field advantage.”

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Game 7 of the World Series.

It’s a chance to make history — whether you’re a star like Madison Bumgarner or a role player like Sandy Amoros.

The Dodgers and Astros will play Wednesday night on the biggest stage baseball has to offer, and in a one-game, winner-take-all scenario, just about anything is possible. This series has featured both home run binges and pitching duels, blown leads and surprising saves.

“I don’t anybody here is shocked that it’s going to Game 7,” Houston ace Justin Verlander said after Tuesday night’s 3-1 loss at Dodger Stadium.

Here’s a look back at Game 7 of the World Series, through the years:

THE CLASSICS

These games need no introduction. One name is often enough.

Bill Mazeroski. Jack Morris. Luis Gonzalez.

In 1960, Mazeroski led off the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 with a homer that gave Pittsburgh a 10-9 win over the New York Yankees. That slugfest was a wild one, with 10 runs scored in the final two innings.

The 1991 finale between Minnesota and Atlanta at the Metrodome was tense for different reasons. Morris pitched all 10 innings for the Twins, who finally won 1-0 on Gene Larkin’s bases-loaded single .

Gonzalez’s RBI single in 2001 capped a two-run, ninth-inning rally by Arizona against Mariano Rivera and the Yankees. The Diamondbacks won 3-2, denying New York a fourth straight championship.

Nearly a century ago, in 1924, Washington rallied from a two-run deficit in the eighth and eventually beat the New York Giants 4-3 in 12, with Walter Johnson pitching the final four innings in relief.

Amoros made his mark as a defensive sub in 1955, running down Yogi Berra’s drive in left field to halt a sixth-inning rally by the Yankees. Brooklyn held on for a 2-0 victory and finally won its first crown.

Cleveland hasn’t won a World Series since 1948 but came agonizingly close in 1997 and 2016, losing Game 7 in extra innings both years. Edgar Renteria’s 11th-inning hit won the ’97 Series for Florida, and the Chicago Cubs outlasted the Indians last year, winning 8-7 in 10 to take their first title since 1908.

THE ROUTS

Sometimes, Game 7 turns into a blowout. Detroit fans threw things at Joe Medwick of the Cardinals in 1934, as St. Louis was on its way to an 11-0 win over the Tigers. In 1985, the Cardinals were on the other end of an 11-0 drubbing, and this time they were the ones venting their frustration against the Royals. A missed call had gone Kansas City’s way near the end of Game 6, and St. Louis fell apart in Game 7. Manager Whitey Herzog and pitcher Joaquin Andujar were ejected.

OVERSHADOWED

Sometimes, the finale feels anticlimactic compared to what happened in Game 6. The 1975 World Series is remembered for Carlton Fisk’s game-winning homer for Boston that forced Game 7 — even though that last game was pretty special in its own right. Cincinnati beat the Red Sox 4-3 in Game 7, with Joe Morgan driving in the winning run in the top of the ninth.

After winning Game 6 on Bill Buckner’s error in 1986, the New York Mets made the most of their reprieve, rallying from a 3-0 deficit to beat Boston 8-5 in Game 7. In 2011, the Cardinals were down to their last strike in the ninth and 10th innings of Game 6. But they won that one, and Game 7 — a 6-2 St. Louis victory — wasn’t nearly as memorable.

THE STANDOUTS

Only one player has homered twice in Game 7 of the World Series. That was Berra in 1956, when the Yankees beat Brooklyn 9-0. Four players have had four hits — Max Carey (1925), Ripper Collins (1934), Willie Stargell (1979) and George Brett (1985). Their teams all won.

The most strikeouts for a pitcher in Game 7 is 10, by Hal Newhouser (1945), Sandy Koufax (1965), Bob Gibson (1967) and Roger Clemens (2001). Koufax’s gem — a 2-0 shutout of Minnesota — was the last time the Dodgers played in Game 7. Only two pitchers have thrown shutouts in Game 7 since then — Bret Saberhagen in ’85 and Morris in ’91.

FALLING SHORT

A World Series that ends on a hit will be remembered for a while, but sometimes the final out is what goes down in history. In 1926, Babe Ruth tried to steal second base for the Yankees in the ninth inning of Game 7. He was caught for the final out in the Cardinals’ 3-2 win.

In 1962, the Yankees were the team trying to hold on against San Francisco. The Giants had runners on second and third with two outs in the ninth when Willie McCovey lined out to second base to end it. New York won 1-0.

The Giants were on the other side of a finish like that in 2014. With San Francisco up 3-2, Kansas City’s Alex Gordon lined a single and went all the way around to third on an error by outfielder Gregor Blanco. But Gordon was stranded when Salvador Perez fouled out to third against Bumgarner, who completed a remarkable five-inning save.

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Information from Baseball-Reference.com was used in this report.

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

2017 World Series: Dodgers, Astros push their wonderful World Series to Game 7

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kenley Jansen blew a 94 mph pitch past Carlos Beltran to wrap up a six-out save Tuesday night, and Dodger Stadium roared with equal elements excitement and anticipation.

This World Series is just too good to go anything less than seven games.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros will play for a championship in Chavez Ravine on Wednesday night, wrapping up two outstanding seasons in Game 7 — the biggest stage in North American team sports. Two 100-win teams will play a winner-take-all finale to the baseball season for the first time since 1931.

“This is a great series,” said Houston’s George Springer, who hit his fourth homer of the Series on Tuesday. “I know we lost (Game 6), but this is awesome.”

For the fourth time in seven years, the Fall Classic is going to Game 7. It’s the 39th time since baseball went to a best-of-seven World Series format, and the first time it has happened in back-to-back seasons since 2001-02.

“I think you dream about that as a kid,” said Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, whose third homer in four games powered Los Angeles past Houston in Game 6. “I think it’s going to be big for … all of us to just remember it’s still a baseball game. You’ve got to slow it down. Still play the same way that we’ve been playing all year that got us to here.”

Game 5 was a fascinating spectacle in Houston, a 13-12 win in 10 innings that put the Astros on the brink of their first championship. Game 6 merely was superbly played, with Los Angeles calmly snatching a crisp 3-1 victory from the edge of defeat.

The Dodgers and Astros have played one of the most memorable postseason series in recent history — and now they even get the chance to top the finale of last year’s World Series.

Just a year ago, the Chicago Cubs ended their 108-year championship drought with a 10-inning thriller in Game 7. Chicago got extra-inning RBIs from MVP Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero in a landmark victory over the Cleveland Indians, whose own drought reached 68 years last fall.

Another significant drought will end at Dodger Stadium, which has never hosted a World Series Game 7 in its storied history.

The Astros haven’t won a title in 56 seasons of existence, while the Dodgers haven’t raised the trophy in 29 years.

“This series has been back and forth,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “Two incredible teams trying to get to the finish line. And so now, obviously, it’s good for our sport. Necessarily bad for us, because we wanted to win (Game 6). … Both teams will be ready to play with about as much energy as you could possibly imagine in Game 7.”

The Astros, who began life as the Houston Colt .45s, had only reached one World Series and never won a game in the Fall Classic until this year. They have moved to the brink of reversing a curse of sorts leveled in 2014 by the noted jinx artists at Sports Illustrated, who put them on the cover as “Your 2017 World Series Champs” in a story about the franchise’s rebuilding project.

The Dodgers won one World Series in Brooklyn and five more on the West Coast between 1959 and 1988, but hadn’t returned to the World Series since. With the majors’ highest payroll and innovative manager Dave Roberts directing a mix of veteran stars and young talent, the Dodgers have returned to championship contention with five straight NL West titles — but the group has never been this close to winning it all.

Los Angeles will attempt to become the 23rd team to rally from a 3-2 deficit to win the World Series. The Dodgers have never accomplished the feat in six previous tries, but they haven’t been in this situation since 1978.

After leading the majors with 104 wins during the regular season, the Dodgers have home-field advantage in Game 7 — but only because of a change in baseball’s new labor contract. The winning league in the All-Star Game was given home-field advantage in the World Series from 2003-16 before the change. Without it, Game 7 would have been in Houston due to the AL’s 2-1 victory in 10 innings over the NL in July.

“The home-field advantage, having the last at-bat, it’s definitely huge,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “Especially in this series, you see how many times it’s gone back and forth. So to be able to have that last at-bat is huge.”

The Game 7 matchup of starting pitchers appears to favor the Dodgers — but only to people who didn’t watch Game 3.

Yu Darvish, the Japanese star acquired by Los Angeles from Texas at the July 31 trade deadline, will be looking for redemption after turning in the shortest start of his big league career in Houston last week. With his famed slider doing almost nothing, he couldn’t get through the second inning of Game 3, giving up six hits and four runs while getting only five outs.

“If it was the regular season, I probably would have kept going,” Darvish said through a translator Tuesday. “I wouldn’t say it was the worst outing I ever had. I can’t pay that much attention to what happened last time. Just focus on (Wednesday’s) outing and have a good game.”

The Astros will counter with All-Star Lance McCullers Jr., whose victory in Game 3 was his first win in 12 appearances since June. But McCullers has been in solid form in his last two appearances, including his outstanding four-inning save in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series against the New York Yankees.

After Game 6, McCullers spent about 10 minutes long-tossing in the right-field corner at Dodger Stadium, keeping his arm loose for plenty of his signature curveballs in the big finale.

“I was hot and ready to go (in Game 6), if the situation came up where they needed me,” he said.

Both starters will have plenty of help at the first sign of trouble, however.

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw expects to pitch as a reliever in Game 7 after a short Game 5 start on Sunday. Alex Wood, the 16-game winner who pitched one-hit ball into the sixth inning of Game 4 last Saturday, will also be ready to go.

And closer Kenley Jansen, who picked up a smooth six-out save in Game 6, is eager to get on the mound one last time.

“I’m not trying to be a hero or anything, but there’s no tomorrow,” Jansen said. “You’ve got to go out there and fight.”

The entire Houston pitching staff will be available behind McCullers, including Dallas Keuchel and possibly even Game 6 starter Justin Verlander.

“I think all of our guys are going to have the adrenaline on their side,” Hinch said. “They’re all going to be ready to pitch. How we use them, how much we use them — we’ll get to the field, they’ll do their throwing program. If it’s one pitch or 100 pitches, I think we’re going to have to have all hands on deck.”

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

2017 World Series: Astros, Dodgers connect, riveting World Series onto Game 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — At this rate, Justin Verlander might very well hit his first home run for real.

A classically poor-hitting pitcher, the Houston ace knocked one over the wall last week at Dodger Stadium in batting practice. Maybe that bolstered his belief that this batch of baseballs is slick and juiced.

On Tuesday night, Verlander aims to lead the Astros to their first championship when he faces the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of a power-packed World Series that’s already set the mark for home runs.

“We’re just making memories right now,” Astros catcher Brian McCann said, a day after he homered.

A total of 22 homers so far, more than 1½ miles of dingers.

These nightly episodes of home run derby are connecting with fans, too — in much of the country, they stayed up well past midnight to watch Houston outlast the Dodgers 13-12 in 10 innings at Minute Maid Park, TV numbers showed.

With each swing, perhaps this Series really is becoming more riveting.

George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel and McCann launched longballs in the Astros’ back-and-forth thriller. Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig homered for the Dodgers — seven different players on each side have homered.

“This is not going to be finished Tuesday. It’s going to be Game 7,” Puig said.

Springer has hit three in the Series. His assessment of Game 5: “Bedlam.”

“This is the craziest atmosphere I’ve ever played in, the craziest results, just big hit after big hit, big play after big play,” the Houston leadoff man said.

Major League Baseball set a record this year for most home runs in a season and, fittingly, Minnesota leadoff man Brian Dozier began the playoffs with a homer.

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, meanwhile, has been tagged for a record eight home runs in a single postseason. Gurriel got him in Game 4, and Houston has 13 overall against the Dodgers.

Did anyone expect this many at this time in October? Surprising, right?

“I guess a little bit, just because both teams are putting up incredible at-bats in the most important times,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday on a conference call.

“I think we realize on the pitching side, both teams are at the very end of their rope,” he said. “Their mistakes are getting hit. But the volume is certainly record-setting, and certainly the intensity of the moments that are ending in home runs is hard to fathom.”

Dodgers lefty Rich Hill opposes Verlander in a rematch from Game 2. That night, the teams wound up combining for a Series-record eight home runs, with Houston holding on to win 7-6 in 11 innings.

Los Angeles reliever Ross Stripling was among 14 pitchers, seven on each side, who worked in the Game 5 slugfest.

“If we can just hold them to less than 12 runs, we can get some wins,” Stripling said.

There were 6,105 home runs during the regular season, an average of about 2.5 homers per game. There have been 4.4 per game in the Series.

The ball has been flying out of the ballpark all year,” said Justin Turner, whose tiebreaking homer helped Los Angeles win the opener, when the gametime temperature was 103 degrees.

“So, no, it’s not surprising. I will say that you might see a little bit different game here tomorrow night, a little bit different weather. It’s going to be a lot cooler here than it was for the first two games, and it might be a different ballgame than you’ve seen in the first five games.”

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2017 World Series: Astros blast by Dodgers 13-12 in 10th, lead World Series 3-2

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HOUSTON (AP) — When the winning run finally came sliding across home plate on Alex Bregman’s single, more than five unforgettable hours after the first pitch, a frantic Carlos Correa sprinted toward his Houston Astros teammates in the middle of the diamond.

Arm in the air, pure elation all over his face.

A last indelible image from a World Series classic filled with them.

Correa, Jose Altuve and the Astros kept hammering away in a wild slugfest that no one saw coming, rallying against Clayton Kershaw and rocking the Los Angeles Dodgers 13-12 in 10 thrilling innings Sunday night for a 3-2 lead.

“I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack out there,” Correa said.

In a tension-filled game of monster momentum swings at pulsating Minute Maid Park, the last one belonged to Bregman . With the packed crowd still standing well past midnight, the 23-year-old third baseman hit an RBI single with two outs off Kenley Jansen.

“The best game ever, for sure,” Correa said.

Wacky and whacky with seven home runs, this perhaps topped Toronto’s 15-14 win over the Phillies in 1993 as the craziest World Series showdown ever.

Exhilaration and exhaustion, spread over 5 hours, 17 minutes.

“Yeah, five-hour game, but it doesn’t matter. I can play a 10-hour game if we are going to win,” Altuve said.

Now, with both bullpens worn down, the teams get a day to recover. Game 6 will be Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, where Justin Verlander will try to clinch the Astros’ first championship and Rich Hill hopes to save Los Angeles’ season.

Altuve, Correa, Yuli Gurriel, George Springer and Brian McCann homered for Houston , the highest-scoring team in the majors this season.

Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig went deep for the Dodgers, who scored three times in the ninth to make it 12-all.

“It’s hard to put into words all the twists and turns in that game,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

“These are just two really good teams, just throwing haymakers at each other trying to outlast each other,” he said.

Silent when ace Dallas Keuchel got crushed, the orange-clad fans erupted over and over as the Astros sent balls careening all around — and out of — the park.

Yet on another night of Home Run Derby in the Year of the Home Run, no lead was safe.

Puig lined a two-run shot in the ninth, the record 22nd homer in a single Series, and Chris Taylor’s two-out single off Chris Devenski tied it.

“I think this whole series has been an emotional roller coaster,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s the two best teams playing for a championship. And these are two teams that play 27 outs.”

More than that, in fact.

Houston posted its second extra-inning victory of the Series, adding to its 7-6, 11-inning comeback win in a dramatic Game 2.

With two down in the 10th, Jansen hit McCann on the hand with a pitch and Springer walked.

Bregman, who homered off Jansen in Saturday night’s loss, lined the next pitch over shortstop to score pinch-runner Derek Fisher, who slid home ahead of the throw from left fielder Andre Ethier.

“We’re up 3-2, baby,” Bregman said.

Out of nowhere, the Astros climbed out of a four-run hole against Kershaw and then erased two more deficits later in the game, tying it each time on a homer.

Correa leaped and twirled after launching a two-run drive that made it 11-8 in the seventh . Much later, he hurdled the dugout railing the moment Bregman lined his winning single.

Bellinger hit a three-run drive in the fifth that made it 7-4 and seemed to swing things back in the Dodgers’ favor. By the end of the mayhem on the mound, it was a mere afterthought.

Each team had 14 hits, eight for extra bases, and both used seven pitchers.

“Man, I’m mentally exhausted right now,” Bellinger said.

Before the game, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and son George W. Bush were on the field for the first-pitch ceremony. By the end of the night, most everyone was bushed.

The Astros (13) and Dodgers (9) topped the Series mark for homers , set when Barry Bonds and the Giants lost to the Angels in seven games in 2002.

But really, who imagined this?

No wonder there’s a bright sign high above the center field wall for a popular taco place in town — it says Torchys and fit perfectly for a game where pitchers got lit up.

A day earlier, Kershaw stood alone on the mound after the Dodgers’ dramatic win in Game 4, trying to get a visual for the biggest start of his career.

This was definitely not how he pictured it.

The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner cruised into the fourth with a 4-0 lead before things suddenly fell apart. After Correa hit an RBI double, Gurriel launched a tying, three-run drive.

Kershaw whipped his head around to watch Gurriel’s drive sail, his face immediately showing shock, utter disbelief and frustration, all wrapped up in one expression before he bent over, hands on his knees.

Yanked in the fifth, Kershaw trudged off with a dubious distinction — he has allowed a postseason-record eight home runs this year.

“Just exactly what you expect (when you) come to the park with Keuchel and Kershaw pitching,” Hinch said.

Hardly a repeat performance from the opener, when Kershaw dominated while outpitching Keuchel for a 3-1 win.

Gurriel’s second homer of the Series also kept open this possibility: Imagine the scene if Major League Baseball presents Gurriel with the MVP trophy, so soon after Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended him for the first five games next year for making a racist gesture toward Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish.

Keuchel never got into a rhythm during the shortest home start of his All-Star career. His breaking pitches spun without much movement, and he was pulled in the fourth.

The Dodgers hadn’t lost a game this year when they led by four runs. But Kershaw’s bedeviling postseason past came back to haunt him at the worst time.

Kershaw was pulled after a pair of two-out walks in the bottom of the fifth. And with the crowd sensing something big, the 5-foot-6 Altuve connected off Kenta Maeda for a home run that made it 7-all.

“At that point, I talked to him before getting the at-bat: ‘This is your moment,'” Correa said. “And he didn’t let me down. He hit a homer and got us going.”

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2017 World Series: Bellinger, Dodgers top Astros 6-2 to tie World Series 2-all

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HOUSTON (AP) — Cody Bellinger pulled into second base with his first World Series hit and said: “It’s a miracle!”

With the Dodgers three innings from falling into a deep deficit, the rookie slugger sparked a late comeback that stopped the Houston Astros’ surge.

Hitless in 13 at-bats, Bellinger doubled and scored the tying run in the seventh inning , then doubled home the go-ahead run off struggling closer Ken Giles in a five-run ninth that lifted Los Angeles to a 6-2 win Saturday night and tied the Series at two games apiece.

“Sometimes you see in the postseason you want to try to do too much, and that’s what I was doing,” Bellinger said. “Today I tried to make an effort of not doing too much, and when you do that you get two hits sometimes. It’s a crazy game.”

George Springer put the Astros ahead with a two-out homer in the sixth , the first hit off Los Angeles starter Alex Wood. The crowd at Minute Maid Park, where Houston had been 7-0 this postseason, was revved up in anticipation of the Astros having a chance to win the first title in their 56-season history on Sunday.

Instead, the Series will go back to Los Angeles no matter what. Clayton Kershaw starts Game 5 for the Dodgers on Sunday night and Dallas Keuchel for the Astros in a rematch of the opener, when Kershaw pitched Los Angeles to a 3-1 win.

Bellinger, a 22-year-old bopper who set a National League rookie record with 39 home runs this season, struck out four times in Game 3 and once more in the fifth inning — his eighth whiff of the Series.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expressed faith Friday night in Bellinger and again Saturday afternoon.

“He’s got that calmness about him,” Roberts said. “And when things speed up, he has a way of sort of resetting and not letting it spiral.”

During batting practice, Bellinger tried to emulate teammates Andre Ethier and Logan Forsythe by hitting the ball to the opposite field.

“I was always told these really good hitters hit the ball the other way in BP and I had never done it, and I wanted to try it,” he said. “I hit every ball in BP today to the left side of the infield. I’ve never done that before in my life. Usually I try to lift. I needed to make an adjustment.”

Bellinger lined a fastball to the opposite field over Marwin Gonzalez into the quirky corner next to the left-field scoreboard, chasing starter Charlie Morton. He came home on Forsythe’s two-out single off Will Harris.

Giles entered to start the ninth and got into immediate trouble, allowing a leadoff single to Corey Seager and a walk to Justin Turner. Bellinger took a low slider, then lined a fastball at the letters to left-center. He dropped his bat and raised a hand while running to first and clapped his hands half a dozen times in excitement after sliding into second.

“Every day you see him grow a little bit more,” Wood said. “I think everybody kind of had the same message with him: ‘We believe in you. You’re our guy. You’re special. Remember that.'”

Joe Musgrove relieved and allowed Austin Barnes’ sacrifice fly and Joc Pederson’s three-run homer , his second home run of the Series.

“You like that! You like that!” Pederson yelled to teammates, a la Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins , as he came back to dugout.

Wood, Brandon Morrow, winner Tony Watson and Kenley Jansen combined on a two-hitter — the first-ever in the Series in which both hits were home runs. Jansen allowed Alex Bregman’s two-out long ball in the ninth , the 15th home run of the Series, most ever through four games, before retiring Jose Altuve on a flyout.

Giles, the loser, was charged with three runs.

“They were all crappy pitches, not where I wanted them,” he said. “I need to do better. I need to pick up this team. I need to carry my weight.”

He has an 11.75 postseason ERA, allowing runs in six of seven appearances.

“When you’re a back-end reliever,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said, “unless you’re extraordinarily dominant, you’re only talked about when you suffer, when you struggle. So for him, he can handle it mentally. He can handle it physically.”

Springer put the Astros ahead when he drove a curveball, Wood’s 84th and final pitch, over the left-field scoreboard and into the Crawford Boxes. Wood dropped to a knee on the mound and watched the ball land in the seats and rebound onto the field.

Houston was nine outs from winning for the 18th time in 20 home games since returning to Minute Maid Park after Hurricane Harvey, and from becoming the first major league team to start a postseason 8-0 at home.

But the Dodgers tied the score in the seventh. Bellinger pointed skyward when reaching second standing up on his opposite-field hit. He clapped both hands above his head, said “It’s a miracle!” and pointed for the ball to be saved.

Los Angeles had been 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position before Forsythe’s hit.

Making only his second appearance since Sept. 26, Wood accomplished a feat that eluded Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Orel Hershiser and other Dodgers pitching greats. In the team’s 109th World Series game, Wood became the first Dodgers pitcher to hold an opponent hitless through five innings.

Houston had put a runner on in 14 consecutive innings before the 26-year-old lefty retired the side in order in the first.

Morton was nearly as stingy, allowing three hits in 6 1/3 innings. This was the first Series game in which both starters allowed four baserunners or fewer.

“The innings were rolling pretty quickly there the first four, five, six innings,” Wood said. “It kept us both of us locked in.”

Chris Taylor singled leading off the first but was thrown out on a delayed steal attempt that ended the inning, the first runner caught stealing by Houston catcher Brian McCann since June 18. That was part of a streak of 15 straight outs by Morton before he hit Barnes on the right forearm with a pitch leading off the sixth.

Enrique Hernandez’s single put runners at the corners and Taylor hit a two-hopper to third that Bregman scooped on an in-between hop and threw home in plenty of time for McCann to tag Barnes, who tried to stop about 10 feet from the plate and fell. Bregman also threw out the Yankees’ Greg Bird at the plate in the fifth inning of Game 7 in the AL Championship Series.

“We’re a super-resilient team,” Bellinger said. “Taking one here to make sure we go back to LA is huge.”

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2017 World Series: Springer’s HR in 11th gives Astros 7-6 win, ties Series 1-1

LOS ANGELES (AP) — George Springer screamed with joy as he circled the bases after hitting a two-run homer in the 11th inning.

Would it be enough? Was this the final plot twist on one of the wildest nights in postseason history?

Yes, it was — barely — and the Houston Astros won a World Series game for the first time in their 56 seasons.

Charlie Culberson hit a two-out homer in the bottom half off Chris Devenski, who then struck out Yasiel Puig in a tense, nine-pitch at-bat for the win. The Astros outlasted the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-6 in a Hollywood thriller Wednesday to tie the Series at one game apiece.

“Wasn’t that the best game ever!?” Alex Bregman proclaimed to no one in particular in the Astros clubhouse.

On a night of dramatic swings and a World Series-record eight home runs, Marwin Gonzalez stunned the Dodger Stadium crowd with a solo shot off dominant Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen on an 0-2 pitch in the ninth that made it 3-all.

Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa hit consecutive home runs against Josh Fields in the 10th to build a 5-3 Astros lead, with Correa flipping his bat to celebrate.

But there was more. Much, much more.

“This is an instant classic and to be part of it is pretty special,” Astros starter Justin Verlander said.

Puig homered off Ken Giles starting the bottom of the 10th and Enrique Hernandez knotted the score 5-5 with a two-out RBI single .

Devenski entered and, with Hernandez at second, made a wild pickoff throw that appeared headed toward left-center field before it struck second base umpire Laz Diaz. An incredulous Hernandez put both hands on his helmet, unable to advance, and was stranded when Chris Taylor flied out.

“We were pretty unlucky at the beginning of the game when Taylor dove in center field and (the ball) hit him in the face or head,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I felt like the baseball gods were returning the favor, by having an umpire standing in the way there.”

Cameron Maybin, who had entered in the 10th, singled leading off the 11th against losing pitcher Brandon McCarthy, a surprise addition to the Dodgers’ World Series roster who was pitching for the first time since Oct. 1. Maybin stole second and Springer hit a drive to right-center for a 7-5 lead, just the third 11th-inning home run in the Series after shots by Kirby Puckett in 1991 and David Freese in 2011.

Springer, an All-Star leadoff man, broke out of his slump with three hits and a walk after going 0 for 4 with four strikeouts in the Series opener Tuesday. His decisive drive made the Astros the first team to hit three extra-inning home runs in a postseason game.

Devenski retired Corey Seager and Justin Turner on lineouts in the bottom half. Puig checked his swing on a 2-2 pitch — the Astros jumped when first base umpire Gerry Davis signaled no swing — and Puig fouled off two more. Devenski threw his fifth straight changeup, and Puig swung over it as the Astros ran onto the field to celebrate after finally closing out a back-and-forth game that lasted 4 hours, 19 minutes.

“It was an emotional roller coaster,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who removed starter Rich Hill after he threw only 60 pitches in four solid innings and struck out seven.

After another steamy night in a Santa Ana heat wave, the series shifts to Texas and resumes Friday night at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, where the retractable roof has not been open for a game since June 9. Lance McCullers Jr. starts for the Astros and Yu Darvish for the Dodgers, who acquired him from Texas at the July 31 trade deadline.

Houston is 2-5 on the road in the postseason but 6-0 at home, where the Astros have outscored the Red Sox and Yankees by a combined 31-7.

“We didn’t expect these guys to lay down. It’s a very good ballclub over there,” Roberts said. “We’ll be ready to go.”

Before Gonzalez’s home run, the Dodgers had an 85 percent chance of winning, according to Fangraphs. After Correa’s long ball, the Astros were a 93 percent favorite.

Verlander, wearing an undershirt, entered the dugout at one point and screamed at his teammates that the game was not over.

“All of a sudden, two runs seemed like it was the Grand Canyon,” he said. “I was just trying to remind these guys two runs is nothing.”

Bregman’s RBI single in the third gave Houston its first lead of the Series, a hit that might have turned into a three-run, inside-the-park homer had the ball not caromed off the bill of Taylor’s cap directly to left fielder Joc Pederson.

Los Angeles had just two hits through seven innings but led 3-1 behind Pederson’s fifth-inning solo homer and Seager’s tiebreaking, two-run drive in the sixth against Verlander. It was Pederson’s first home run since July 26.

Jansen entered with a 3-1 lead trying for his first six-out save in a year after Bregman doubled leading off the eighth against Brandon Morrow, a ball that ticked off the glove of a diving Puig in the right-field corner. Furious that he didn’t make what would have been a sensational catch, Puig slammed his mitt to the ground.

Correa’s RBI single off Jansen ended a record 28-inning postseason scoreless streak by the Dodgers’ bullpen.

Gonzalez, choking up on the bat, seemed an unlikely candidate for a tying homer. He had not driven in a run in his 45 plate appearances since Houston’s playoff opener, and the blown save was just the second for Jansen this year. The Dodgers had been 98-0 in 2017 when leading after eight innings, including the postseason.

“I didn’t make my pitch,” Jansen said. “You can’t beat yourself up about that.”

As the slanting sun illuminated the green hills of Elysian Park behind center field and the ochre-tinted San Gabriel Mountains beyond, retired Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully took the mound for the ceremonial first pitch . The 89-year-old, who left the booth in 2016 after his 67th season, charmed the crowd when he began “somewhere up in heaven, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges are laughing their heads off” at his presence on the mound. He feigned an arm injury and turned the ritual over to Fernando Valenzuela, who helped the Dodgers win their 1981 title.

The game-time temperature was 93 degrees — down 10 degrees from the opener. Celebrities in the sellout crowd of 54,293 included golfers Tiger Woods and Fred Couples, and former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning.

Houston improved to 10-0 in nine starts and one relief appearance by Verlander, the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner obtained in a trade from Detroit at the Aug. 31 deadline to be eligible for the Astros’ postseason roster.

Afterward, players were exhausted.

“When that last out is made, you finally breathe,” Springer said. “That’s an emotional high — emotional high to low to high again. But that’s why we play the game. And that’s the craziest game that I’ve ever played in. And it’s only Game 2.”

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2017 World Series: Kershaw, Dodgers beat Astros 3-1 in hot World Series opener

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —    A look at what’s happening all around the majors today:

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ACE IN THE HOLE

After dropping the World Series opener at Dodger Stadium, the Astros are confident they can rebound in Game 2 — with good reason. Justin Verlander is on the mound, and he’s perfect in a Houston uniform.

The ALCS MVP is 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA this postseason, including his first career relief appearance. He is 9-0 with a 1.23 ERA and 67 strikeouts in nine outings for the Astros since agreeing to a trade from Detroit that was completed only seconds before the Aug. 31 midnight deadline for postseason eligibility.

“We think we can win every single game he pitches. I don’t know there’s any better compliment for a starting pitcher,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “I expect his best, and that’s what he’s delivered since the day he became an Astro.”

HUSHED HOUSTON HITTERS

Houston’s batters are looking for a breakout after getting three-hit in the Series opener. It was an especially tough night for George Springer, who went 0 for 4 with four strikeouts from the leadoff spot in a game started by Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

Springer, who hit 34 homers this season and made his first All-Star team, batted .412 with a homer and two doubles in the Division Series against Boston but only .115 (3 for 26) in the ALCS vs. the Yankees. Hinch said Springer will be right back in the leadoff spot for Game 2.

The bright spot Tuesday was a solo homer by Alex Bregman, but the five batters below him in the order — Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Brian McCann and Marwin Gonzalez — were a combined 1 for 16. They weren’t exactly tough outs, either — Correa was 0 for 3 with a strikeout and only saw five pitches. The Astros are batting just .176 since the start of the ALCS.

HILL TO RELY ON

Just over two years after pitching for the Long Island Ducks in the independent Atlantic League, Rich Hill will start for the Dodgers in Game 2. The 37-year-old left-hander used the Ducks as a springboard back into the majors, and after going 12-8 with a 3.32 ERA for Los Angeles this season, he’s about to make his first Series start.

“A couple years ago, I was using a bucket in independent ball as a toilet,” he recalled last weekend.

This will be Hill’s third start this postseason — he’s allowed three runs in nine innings and is yet to get a decision.

— No sweat, Clayton Kershaw.

Changing jerseys to beat the 103-degree heat, the Dodgers ace with a checkered playoff history delivered a signature performance, pitching Los Angeles past the Houston Astros 3-1 Tuesday night in the World Series opener.

Boosted by Justin Turner’s tiebreaking, two-run homer in the sixth inning off Dallas Keuchel, Kershaw was in complete control against the highest-scoring team in the majors this season.

“Definitely feels good to say it was the World Series, and it feels good to say we’re 1-0,” Kershaw said.

The left-hander had waited his whole career for this moment. And once he took the mound in his Series debut, he lived up every bit to the legacy of Sandy Koufax, Orel Hershiser and the greatest of Dodgers hurlers.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner struck out 11 , gave up just three hits and walked none over seven innings, featuring a sharp breaking ball that often left Houston batters taking awkward swings. His lone blemish was a home run by Alex Bregman in the fourth that made it 1-all.

No matter, with Koufax in the house, Kershaw did his pal proud.

“He was as good as advertised,” Keuchel said.

A sweltering, pulsating crowd at Dodger Stadium dotted with Hollywood A-listers was filled with Kershaw jerseys, and he drew loud cheers all evening.

Kershaw got one more ovation when he walked through a corridor to a postgame interview. There, fans applauded a final time.

“I felt good. It’s a tough lineup over there,” Kershaw said. “The way Keuchel was throwing it was up and down a lot, which was good. It got us into a rhythm a little bit. I think for me personally, it helped out a lot.”

Brandon Morrow worked a perfect eighth and Kenley Jansen breezed through the Astros in the ninth for a save in a combined three-hitter. The Dodgers’ dominant relievers have tossed 25 straight scoreless innings this postseason.

With both aces throwing well, the opener zipped by in 2 hours, 28 minutes — fastest in the World Series since Game 4 in 1992 between Toronto and Atlanta. Jimmy Key and the Blue Jays won that one 2-1 in 2:21.

It certainly was unusual for this postseason, when nine-inning games had been averaging 3 hours, 32 minutes — up 18 minutes from two years ago.

Chris Taylor gave the Dodgers an immediate jolt in their first Series game since 1988 when he hit a no-doubt home run on Keuchel’s very first pitch. Taylor was co-MVP of the NL Championship Series with Turner, and they both kept swinging away against the Astros.

“Just getting that momentum early is huge,” Kershaw said. “And let the crowd kind of feed off that. It was definitely as good a start as we could have hoped for.”

The loss left the Astros still without a single World Series win in their 56-season history. In their only other Series appearance, they were swept by the White Sox in 2005.

Game 2 is Wednesday evening, with AL Championship Series MVP Justin Verlander starting against Dodgers lefty Rich Hill.

Kershaw has almost every imaginable individual accolade on his resume — five ERA titles, an MVP trophy, a no-hitter and seven All-Star selections — but also was dogged by a shaky October past.

He began this outing in the twilight with a 6-7 career playoff record and an unsightly 4.40 ERA. He improved to 3-0 in four starts this postseason.

“I don’t know if you can decipher between a postseason start and a World Series start. The adrenaline, I feel like every game is so much more magnified,” Kershaw said.

A Series opener that served as a showcase for several of the game’s best young hitters — Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Cody Bellinger and more — instead was dominated by Kershaw.

“Couldn’t be happier for him,” Turner said.

Facing a team that had the fewest strikeouts in the majors this year, Kershaw fanned more Houston hitters than any starter this season. And he helped the Dodgers, who led the majors with 104 wins and a $240 million payroll, improve to 8-1 this postseason.

“Tonight is about Kershaw,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

It was 1-all when Taylor drew a two-out walk in the sixth. Turner followed with his drive off the bearded Keuchel .

“Keuchel was really good tonight. He was just a pitch or two less than Kershaw,” Hinch said.

While it was sticky, the conditions didn’t seem to affect either side.

Kershaw, as always, wore his bright blue Dodgers jacket walking to the bullpen to get ready.

“It was hot warming up. But once the game started, the sun went down, it didn’t feel that hot,” Kershaw said.

There is no reliable record for the hottest temperature at a World Series game. But weather data indicates this might’ve been the steamiest ever.

Notorious for late arrivals, Dodger fans showed up early and the seats in the shaded sections filled up fast. Keeping with the theme, the stadium organist played 1960s hits “Heat Wave” and “Summer in the City” as Houston warmed up.

When Vin Scully’s familiar recorded call of “It’s Time for Dodger Baseball” boomed over the PA system, the crowd really let loose, with the entire ballpark standing and chanting for the pregame introductions.

Scully drew a huge ovation when he was later shown on the video board, sitting in a box. Several players clapped along for the Hall of Fame broadcaster, who’s nearly 90 and spent 67 seasons calling Dodgers games.

Dustin Hoffman, Jerry Seinfeld and Lady Gaga were among the many celebs in the crowd of 54,253, along with Dodgers great Tom Lasorda and part-owner Magic Johnson.

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2017 World Series: How the Astros and Dodgers match up

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —   A position-by-position look at the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers going into the World Series, starting Tuesday evening at Dodger Stadium:

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Schedule: (All times EDT, televised by Fox) Game 1, Tuesday, at Los Angeles, 8:09 p.m.; Game 2, Wednesday, at Los Angeles, 8:09 p.m.; Game 3, Friday, at Houston, 8:09 p.m.; Game 4, Saturday, at Houston, 8:09 p.m.; x-Game 5, Sunday, at Houston, 8:16 p.m.; x-Game 6, Tuesday, Oct. 31, at Los Angeles, 8:09 p.m.; x-Game 7, Wednesday, Nov. 1, at Los Angeles, 8:10 p.m.

x-if necessary.

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Season Series: Teams didn’t meet in 2017.

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Projected Lineups (regular season statistics):

Astros: CF George Springer (.283, 34 HRs, 85 RBIs), 3B Alex Bregman (.284, 19, 71, 39 doubles), 2B Jose Altuve (.346, 24, 81, 39 doubles, 32 SBs; 204 hits to lead AL for 4th straight year, won 2nd consecutive batting title and 3rd overall), SS Carlos Correa (.315, 24, 84, 25 doubles), 1B Yuli Gurriel (.299, 18, 75, 43 doubles), C Brian McCann (.241, 18, 62), LF Marwin Gonzalez (.303, 23, 90, 34 doubles), RF Josh Reddick (.314, 13, 82, 34 doubles).

Dodgers: CF Chris Taylor (.288, 21, 72, 17 SBs), SS Corey Seager (.295, 22, 77), 3B Justin Turner (.322, 21, 71, 56 Ks, 59 BBs), 1B Cody Bellinger (.267, 39, 97), RF Yasiel Puig (.263, 28, 74, 15 SBs), 2B Logan Forsythe (.224, 6, 36) or Chase Utley (.236, 8, 34), C Austin Barnes (.289, 8, 38), LF Enrique Hernandez (.215, 11, 37).

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Projected Rotations:

Astros: LH Dallas Keuchel (14-5, 2.90 ERA), RH Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.36 for Detroit and Houston; 5-0, 1.06 in 5 starts with Astros), RH Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62), RH Lance McCullers Jr. (7-4, 4.25).

Dodgers: LH Clayton Kershaw (18-4, 2.31, 202 Ks, 30 BBs, 23 HRs allowed in 27 starts, 175 IP), LH Rich Hill (12-8, 3.32, 166 Ks in 25 starts, 135 2/3 IP), RH Yu Darvish (10-12, 3.86, 209 Ks, 27 HRs allowed in 31 starts with Rangers and Dodgers), LH Alex Wood (16-3, 2.72 in 27 games, 25 starts).

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Relievers:

Astros: RH Ken Giles (1-3, 2.30, 34/38 saves), RH Chris Devenski (8-5, 2.68), RH Joe Musgrove (7-8, 4.77), RH Will Harris (3-2, 2.98), LH Francisco Liriano (6-7, 5.66 with Blue Jays and Astros), RH Luke Gregerson (2-3, 4.57), RH Brad Peacock (13-2, 3.00).

Dodgers: RH Kenley Jansen (5-0, 1.32, 41/42 saves, tied for NL lead), RH Josh Fields (5-0, 2.84, 2 saves), LH Tony Cingrani (0-0, 4.22, 52 Ks, 12 BBs, 42 2/3 IP in 47 games with Reds and Dodgers; 2.79 in 22 games with Dodgers), RH Brandon Morrow (6-0, 2.06, 2 saves), LH Tony Watson (7-4, 3.38, 10 saves in 71 games with Pirates and Dodgers; 2-1, 2.70 in 24 games with Dodgers), RH Pedro Baez (3-6, 2.95), RH Ross Stripling (3-5, 3.75, 2 saves), RH Kenta Maeda (13-6, 4.22, 1 save in 29 games, 25 starts), LH Luis Avilan (2-3, 2.93, 61 games).

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Matchups:

The Astros and Dodgers have played over 700 times, more than any pair of teams to meet in the World Series. That’s because Houston began as a National League expansion club in 1962 and didn’t switch to the AL until 2013. The Dodgers hold a 388-323 edge — they’ve played so often, some fans say this feels more like an NL Championship Series than a World Series. … In the most meaningful game between the sides, Houston earned its first playoff spot by beating the Dodgers 7-1 in a tiebreaker for the 1980 NL West title behind pitcher Joe Niekro. … They last met in 2015, when Houston swept a three-game series at home. … Verlander beat the Dodgers in late August with eight dominant innings for Detroit, shortly before being traded to Houston. … Darvish is 5-5 lifetime vs. the Astros, including 1-1 this year before Texas sent him to the Dodgers. … Reddick spent the final two months with the Dodgers last year after being traded from Oakland. … Among the players who spent time with both clubs: Don Sutton, Jeff Kent and Jimmy Wynn, aka The Toy Cannon.

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Big Picture:

Astros: Aiming for their first World Series championship. They’ve never even won a Series game, getting swept by the White Sox in 2005 in their only previous appearance. … Manager A.J. Hinch’s team beat the Yankees 4-0 in Game 7 of the ALCS behind Morton and McCullers. The home team won every game of that matchup. … Houston led the majors in scoring this season while taking the AL West with 101 wins, then bounced Boston in the AL Division Series. … Verlander is 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA this postseason. He’s 9-0 since joining the Astros. … Altuve (.400, 5 homers), Gurriel (.366) and Correa (9 RBIs) did well in the playoffs. Bregman, Reddick, Gonzalez, McCann and Carlos Beltran all hit under .200. Beltran, hoping for his first World Series ring, could be the DH when the site shifts to Houston for Game 3. … The games in Houston figure to be emotional, with the area recovering from Hurricane Harvey. The Astros wear patches on their uniforms that have the word “Strong,” the team logo and an outline of the state of Texas.

Dodgers: Making their first World Series appearance since 1988, when Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Tommy Lasorda helped LA beat Oakland. … Manager Dave Roberts’ team led the majors with 104 wins, swept Arizona in the NLDS and quickly dethroned the champion Cubs in the NLCS. … Turner (.387, 12 RBIs), Puig (.414) and Hernandez (3 homers in NLCS clincher) are doing well this postseason. … Seager is expected back in the lineup after missing the NLCS because of a back injury. Charlie Culberson and Taylor filled in well. Depending on how he’s moving, Seager could be the Dodgers’ DH in Houston. … Led by dominant Jansen, Dodgers relievers have thrown 23 straight scoreless innings in the postseason, dating to Game 2 against Arizona. … Have won the NL West five years in a row. Have had the biggest payroll in the majors for four straight seasons. … Kershaw is 6-7 with a 4.40 ERA in 21 postseason games. He’s gone 2-0 this October. We’ll see whether the lefty ace with three Cy Young Awards, five ERA crowns and seven All-Star selections can deliver a command performance.

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Watch For:

— October Oven. It’s supposed to be over 100 degrees in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and this could be the steamiest World Series game ever. Put away the cool, crisp fall ball and get ready for high heat at Dodger Stadium.

— Vin-cible. Baseball fans all over would certainly enjoy hearing famed Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully back in the broadcast booth during this Series, if only for an inning. But the esteemed announcer who called Dodgers games for 67 seasons and turns 90 next month says he’s not interested in a return.

— Star Power. Magic Johnson is a part-owner of the Dodgers, so look for him, Sandy Koufax and other LA sports stars in the crowd. Nolan Ryan sits close to the field in Houston — he’s an Astros adviser and his son, Reid, is the team president.

— Triple Digits. This marks the first pairing of 100-win teams in the World Series since Baltimore and Cincinnati in 1970. The Dodgers romped to a 7-1 record in this postseason; the Astros were 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in the playoffs.

— Only One Missing. Teams from Texas have won most every major sports championship — Super Bowl, NBA and NHL crowns, college football titles, men’s and women’s college basketball champs — except the World Series. The Rangers were one strike away in 2011 before losing to St. Louis.

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First Base:

Astros: Yuli Gurriel. The 33-year-old rookie from Cuba has made a pretty smooth transition to the majors after signing a $47.5 million, five-year contract. A right-handed hitter with pop, he’s solved a problem spot for Houston at first base and provided a clutch bat in October, batting .366 in the AL playoffs.

Dodgers: Cody Bellinger. The runaway favorite for NL Rookie of the Year, Bellinger set an NL rookie record with 39 home runs — second in the league this season to Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton (59). Bellinger made his debut April 25 and wound up leading the team in RBIs (97) and runs (87). His natural power belies a lean build, and he’s shown an excellent glove at first base. His father, Clay, was a light-hitting backup on championship teams with the Yankees.

Edge: Dodgers.

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Second Base:

Astros: Jose Altuve. Size matters not. The 5-foot-6 (and that’s generous) dynamo is one of the best players in the game. Altuve batted .346 this season, winning his second straight batting crown and third overall. He clocked 24 homers, stole 32 bases and had 204 hits to lead the AL for the fourth season in a row, making him a top contender for MVP along with giant Yankees rookie Aaron Judge. Altuve put on a show in the playoffs, too, hitting .400 with five homers to go with acrobatic defense and daring baserunning. That performance included three home runs in the Division Series opener against Boston, two off Chris Sale. At the plate, Altuve hammers even the hardest heat.

Dodgers: Logan Forsythe or Chase Utley. After two productive seasons with Tampa Bay, the right-handed-hitting Forsythe was obtained in an offseason trade but dipped to .224 with six homers and 36 RBIs. He has a good eye and is batting .316 in his first postseason. The 38-year-old Utley, a six-time All-Star from 2006-14, remains a hard-nosed player who sees time against righties. Utley homered in his first World Series at-bat with Philadelphia in 2008 and has a wealth of postseason experience. He’s 0 for 9 with four strikeouts this year, though.

Edge: Astros.

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Shortstop:

Astros: Carlos Correa. The first pick in the 2012 amateur draft out of Puerto Rico, the 23-year-old Correa is one of baseball’s brightest young stars. The 2015 AL Rookie of the Year is an outstanding athlete who has power to all fields and can really play shortstop.

Dodgers: Corey Seager. Another one of the game’s top young talents, the 23-year-old Seager was last season’s NL Rookie of the Year and finished third in MVP voting. A two-time All-Star already, Seager is expected back in the lineup after missing the NL Championship Series against the Cubs with a back injury. His older brother, Kyle, is a fine third baseman for the Seattle Mariners.

Edge: Astros.

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Third Base:

Astros: Alex Bregman. Drafted second overall in 2015 out of LSU, Bregman batted .284 with 19 homers, 71 RBIs and 39 doubles this year in his first full major league season. He hit .190 in the playoffs but did have two homers, two doubles and five RBIs. He’s a converted shortstop with good skills at the hot corner.

Dodgers: Justin Turner. The red-bearded bopper, a part-time player with minimal power early in his career, was cast off by the Orioles and Mets. He caught on with the Dodgers in his native Southern California, remade his swing and morphed into a very dangerous hitter who earned his first All-Star nod this year. Turner was co-MVP of the NLCS after socking a game-winning homer, and he’s a .368 career postseason hitter with five homers and 24 RBIs in 26 games. What a find.

Edge: Dodgers.

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Catcher:

Astros: Brian McCann or Evan Gattis. A seven-time All-Star from 2006-13, the 33-year-old McCann was traded by the Yankees last offseason to make room for Gary Sanchez behind the plate. After an 0-for-20 slump, McCann delivered a couple of big hits in the final two games of the ALCS to help beat New York — which must have felt good. He isn’t quite the hitter he used to be, but McCann remains a steady presence and respected leader. The brawny Gattis offers raw power from the right side and sometimes catches against lefties.

Dodgers: Austin Barnes or Yasmani Grandal. With an .895 OPS in 262 plate appearances and athletic defensive skills behind the dish, the surprising Barnes appears to have wrested much of the playing time away from Grandal at this point. Barnes almost certainly will catch the Series opener, though Grandal could get back in there against some right-handed pitching. He has 49 home runs over the past two seasons but is hitting .093 with one homer and 19 strikeouts in 43 career postseason at-bats — only five this October.

Edge: Astros.

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Left Field:

Astros: Marwin Gonzalez. The versatile switch-hitter can play all over the diamond and earned a regular role this year with a breakout season. Gonzalez batted .303 with 23 homers and a team-high 90 RBIs, but struggled at the plate during the playoffs.

Dodgers: Enrique Hernandez, Andre Ethier or Curtis Granderson. Hernandez, another utility player by trade, brings instant energy and a live right-handed bat that lands him in the middle of the lineup against lefties. He had a career night and a magical moment in the NLCS clincher at Wrigley Field, with three home runs and a record seven RBIs. The slumping Granderson might not be an automatic start against righties, but that’s where the depth on Los Angeles’ versatile roster really comes in handy. Enter the 35-year-old Ethier, an old pro who homered in the NLCS after missing most of the past two seasons with injuries.

Edge: Astros.

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Center Field:

Astros: George Springer. With rare power at the top of the lineup, the athletic Springer had 34 homers and 85 RBIs this season and made his first All-Star team. He hit nine leadoff home runs, most in the majors, and can definitely go get it in center field. Springer batted .412 with a homer and two doubles in the ALDS but only .115 (3 for 26) in the ALCS.

Dodgers: Chris Taylor. Another versatile player who has excelled after being pulled off the scrap heap by the opportunistic Dodgers. Taylor, like Turner, also changed his swing to generate more power and it paid off. The former Seattle shortstop came out of nowhere this season to establish himself as an everyday leadoff hitter, batting .288 with 21 homers, 72 RBIs and 17 steals. He helped fill in at shortstop for Seager during the NLCS and took home co-MVP honors with Turner after compiling a 1.248 OPS with two homers and four extra-base hits in five games.

Edge: Astros.

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Right Field:

Astros: Josh Reddick. Winner of a 2012 Gold Glove, Reddick spent the final two months of last season with the Dodgers after being traded from Oakland. He signed a $52 million, four-year contract with Houston in the offseason and batted .314 with 13 homers and 82 RBIs. He hit .375 in the ALDS but went 1 for 25 against the Yankees, finally snapping a long hitless skid late in the series.

Dodgers: Yasiel Puig. Bursting with tools and talent, Puig was aptly nicknamed “The Wild Horse” by revered broadcaster Vin Scully. The enigmatic outfielder from Cuba was runner-up for 2013 NL Rookie of the Year and a starter in the All-Star Game the following season. But he fell out of such favor with the Dodgers that they demoted him to the minors last year. He’s bounced back with the best full season of his career (28 homers, 74 RBIs), and put up huge numbers in the NL playoffs with a 1.169 OPS. Puig’s speed, rocket arm and powerful swing still come with some discipline issues, cocky antics and bat flips that rankle opponents. But his approach at the plate has matured and he’s playing consistently excellent baseball lately. Seems to be having plenty of fun, too.

Edge: Dodgers.

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Designated Hitter:

Astros: Gattis or Carlos Beltran. Gattis is a throwback who doesn’t wear batting gloves and looks like some kind of mountain man. He swings his lumber like a club and has an incredible back story that brought him to the big leagues after he just about gave up baseball and was working odd jobs to barely make ends meet. The 40-year-old Beltran, one of the game’s greatest postseason performers, returned to Houston this season hoping for his first World Series ring. The respected switch-hitter went 1 for 12 with four strikeouts in the ALCS but has embraced his leadership role of wise and savvy veteran.

Dodgers: Ethier, Grandal or Hernandez. With AL rules in play when the World Series shifts to Houston for Game 3, the Dodgers will have plenty of options at DH. Ethier or Grandal could offer left-handed pop against a right-handed pitcher. Hernandez seems a lock to be in the lineup against lefties, at least. Seager might also show up in the spot, depending on how he’s moving defensively.

Edge: Astros.

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Starting Pitchers:

Astros: For a team that went all seven games in the ALCS, the Astros are in good shape with their solid rotation. They can start left-hander Dallas Keuchel (14-5, 2.90 ERA) in the opener and fellow Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander in Game 2 on regular rest. Verlander is 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA this postseason, including his first career relief appearance. The ALCS MVP is 9-0 with a 1.23 ERA and 67 strikeouts in nine outings for Houston since agreeing to a trade from Detroit that was completed only seconds before the Aug. 31 midnight deadline for postseason eligibility. Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62) and Lance McCullers Jr. (7-4, 4.25) combined to shut out the Yankees in Game 7. They both have good stuff and would make fine options for Games 3 and 4 in any order — if the Astros don’t need to use them too much out of the bullpen early in the series. McCullers, an All-Star in July, features a wipeout curveball and appears to be rounding back into form following an injury-plagued second half.

Dodgers: It all starts with Clayton Kershaw (18-4, 2.31 ERA, 202 Ks), who has waited his entire career for this moment, a chance to pitch in the World Series. The three-time Cy Young Award winner goes in Game 1 on regular rest at home. He won the NLCS clincher at Wrigley Field with a stingy outing, but has had his share of postseason struggles. The left-hander with five ERA titles and seven All-Star selections is 6-7 with a 4.40 ERA in 21 playoff games, including 2-0 this year. After that comes lefty Rich Hill (12-8, 3.32), who pitches well at home. Yu Darvish (10-12, 3.86, 209 Ks) was obtained from Texas at the July 31 trade deadline to give the rotation a right-handed ace and he delivered in the NL playoffs, winning both his starts. Left-hander Alex Wood (16-3, 2.72) hasn’t had a chance to pitch much in this postseason following the best year of his career.

Edge: Even.

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Bullpen:

Astros: On paper, this is where Houston comes up woefully short. While the Astros have several capable relievers with successful track records, including Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Luke Gregerson and closer Ken Giles, manager A.J. Hinch has been hesitant to use some of them in big games lately. A few lack much October experience, and the group as a whole hasn’t performed very well when called upon. Instead, the creative Astros have used starters such as Verlander, McCullers, Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh to fill gaps in the mid-to-late innings. Whether they can keep that up remains to be seen.

Dodgers: Anchored by Kenley Jansen, perhaps the most dominant closer in baseball, the Dodgers have a deep bullpen that’s been a big reason for their success. Los Angeles relievers have thrown 23 straight scoreless innings in the postseason, dating to Game 2 of the Division Series against Arizona. Jansen and setup man Brandon Morrow look untouchable right now, combining for 15 strikeouts and one hit allowed in nine scoreless NLCS innings. The unit, which helped the Dodgers compile an NL-low 3.38 ERA this season, has only been augmented by starter Kenta Maeda and the midseason additions of left-handers Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson. Because of that lights-out bullpen, manager Dave Roberts doesn’t even ask his starters to go very far.

Edge: Dodgers.

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Pick: Astros in 6.

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

MLB Playoffs: Astros reach World Series, top Yankees 4-0 in Game 7 of ALCS

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HOUSTON (AP) — Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP , and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

“I love our personality,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable.”

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve , the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch’s club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

“This city, they deserve this,” McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

“I know people are going to talk about how we didn’t win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven’t won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of “MVP” rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann’s two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn’t nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston’s lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird’s cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

“It’s not easy to get here. And I don’t take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for,” Verlander said. “These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series.”

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With 10 teams now qualifying for Major League Baseball’s playoffs – which were already very much a crapshoot – an argument can be made that sometimes, the best team doesn’t win the World Series.

That argument will be much harder to make this year.

The Los Angeles Dodgers – winners of a major league-best 104 regular-season games, and seven of eight playoff contests – will take on the 101-win Houston Astros, who finished just a game behind the Cleveland Indians for the American League’s best record.

And while Dodgers-Astros may lack the mass appeal and network ratings fireworks Dodgers-Yankees would have fetched, both clubs’ impressive resumes are just one element that makes this matchup historic in its own right.

A look at Dodgers-Astros matchup:

100-win heavyweights

This is the first World Series pitting a pair of 100-win teams since 1970, when the Baltimore Orioles (108-54) beat the 102-win Cincinnati Reds in what could have been billed the Frank Robinson Bowl.

And while the playoffs are ostensibly designed to punish wild-card teams and reward division winners, matching two behemoths in the World Series is still challenging. In 2014, the 88-win San Francisco Giants toppled the 89-win Kansas City Royals in a battle of wild card victors.

This year, we’ll see two teams who ran away with their divisions early. The Astros seized a 14-game lead by June 5, when they completed an 11-game winning streak and improved to 42-16. That huge advantage rendered injuries to ace Dallas Keuchel and Carlos Correa almost irrelevant.

The Dodgers, of course, were a machine all the way through the summer, posting a 91-36 record (and a 21-game lead) by Aug. 25 before a mystifying 1-16 stretch that raised concerns. Most of those were allayed when the club swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS and dethroned the Chicago Cubs in a five-game NLCS.

Yes, these are a pair of baseball behemoths.

Astros: Historic AL/NL double

In beating the Yankees in Saturday night’s Game 7 of the ALCS, the Astros made history: They’re the first team to advance to the World Series as members of both the National and American leagues.

You can thank Bud Selig, Drayton McLane and Jim Crane for that fun fact.

McLane was the Astros’ owner when they claimed the 2005 NL wild card and made it all the way to the Fall Classic, surviving an Albert Pujols moon shot in Game 5 of the NLCS to win the pennant. They were swept in four games by the Chicago White Sox, however.

By 2011, McLane was ready to sell the team, and Houston businessman Jim Crane purchased it for $680 million. But MLB’s approval of the sale was contingent on the Astros moving from the NL to the AL, creating two 15-team leagues.

Crane agreed, but managed to strong-arm a discount out of the deal, as the sale price was cut to $615 million with the Astros suddenly in an AL West filled with undesirable start times for intra-division road games.

Six years later, the Astros are kings of the West – and the AL.

Award tour

We won’t know until November who wins the major awards voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. But suffice to say, many of them will be in this World Series.

Astros hit machine Jose Altuve is a solid favorite to win the AL Most Valuable Player award. Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger is a shoo-in for NL Rookie of the Year after his 39 homers set a league rookie record.

And Dodgers lefty ace Clayton Kershaw has a decent chance to wrest the NL Cy Young Award from Washington Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer.

The World Series hasn’t featured an eventual MVP or Cy Young winner since 2012, when MVPs Buster Posey (San Francisco) and Miguel Cabrera (Detroit) collided. And Posey was the last Rookie of the Year to play in a Fall Classic, in the Giants’ first World Series triumph in 2010.

Playoff history

Hard to remember now, but yes, these teams have met in the playoffs before (remember, the Astros used to be in the NL!)

In 1981, a 50-day players’ strike wiped out nearly 40% of the season and baseball made a weird situation somehow worse by splitting the season in half and declaring the champs of each half meet in a division series.

How bad did that work out? Well, the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals finished with the best overall records in the NL – and missed the playoffs.

The Dodgers and Astros were the happy beneficiaries as the half-season champs of the NL West and met in a five-game series. It did not lack for big names or drama: Future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan started Games 1 and 5 for the Astros, while 1981 was the season of Fernandomania for the Dodgers.

Neither disappointed: Fernando Valenzuela, just 20, pitched a four-hitter on short rest in Game 4 to force the decisive Game 5. Ryan out-dueled Valenzuela in Game 1 only to be bested by Jerry Reuss in Game 5.

How much have times changed? Both teams each used just eight pitchers in the five-game series. This year, they combined to use 23 pitchers in their league championship series.

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

MLB Playoffs Roundup: Justin Verlander dominates Yankees again as Astros force ALCS Game 7

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —    HOUSTON — Breaking down Game 6 of the AL Championship Series between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees at Minute Maid Park:

Astros 7, Yankees 1: Series tied, 3-3.

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The game: Justin Verlander shut down the potent Yankees offense once again and Jose Altuve had three RBI, contributing to both of Houston’s big innings, as the Astros forced a decisive Game 7 for the right to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

The home team has won every game in this series, which concludes Saturday night.

Verlander overwhelmed the New York hitters over the first five innings, then pitched out of two jams before exiting with another sparkling line: seven innings pitched, five hits, zero runs and eight strikeouts. He gave up one run in a Game 2 victory.

Brad Peacock and Ken Giles got the final six outs as the Astros bullpen stepped up after several shaky outings. The Astros broke the game open with a four-run eighth to make life easier for Giles. Houston had scored nine runs total in the first five games.

Peacock did serve up a homer to Aaron Judge in the top of the eighth, but Houston got that run back and then some when Altuve led off the bottom half with a homer and the Astros poured it on against David Robertson and Dellin Betances.

Brian McCann and Altuve supplied the key hits in a three-run fifth. Yankees starter Luis Severino looked untouchable over the first four innings, yielding a Carlos Correa single and nothing else as he overpowered the Astros with 100 mph heat. But Severino suddenly lost the plate in the fifth, walking two of the first three batters to give Houston its first opportunity.

Astros hitters were 4-for-27 with runners in scoring position in the series to that point, and McCann was still seeking his first hit in 11 at-bats. He crushed a ground-rule double to right that broke the ice, and two batters later Altuve ripped his two-RBI single to put Houston ahead 3-0.

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State of the series: It’s tied 3-3, sending the Astros to just the second Game 7 in their history and the Yankees to their umpteenth one. Houston lost Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS to the St. Louis Cardinals but reached its first World Series the next year.

CC Sabathia, who looked rejuvenated in a 14-5 season and threw six shutout innings in Game 3, will make the 22nd postseason start of his career for New York on Saturday.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch would not discuss before the game who he’ll send out to the mound, but his options will likely come down to Charlie Morton on full rest and Lance McCullers on three-days’ rest.

Morton gave up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings in Monday’s 8-1 rout, while McCullers yielded just two hits and a run in six innings the next night. However, McCullers dealt with a back injury and a tired arm this season and the Astros may be reluctant to expose the 24-year-old right-hander to any risk.

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Man of the moment: Verlander. The 13-year veteran has thrown the only complete game during this postseason, in a 2-1 victory in Game 2, and has been unbeatable in a Houston uniform. Since being acquired in an Aug. 3 trade, he’s 9-0 with a 1.23 ERA, including a 4-0 mark and 1.46 ERA in the playoffs.

If the Astros win this series, Verlander is the clear-cut MVP.

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Manager’s special: With Verlander at 99 pitches and running out of gas, Hinch turned to his vulnerable bullpen and promptly saw the lead get cut to 3-1 when Judge pounded one of his trademark monster homers to center. But Peacock finished the inning without any more harm done and Giles took care of the ninth.

***

Needing a mulligan: Judge. The MVP candidate has had a fine series, hitting three homers – including a solo shot in the eighth – driving in seven runs and making some excellent plays in right field. But the strikeouts have continued to pile up, and his two whiffs Friday gave him 26 for the playoffs, tying the postseason record set by Alfonso Soriano in 2003.

In addition, Judge bounced into a double play right after Brett Gardner opened the game with a single, although it took a nice play by Correa at shortstop to get it started. Of course, Judge did hit another titanic home run, so he’s not exactly struggling.

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Pivot point: There were two before the Astros iced the game in the eighth.

The Yankees were trying to dig out of a 3-0 hole and had their first runner in scoring position all night in the sixth when Didi Gregorius followed Chase Headley’s leadoff single with a two-out single. Gary Sanchez worked the count to 3-0 and, with the Crawford Boxes a mere 315 feet away, was in position to tie the game without even having to barrel the ball. Alas, Sanchez couldn’t hold his swing on a 3-0 changeup, and his meek grounder to short killed the threat.

In the seventh, New York got its first two batters on base against a flagging Verlander when, after Aaron Hicks worked him for a 10-pitch at-bat before striking out, Todd Frazier sent a drive to the deepest part of the ballpark in center. Center fielder George Springer tracked and caught the ball at the fence with jump – it likely would not have left the yard – and Chase Headley bounced out to allow the 43,179 in attendance to breathe again.

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What you missed on TV: Astros pitcher Joe Musgrove standing shoulder-to-shoulder with basketball Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler after catching his ceremonial first pitch. The 6-7 Drexler, who won an NBA title with the Houston Rockets in 1995, typically towers over everyone around him, but Musgrove stands 6-5.

MLB Playoffs: Hernandez hits 3 HRs, Dodgers top Cubs to reach World Series

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)  —-   A look at what’s happening all around the majors today:

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TRUST IN JUSTIN

Justin Verlander and the Astros try to stave off elimination and force a decisive Game 7 in the AL Championship Series when they host the New York Yankees at Minute Maid Park (8:08 p.m. EDT). Verlander has won all eight outings with Houston since arriving in an Aug. 31 trade, including his first career relief appearance during the Division Series clincher at Boston. The 2011 AL MVP is 10-5 with a 3.18 ERA in his postseason career, and an 11th win would tie him with Greg Maddux and Curt Schilling for fifth place all-time. Young ace Luis Severino starts for New York in a rematch of Game 2, when Verlander struck out 13 in a complete game and threw a season-high 124 pitches for a 2-1 victory. The Yankees have shown they can adjust, though. Houston’s other Cy Young Award winner, Dallas Keuchel, dominated Game 1 before taking a 5-0 loss in Game 5.

ROAD TO PARADISE

The wild-card Yankees have two chances to win one game in Houston for their record 41st trip to the World Series and first since 2009. After going 51-30 at home during the regular season, the AL’s best mark, New York is 6-0 at Yankee Stadium in these playoffs but only 1-4 on the road. Didi Gregorius and the Yankees did win a decisive Game 5 in Cleveland to take that Division Series, but the home team has won all five games in the ALCS so far. New York just outscored the Astros 19-5 in three straight victories at home but was beaten 2-1 in each of the first two games at Minute Maid Park.

RIGHT BACK TO WORK

Clayton Kershaw is already scheduled to pitch the World Series opener on regular rest Tuesday night, which means he has work to do. The Dodgers’ ace will begin prepping for the Yankees or Astros a day after Los Angeles eliminated the defending champion Cubs in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series for its first pennant since 1988. Kershaw tossed six smooth innings in the 11-1 win and is excited for his first World Series. “It’s been a long time coming for this team,” he said before entering a booze-soaked clubhouse at Wrigley Field.

GETTING HEALTHY

All-Star shortstop Corey Seager is expected to return for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series after missing the NLCS because of back pain. Seager watched from home as the Dodgers eliminated the defending champion Chicago Cubs in Game 5 on Thursday night. Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said Seager is “doing everything he can to get healthy” and the Dodgers “expect him back for Game 1.”

JUDGEMENT DAY

The Yankees’ top hitters are heating up as October wears on. Once mired in a postseason slump, Aaron Judge is batting .313 with two homers in the ALCS. Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius each had two hits in Game 5. Sanchez was hitless in the series before ripping a go-ahead, two-run double in the eighth inning of a 6-4 win in Game 4. On the flip side, Judge has 24 strikeouts, two shy of the Yankees’ Alfonso Soriano in 2003 for the most in a single postseason.

NEW SHERRIFF IN TOWN?

The Detroit Tigers could be close to hiring a manager. The team was in talks Thursday with former Minnesota skipper Ron Gardenhire, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made. Gardenhire was the bench coach this season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He managed the Twins from 2002-14. The Tigers are replacing Brad Ausmus after four seasons at the helm. Detroit finished tied for the worst record in the majors this year at 64-98 and faces what figures to be a tough rebuilding process.

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CHICAGO (AP) — Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

Fueled by a home run trilogy from their emotional utilityman, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally going to the World Series.

Hernandez homered three times and drove in a record seven runs, Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Los Angeles ended the Chicago Cubs’ title defense with an 11-1 rout in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night.

“It feels good to hear World Series,” Kershaw said. “It’s been a long time coming for this team.”

After years of playoff heartache, there was just no stopping these Dodgers after they led the majors with 104 wins during the regular season. With Kershaw firing away at the top of a deep pitching staff and co-NLCS MVPs Justin Turner and Chris Taylor leading a tough lineup, one of baseball’s most storied franchises captured its first pennant since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to Los Angeles’ last championship in 1988.

“Every night it is a different guy,” Turner said, “and this is one of the most unbelievable teams I’ve ever been a part of.”

Kershaw will be on the mound again when the Dodgers host the New York Yankees or Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Yankees have a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 of the ALCS at Houston on Friday night, so one more New York win would set up another chapter in an old October rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Los Angeles made the playoffs eight times in the previous 13 seasons and came up short of its 22nd pennant each time, often with Kershaw shouldering much of the blame. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner took the loss when his team was eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of last year’s NLCS at Wrigley Field.

The ace left-hander was just OK during his first two starts in this year’s postseason, but Los Angeles’ offense picked him up each time. Backed by Hernandez’s powerful show in Chicago, Kershaw turned in an efficient three-hit performance with five strikeouts and improved to 6-7 in the playoffs — matching Burt Hooton’s club record for postseason wins.

“To get to be on the mound tonight and get to be going to the World Series on the same night, it’s a special thing,” Kershaw said. “Who knows how many times I’m going to get to go to the World Series? I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I’m definitely not taking this one for granted.”

When Kenley Jansen retired Willson Contreras on a liner to shortstop for the final out, the party was on . The Dodgers poured out of the dugout and mobbed their dominant closer near the mound, and a small but vocal group of Los Angeles fans gathered behind the visitors’ dugout and chanted “Let’s go Dodgers! Let’s go Dodgers!”

On the field, manager Dave Roberts hugged Lasorda and told the iconic skipper the win was for him.

“I bleed Dodger blue just like you,” Roberts said. “Thank you, Tommy.”

Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second for his first career playoff homer and then a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. Hernandez added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.

The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player with a three-homer game in a league championship series, joining Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS) and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS). Hernandez’s seven RBIs tied a postseason record shared by four other players who all did it in a Division Series.

Troy O’Leary was the previous player to have seven RBIs in a playoff game, for Boston at Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.

It was a stunning display for a player with 28 career homers who remains concerned about his native Puerto Rico, which is recovering from a devastating hurricane. He delivered a historic performance in front of his father, Enrique Hernandez Sr., who was diagnosed with a blood cancer related to leukemia in December 2015, but got word last November that he was in remission.

“For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special,” said Hernandez, who also goes by Kiké. “My body’s here, but my mind’s kind of back home. It’s hard being away from home with what’s going on.

“All I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug.”

Kris Bryant homered for Chicago, but the NL Central champions finished with just four hits in another tough night at the plate. Each of their eight runs in the NLCS came via the long ball, and they batted just .156 for the series with 53 strikeouts.

Long playoff runs in each of the last two years and a grueling five-game Division Series against Washington seemed to sap Chicago of some energy, and its pitching faltered against sweet-swinging Los Angeles. Jose Quintana was pulled in the third inning of the final game, and the Cubs never recovered.

“They executed their plan,” Bryant said. “They pitched great and the bullpen was lights out. That makes for a tough time scoring runs.”

Turner and Taylor helped put it away for Los Angeles, contributing to a 16-hit outburst while closing out a pair of impressive performances.

Turner singled home Taylor in the Dodgers’ five-run third, giving him seven RBIs in the series and 24 throughout his postseason career. Taylor finished with two hits and scored two runs as the Dodgers, who have won five straight NL West titles, improved to 7-1 in this postseason.

Taylor’s versatility helped Los Angeles cover for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who missed the series with a back injury, but is expected to return in the next round. Coming off a breakout season, the 27-year-old Taylor hit .316 with two homers and scored five times against the Cubs.

“I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this and be with these guys,” Taylor said. “It’s been an unbelievable year, and I’m just super excited.”

OUT WITH A BANG

Hernandez joined Kennedy (2002), Adrian Beltre (2011), Reggie Jackson (1977 vs. the Dodgers) and Babe Ruth (1928) as players to hit three home runs in a postseason series clincher.

LIGHTS OUT

Dodgers relievers have thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a postseason record.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

MLB Playoffs: Cubs face Dodgers’ Kershaw trailing 3-1 in NLCS

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A look at what’s happening all around the majors today:

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ANOTHER DAY

The Cubs finally broke through for a win against the Dodgers in their NL Championship Series, but now they have to contend with ace Clayton Kershaw in Game 5. Kershaw limited Chicago to two runs over five innings in Game 1, a 5-2 win for Los Angeles. It’s a tough matchup for the Cubs, who are averaging 2.7 runs over nine postseason games — including a 9-8 win over Washington in NLDS Game 5.

Manager Joe Maddon will have work to do managing Chicago’s bullpen. Closer Wade Davis held on for a six-out save in Game 4, but that means the Cubs will have to look elsewhere for the late innings in Game 5. That’s problematic, since Chicago’s other relievers allowed eight runs over the first three games. Of course, Maddon will have to stay in the game long enough to make those calls — he was ejected Wednesday for the second time in the series.

TAKE A BREAK

Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and the slumping Astros get a day off, trailing the Yankees 3-2 in the AL Championship Series. Neither team is planning a workout at Minute Maid Park.

Houston led the majors in batting and scoring this season, but is hitting just .147 overall and has totaled only nine runs in the ALCS. George Springer and Josh Reddick, the 1-2 hitters in the Astros’ lineup, are a combined 2 for 35.

Veterans Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann both spoke to the Astros after a 5-0 loss Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. “Everything is OK. … We have the home-field advantage,” Altuve said. “They did what they have to do, win their home games. Now it’s our turn.”

FOR HIRE

Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa has left the Diamondbacks’ organization, less than two weeks after Arizona lost the NL wild-card game to Colorado. He served as chief baseball officer in 2015-16 and became chief baseball analyst when the new regime of general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo arrived last spring.

The 73-year-old La Russa won three World Series championships as a manager — two with St. Louis, one with Oakland — worked as an Major League Baseball executive and played in the bigs as an infielder.

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CUBS 3, DODGERS 2

CHICAGO (AP) — Javier Baez sensed he was ready to bust out of his slump and give the Chicago Cubs the lift they needed.

As breakthroughs go, this was a big one. Just in time to keep the season going for the defending champs.

Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

“We have to be much more offensive,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s got to start happening tomorrow. We’re going to do this. Going to pull this off, we have to become more offensive tomorrow.”

Baez finally got going with a pair of solo drives .

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to help the Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

“They’re the world champs, and you know they’re going to fight to the end,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “So today, they did. We got beat today.”

Baez hit solo drives in the second and fifth after going hitless in his first 20 playoff at-bats. He had been watching videos and felt his timing was starting to come back in recent trips to the plate.

“I just need to take a step back and see what’s going on,” he said.

Contreras added a long homer against Alex Wood.

Davis entered with a 3-1 lead in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff homer to Turner, who went 2 for 2 and drew two walks.

Maddon became incensed that a swinging strike three against Curtis Granderson was ruled a foul after the umpires discussed the play. Maddon got tossed, and Granderson struck out swinging at the next pitch.

And after walking Yasmani Grandal to put runners on first and second, Davis struck out Chase Utley , who is hitless in his last 24 postseason at-bats.

All seven of Chicago’s runs in this series have come on homers. And long drives in the second by Contreras and Baez made it 2-0.

“Great to have this win, because if not we were going home tomorrow,” Baez said. “But I feel like we’re still not on track as a team. But I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we’re going to be the best again.”

Contreras’ 491-foot homer banged off the left-field videoboard and Baez sent a towering drive out to left.

Bellinger cut it to 2-1 with his drive to right in the third. But Baez got the lead back up to two with a shot to the left-field bleachers in the fifth, the raucous crowd chanting “Javy! Javy!” for the flashy young star who was co-MVP of the NLCS last year.

No Cubs player had hit two in a playoff game since Alex Gonzalez went deep twice in Game 2 of the 2003 NLCS against Miami.

Arrieta exited with runners on first and second in the seventh after walking Chris Taylor on a 3-2 pitch. He tipped his hat as fans gave him a standing ovation, a fitting show of appreciation for a pitcher with an expiring contract.

“Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye, it’s a thank you, obviously,” Arrieta said. “I still intend to have another start in this ballpark. If that’s where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there.”

Arrieta turns 32 in March and figures to land a huge deal in free agency. The trade that brought him from Baltimore helped fuel Chicago’s rise, with the right-hander capturing the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and contributing to last year’s drought-busting championship run.

Limited by a right hamstring injury in the final month of the season, he threw 111 pitches. Brian Duensing retired Bellinger on a fly to end the seventh.

Turner made it a one-run game with his homer off the left-field videoboard against Davis in the eighth.

A career-high 16-game winner, Wood gave up three runs and four hits in 42/3 innings.

“The only frustrating thing is we fell a run short,” Turner said. “We played a great game, they played a great game. They just hit one more ball over the fence than we did.”

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YANKEES 5, ASTROS 3

NEW YORK (AP) — This time, it was Masahiro Tanaka who was untouchable on the mound.

And when the New York Yankees sent Houston ace Dallas Keuchel to an early exit, their rollicking crowd let loose with a cathartic roar that must have boomed all over the Bronx.

“New York is no joke,” Keuchel said afterward.

One more big win, and these Yankees are World Series-bound.

Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and New York finally solved a longtime nemesis at just the right moment, beating Keuchel and the Astros 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

“What a performance,” Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier said about Tanaka. “Just gutsy.”

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home, moving them within one victory of their first pennant since 2009 and record 41st overall.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

To take the series, the Yankees knew they needed to win at least one game started by Keuchel or Verlander, both Cy Young Award winners. Now they’ve done that — and they don’t want to let Houston back up.

“Don’t wake that sleeping dog. So we’ve got to just keep on rolling,” Frazier said. “They’re going to be ready to go. We know that.”

Houston arrived up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans.

New York has won 19 of its past 22 games at Yankee Stadium.

“It’s been unbelievable. I haven’t seen anything like it in Major League Baseball,” veteran Chase Headley said. “Reminds me of college football games. They’re going crazy the entire game. It’s a huge advantage for us.”

Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Didi Gregorius also delivered big hits as New York chased Keuchel in the fifth and handed him his first postseason loss.

Keuchel had been Yankees kryptonite, entering 6-2 with a 1.09 ERA in eight career starts against New York — including a pair of scoreless outings in playoff wins.

Both of those came at the expense of Tanaka, who lost 3-0 to Keuchel in the 2015 AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium and 2-1 in Game 1 of this series. The ace lefty with the long, bushy beard entered 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 26 2/3 postseason innings overall.

But this night belonged to Tanaka and the Baby Bombers.

New York finally broke through against Keuchel with two outs in the second, when Starlin Castro doubled and scored on Greg Bird’s sharp single. The sellout crowd of 49,647 almost sounded surprised by the hit — big enough for Bird to flash both thumbs down, doubling up on the Yankees’ playful sign to each other for clutch swings.

“The most frustrating part is the fact that I didn’t pick the guys up and they were looking towards me to kind of saddle up and get this thing back going again,” Keuchel said. “That’s a talented group over there and 1 through 9 right now the bats have woken up and it’s quite a challenge.”

In the third, Judge grounded an RBI double just inside the third base line and past a diving Alex Bregman. Brett Gardner sped all the way around from first and scored with a headfirst slide.

Bregman’s throwing error on an infield single by Headley, who had three hits in the No. 9 spot, aided the Yankees in the fifth. Keuchel walked Judge with two outs before Sanchez lined a run-scoring single into the left-field corner.

Going into that at-bat, Sanchez was 1 for 16 with seven strikeouts in the series — and 0 for 8 with six strikeouts against Keuchel overall.

Gregorius then grounded an RBI single up the middle that grazed the glove of diving second baseman Jose Altuve. That ended the night for Keuchel and gave the Yankees a 4-0 cushion, the most runs he had ever allowed against them.

With the stands pulsating, fans reveled in his slow walk to the dugout as the Yankee Stadium sound system blared Scandal’s “Goodbye To You.”

“When you play at home, things like this happen and that’s why it’s so tough to win on the road in the playoffs,” Keuchel said. “Yankee Stadium is a tough place to play and it was rockin’ these three games, but it’s going to be rockin’ on Friday for us.”

Sanchez hit his third postseason homer off Brad Peacock in the seventh to make it 5-0.

Despite beautiful weather in the Bronx, the Astros didn’t take batting practice on the field. If they were hoping that might help their slumping hitters reset, it didn’t.

“One swing and we’ll be back where we need to be,” Bregman said. “We’re going home. We’ve got to fight back.”

The highest-scoring team in the majors this season, Houston is batting .147 in the series and Tanaka is a major reason. The normally reserved right-hander from Japan, who can opt out of his $155 million contract this winter, has been at the top of his game in October and showed rare emotion on the mound during this one.

He worked around a leadoff double in the second, when the Yankees — with a stingy Keuchel undoubtedly in mind — successfully played their infield in with Yuli Gurriel on third and one out in a scoreless game.

Tanaka later spun around and shouted in excitement after striking out struggling table-setters George Springer and Josh Reddick with two on to end the fifth.

“I love it. Those are the best guys. To see that, it gets me fired up again,” Frazier said. “He’s been doing it all postseason. Just dominant, man. You see him out there, he talks to himself, he does all this crazy stuff and the next thing you know the ball just disappears on batters.”

Keeping the ball down with his slider and splitter, Tanaka struck out eight and walked one. Tommy Kahnle tossed two innings to finish the four-hitter.

Tanaka also beat the Indians 1-0 in the Division Series to save the Yankees’ season when they were down 0-2 in that best-of-five playoff. After going 13-12 with a 4.74 ERA during an inconsistent season, he has a 0.90 ERA in three playoff starts.

“I feel like I’m just keeping it really simple,” Tanaka said through a translator. “You go out there and you fight and you empty the tank.”

MLB Playoffs: Dodgers seek sweep; Yanks try to solve Keuchel

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —   A look at what’s happening all around the majors today:

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BRING OUT THE BROOMS

One win from their first World Series appearance in 29 years, the Los Angeles Dodgers go for a four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Championship Series at Wrigley Field (9:08 p.m. EDT). Los Angeles is 6-0 in this postseason, setting a franchise record for consecutive playoff victories. Another one would give the storied franchise its 22nd pennant. The Dodgers’ only four-game postseason sweep came in the 1963 World Series against the New York Yankees.

HISTORY ON HIS SIDE

With the AL Championship Series tied at two games apiece, Dallas Keuchel pitches for the Houston Astros against Masahiro Tanaka and the New York Yankees (5:08 p.m. EDT). Keuchel is 6-2 with a 1.09 ERA in eight career starts vs. the Yankees, including a pair of scoreless playoff outings. The 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner tossed seven shutout innings and struck out 10 to beat Tanaka 2-1 in Game 1 at Houston. The left-hander has never given up a home run in 57 2/3 innings against the Yankees. “Hopefully, seeing him twice in one series, our guys are able to adjust a little quicker,” New York manager Joe Girardi said.

FRESH ARMS

It’s a matchup of well-rested pitchers when Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood and Cubs righty Jake Arrieta square off in Game 4 of the NLCS. Wood, who had a career-high 16 wins this season, will make his first appearance since Sept. 26. He was lined up for Game 4 of the Division Series, but the Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks in three straight.

“It has its pluses and negatives,” Wood said of the layoff. “I’ve stayed on a semi-regular schedule. I’ve had two (simulated) games in between against a lot of our regular guys in our lineup.”

Arrieta has pitched just 14 1/3 innings since Aug. 30, including four innings of two-hit ball against Washington in Game 4 of the NLDS. The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner was hampered by a right hamstring injury at the end of the season.

“I think the leg issue is pretty much behind us,” he said.

Arrieta can become a free agent after the World Series, so this could be his final start for the Cubs.

HOME SWEET HOME

Aaron Judge and the wild-card Yankees are 5-0 at home this postseason heading into Game 5 of the ALCS against the Astros. The winner heads to Houston needing one win to reach the World Series, so Yankee Stadium figures to be rocking again. “Every home game has been special,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I just feel like the fans are back. And I see things that I haven’t in a while, and it reminds me a lot of when I was playing here.” New York has won 18 of its last 21 home games.

LAST CHANCE

Last season, the Cubs eliminated the Dodgers in the NLCS on the way to their first World Series title since 1908. But in the rematch this year, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and their teammates have been shut down at the plate by Los Angeles pitching. Trailing 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, Chicago needs a win to avoid being swept in the NLCS for the second time in three years. “We have three or four Game 7s in a row coming up right now,” manager Joe Maddon said.

CATCHING ON

Gary Sanchez is expected back behind the plate to catch Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka after backup Austin Romine caught Sonny Gray in Game 4 of the ALCS on Tuesday. Sanchez was the designated hitter and broke out of his slump with three RBIs, including a two-run double that snapped an eighth-inning tie. New York rallied from four runs down for a 6-4 victory over Houston that evened the best-of-seven series 2-all.

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Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs

CHICAGO (AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers have a tough lineup, a talented pitching staff and a manager making all the right moves.

Yup, it’s beginning to look a lot like 1988.

Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles improved to 6-0 in this postseason, setting a franchise record for consecutive playoff wins. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip — on a long foul ball in the first inning.

“The focus has certainly been heightened in the postseason,” manager Dave Roberts said.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to the club’s last championship 29 years ago.

Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

“I think we’ve won four games in a row before,” Chicago slugger Kris Bryant said. “Obviously, it’s going to be a tougher road. But it’ll make the story that much better. Can you imagine that?”

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. Their patient lineup is coming up big in key spots and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline.

Not even a return to Wrigley could get the Cubs back on track after a rough stay in Los Angeles. Chicago manager Joe Maddon juggled his lineup, inserting Kyle Schwarber into the No. 2 slot and benching slumping second baseman Javier Baez, but the defending World Series champions were shut down by another Dodgers starter and more stellar relief from the NL West champions.

“I really didn’t change much approach-wise from first inning until the end of the game,” Darvish said through a translator. “I just kept pitching the same way.”

Making their third straight appearance in the NLCS, the weary Cubs also hurt themselves with a couple of big mistakes. Carl Edwards Jr. walked Darvish on four pitches with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, continuing a rocky postseason for the reliever and leading to a round of boos from a frustrated crowd of 41,871.

A passed ball brought home another run in the eighth, and pinch hitter Kyle Farmer hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-1.

Darvish departed after striking out Addison Russell in the seventh, pausing for congratulations from his whole infield before heading to the dugout. The Japanese right-hander allowed six hits, including Schwarber’s first-inning homer, in his second career playoff win — both this year. He struck out seven and walked one.

Tony Watson got two outs, Brandon Morrow worked the eighth and Kenley Jansen closed it out after Ross Stripling gave up two hits in the ninth. With Roberts pushing the right buttons, Los Angeles’ bullpen has yet to allow a run in the series.

“I think everybody’s just been attacking,” Morrow said. “That’s the No. 1 thing.”

The only four-game postseason sweep for the Dodgers came in the 1963 World Series against the New York Yankees. If Los Angeles can finish off Chicago on Wednesday, the Dodgers would have five days off before hosting the Yankees or Houston Astros in the World Series opener.

“We knew today was the most important game, and now tomorrow’s the most important game,” Ethier said. “We’re going to come out and figure out how to get the job done again.”

Schwarber’s sixth career postseason homer got Chicago off to a fast start, but Jon Jay struck out with two on to end the inning. The Dodgers responded with Ethier’s leadoff drive in the second and Taylor’s second homer of the series in the third, a mammoth shot to center off losing pitcher Kyle Hendricks.

“We had a chance obviously, early,” Maddon said. “We hit some balls well early in the game, and then he settled in.”

Ethier had two hits in his first start of this year’s playoffs after he missed most of the season with a herniated lumbar disk. Taylor also had two hits and is 4 for 14 for the series, helping make up for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager to a back injury.

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Judge HR sparks NY, Yanks beat Astros 6-4 to even ALCS at 2

NEW YORK (AP) — With a soaring shot headed for Monument Park, Aaron Judge got New York back on course for another memorable October.

Yankee Stadium sounds like it’s ready, too.

“That ballpark is alive,” Judge said after this latest rousing rally.

Judge ignited a comeback with a home run , then hit a tying double during a four-run eighth inning to spur the unflappable Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and tie the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Baby Bombers trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored when Gary Sanchez hit a go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

“I didn’t know what to do after I touched home plate,” Judge said. “I can’t describe it.”

The Yankees overcame three errors and have roared back from a second straight 0-2 series deficit — they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth to cap a three-hitter and get the save . Before a sellout crowd of 48,804, New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs and won for the 18th time in its last 21 home games.

“Every home game has been special,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I just feel like the fans are back. And I see things that I haven’t in a while, and it reminds me a lot of when I was playing here.”

Yankee Stadium will be rocking again when Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday. It’s a rematch of the series opener, when Keuchel outdid the Japanese right-hander in a 2-1 Astros win.

An AL MVP candidate mired in a sluggish October, Judge sparked the Yankees by chasing McCullers, who baffled the Yankees with his power breaking ball.

Except for the last one.

Judge launched a curveball into the netting above center field’s Monument Park for New York’s second hit.

“I thought Aaron’s home run just lit a little spark,” Girardi said.

Houston manager A.J. Hinch pulled McCullers after 81 pitches, Didi Gregorius tripled off Chris Devenski and Sanchez brought Gregorius in with a sacrifice fly.

Todd Frazier led off the eighth with a single to left, and pinch-hitter Chase Headley, in a 1-for-18 postseason slide, singled. He lost his balance stepping on first, fell en route to second, then took a step back before continuing on and getting his left hand in ahead of Jose Altuve’s tag.

“Just stumbled and stumbled and stumbled and finally went down,” Headley said. “I went from one of the best feelings of my career to one of the worst in just a matter of seconds.”

Headley was awarded second after a video review, and the ballpark boomed when crew chief Gary Cederstrom gave the signal. It got so loud that on-deck hitter Brett Gardner said he “kind of blacked out for a second.”

Gardner brought in Frazier on a groundout, and Judge came to bat with the bundled, buzzing crowd on its feet.

He lunged for a low slider and drilled a double high off the left-field wall as a fan in a longsleeve yellow shirt reached down and touched the ball. Pinch-runner Jacoby Ellsbury came home with the tying run, and Gregorius grounded a single just beyond shortstop Carlos Correa’s reach to put runners at the corner. Sanchez, who had been 0 for 13 in the series, scored them both with a slicing drive that skipped to the wall in right-center.

“Those guys came up big for us today,” Girardi said.

Judge had multiple hits for the first time since the AL wild-card game against Minnesota. He’s still just 7 for 37 with 22 strikeouts in the playoffs, but he’s 4 for 13 (.308) with three walks in the ALCS. He also homered in an 8-1 Game 3 win.

Judge said he used to dream about postseason at-bats in Yankee Stadium as a minor leaguer.

“The dreams aren’t the same as reality,” he said. “To be out with the crowd and the atmosphere, it was unbelievable.”

The 35-minute bottom of the eighth was the latest stunning comeback for New York, which has overcome deficits of three or more 11 times this year, including in the wild-card game against Minnesota.

Houston had not lost consecutive games since Sept. 8-10 at Oakland and had the major leagues’ best road record during the regular season. The Astros are hitting .153 in the series.

“We’re not going to hit the panic button because we lost two games in a row,” Correa said. “We got Keuchel going tomorrow.”

McCullers cruised in his first start since Sept. 30 and turned over a 4-1 lead to his bullpen.

“He was awesome,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “And really proud of him because I know how important this start was for him.”

Yankees starter Sonny Gray pitched one-hit ball through five innings. His teammates have yet to score for him in four career postseason starts while he’s still on the mound, including twice with New York this year.

Houston took a 3-0 lead in the sixth after George Springer walked leading off and Josh Reddick reached on catcher’s interference by Austin Romine — inserted into lineup for his defense.

Yuli Gurriel lined a three-run double off David Robertson for a 3-0 lead in the sixth and second baseman Starlin Castro misplayed Brian McCann’s seventh-inning grounder for his second error, allowing Marwin Gonzalez to score from second.

Winner Chad Green gave up an unearned run over two innings.

“All of a sudden, the pressure’s back on the other team,” Frazier said. “It’s the best place to play and the loudest place in baseball to play. No doubt about it.”

MLB Playoffs: Cubs try to dent Dodgers, Judge breaks loose

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PROFESSOR VS YU

Kyle Hendricks is set to pitch for the Cubs, who are trying to overcome a 2-0 deficit against the Dodgers in their NL Championship Series. Hendricks finished the regular season with a 2.19 ERA over his final 13 starts and opened the playoffs with seven scoreless innings against the Nationals. The Professor, from Dartmouth, has been overpowering at times despite a fastball that averaged just 86.6 mph, third-slowest among pitchers with at least 100 innings this year.

Yu Darvish gets the nod for Los Angeles. The Japanese right-hander tweaked his mechanics after being acquired from Texas in a trade deadline deal, and he’s been dominant with a 98 mph heater this fall. He pitched one-run ball and struck out seven over five innings in NLDS Game 3 against Arizona.

JUDGE JOINS

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge had mostly been a no-show in the playoffs before launching a three-run homer against the Astros on Monday, lifting New York to an 8-1 win in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series. The rookie, who led the league with 52 home runs this season, was a combined 2 for 28 with 20 strikeouts in the playoffs vs. Cleveland and Houston until connecting. Judge also made a fine running catch while slamming into the padded right field wall at Yankee Stadium.

LEAN ON LANCE

Houston manager A.J. Hinch picked Lance McCullers Jr. over Brad Peacock to pitch against Yankees right-hander Sonny Gray in Game 4, with the Astros leading the series 2-1. McCullers, an All-Star in July, finished 7-4 with a 4.25 ERA but hasn’t started since Sept. 30 or won since June 24. McCullers was sidelined from July 31 to Sept. 6, his second stint on the disabled list this year due to lower back discomfort, but made his first career relief appearance against the Red Sox in the Division Series. Hinch said McCullers “has some of the best stuff in the big leagues and we believe in him.”

“I’ve been feeling like myself a lot more lately,” said McCullers, who won 5-1 at Yankee Stadium on May 12. “I’m excited to get the ball.”

TURNED OVER

The Dodgers and Cubs are in the NLCS for a second straight year, but this Los Angeles team looks very different. Justin Turner was the only Dodger to start Game 2 of the 2016 NLCS and crack LA’s starting lineup Sunday. The new faces around him have come up big, though, including fill-in shortstop Charlie Culberson, who is 2 for 5 with two doubles while replacing the injured Corey Seager. NL Rookie of the Year favorite Cody Bellinger has also been a key newcomer, going 3 for 7 in the first two games.

BULLPEN BLUES

A strength of Chicago’s during the regular season, the bullpen has a 7.03 ERA in the playoffs. Manager Joe Maddon has tried to find creative solutions, including using starter John Lackey as a reliever in Games 1 and 2. Lackey allowed Justin Turner’s game-ending homer Sunday night, and he, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery and Hector Rondon all have ERAs larger than 10.00 this postseason. Meanwhile, closer Wade Davis has yet to appear since a seven-out save in NLDS Game 5 against Washington — Maddon was holding him Sunday in case Chicago encountered a save situation.

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Judge, Sabathia help Yankees beat Astros 8-1, trail ALCS 2-1

NEW YORK (AP) — Back in the Bronx, the big guys delivered.

Greeted by an array of “All Rise” signs in a ballpark that fits their style, Aaron Judge hit a three-run homer and made a pair of sparkling catches, leading CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 8-1 Monday night and cutting their deficit to 2-1 in the AL Championship Series.

Todd Frazier hit a go-ahead, three-run homer into the short porch in right field in the second inning against Charlie Morton.

The 6-foot-7 Judge entered in a 4-for-31 (.129) postseason slump that included one home run, four RBIs and 19 strikeouts. The slugger capped a five-run fourth with a laser of a drive to left field off Will Harris and robbed Yuli Gurriel and Cameron Maybin of extra-base hits.

“You see a guy put his head basically through the wall and then dive,” Frazier said. “The ground is going to shake when he hits the ground.”

Sabathia, almost as big at 6-foot-6, allowed three hits over six scoreless innings for his first postseason win in five years. The Yankees stopped a seven-game ALCS losing streak dating to Sabathia’s victory over Texas in 2010 — when Judge had just started his freshman year at Fresno State.

After a pair of 2-1 losses in Houston, the Yankees led 8-0 after four innings.

“Just the energy, the fans,” Sabathia said. “We can kind of feed off their energy.”

New York improved to 4-0 at home this postseason. The Yankees were an AL-best 51-30 at home this season.

“We’re somewhat built for this ballpark,” manager Joe Girardi said.

Houston scored on a bases-loaded walk in the ninth before postseason star Jose Altuve grounded into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded.

Sonny Gray starts Game 4 for New York in the best-of-seven series on 11 days’ rest Wednesday against Lance McCullers Jr.

Frazier got the Yankees rolling, taking an awkward hack at a low, outside fastball and slicing an opposite-field drive over the right-field scoreboard.

“You don’t think it’s going, just because how unorthodox the swing was,” Frazier said.

Judge used his height and long left arm to make a leaping catch with his left shoulder slamming into the right-field wall against Gurriel starting the fourth.

Being a rookie, he politely waited outside the dugout for all the veterans to descend the steps after the third out — as he always does — then capped a five-run bottom half with a laser of a line drive that just cleared the left-field wall.

Then in the fifth, he sprinted into short right for a diving backhand catch on Maybin.

On the first chilly night of the autumn with a game-time temperature of 57, Sabathia relied on the sharp, slow slider that has helped revive the former flamethrower’s career.

Pitching with caution to Houston’s dangerous lineup, he walked four, struck out five and pitched shutout ball for the first time in 21 career postseason starts. During the regular season, he was 9-0 in 10 starts following Yankees’ losses.

“It’s weird, me being 37, smoke and mirrors, getting a shutout,” Sabathia said.

Adam Warren followed with two hitless innings, Dellin Betances walked his only two batters and Tommy Kahnle finished. Houston had four hits, leaving it with just 15 over the first three games, and is batting .169 in the matchup.

Morton was chased after 3 2/3 innings and allowed seven runs and six hits: three infield singles, a bloop single to center, a double that Maybin allowed to fall in left and Frazier’s homer.

“”If you were to show me a video of the swing, show the pitch speed and the location, I would have never thought that,” Morton said. “That was unbelievable.”

A New Jersey native who grew up a Yankees fan, Frazier entered 7 for 18 against Morton with two home runs. With Frank Sinatra’s version of “Fly Me to the Moon” as his walk-up music, Frazier hit not-quite a moonshot, driving a pitch just 18½ inches above the dirt 365 feet with pretty much just his left arm. That gave the Yankees their first lead of the series.

Frazier motioned to his family in the stands and looked at his left wrist.

“I’m pointing to them and saying: What time is it? It’s my time,” he said.

He remembers sitting in the seats at old Yankee Stadium watching Jim Leyritz’s 15th-inning home beat Seattle in the 1995 playoffs.

“It’s such a cool feeling,” Frazier said. “I wish everybody could feel basically what I’m going through.”

Houston loaded the bases with two outs in the third on a pair of two-out walks around Alex Bregman’s single. But Carlos Correa popped out on a fastball in on his fists.

“I know he likes to get his hands extended,” Sabathia said.

Sabathia raised both arms and pointed toward Judge after his catch in the fourth.

“I don’t know what got hurt worse, the wall or him,” plate umpire Gary Cederstrom was heard to say by one of Fox’s microphones.

New York broke open the game in the bottom half. Chase Headley hit a run-scoring infield single — ending an 0-for-28 slide by New York designated hitters in the postseason. Brett Gardner was hit on a leg by a pitch, loading the bases, and Harris came in and threw a wild pitch that allowed Frazier to come home from third.

“Judge did what Judge has done 50-plus times, which is hit the ball out of the ballpark when he gets a pitch to hit,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

ALTUVE’S WEB GEMS

Altuve made two fine stops on Did Gregorius, first a backhand stop on his third-inning grounder and then a shuffle pass to Harris covering first for the final out of the fourth after a hard grounder off first baseman Marwin Gonzalez’s glove.

APPLAUSE

Girardi, booed by fans after failing to call for a replay in Game 2 of the Division Series, was cheered when introduced.

“It’s a reminder of how quickly things can change in your life,” he said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Yankees: RHP Luis Severino is on track to pitch a Game 6. He was removed after four innings and 62 pitches in Game 2 because Girardi felt he was “underneath” the ball. Girardi said Severino did not need any tests and is OK.

Asked whether Severino was understanding, Girardi said: “I think two days later, yes, a little bit more.”

“I asked him if he still hated me, and he said, ‘no,'” Girardi added.

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MLB Playoffs: Dodgers top Cubs 4-1 for 2-0 NLCS lead / Astros, Yanks try to get bats going in New York

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GOING BATTY

The two highest-scoring teams in the majors this season have combined for all of six runs in the first two games of the AL Championship Series. Houston, which totaled 896 runs to 858 for the Yankees this year, won a pair of nail-biters back home by identical 2-1 scores behind ace pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. Two wins from the franchise’s second trip to the World Series, the Astros send 14-game winner Charlie Morton to the mound in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium (8:08 p.m. EDT). Morton grew up in nearby Connecticut rooting for the Yankees.

HOLE IN THE MIDDLE

If the Yankees are going to rally in this ALCS, they’re probably going to need more production from their top hitters. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius combined to go 2 for 22 in the first two games of the series, while Astros stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa went 8 for 15. Not to mention, Yankees designated hitters are 0 for 27 in the postseason, with Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Holliday all coming up empty. Maybe being back at Yankee Stadium will help. New York went 51-30 at home during the regular season, the best mark in the American League, and is 3-0 there during the playoffs.

RIGHT MAN ON THE MOUND

CC Sabathia pitches for the Yankees as they try to stop a seven-game ALCS losing streak that dates to 2010 against Texas. The 37-year-old lefty went 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA during the regular season. But he was at his best when New York needed to rebound, going 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 10 starts following Yankees defeats.

CHILL OUT

The Dodgers and Cubs will trade sunglasses for long sleeves as their NL Championship Series shifts from Los Angeles to Chicago. Dodger Stadium was 92 degrees for first pitch of Game 2 on Sunday night, and Los Angeles right fielder Yasiel Puig had to battle a difficult setting sun to track a fly ball in the first inning.

Temperatures are projected to dip into the low-50s for Game 3 on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, with first pitch set for 8:01 p.m. local time.

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Justin Turner savored every last stride as he followed in Kirk Gibson’s famous footsteps at Dodger Stadium.

The red-bearded slugger from Southern California knew all about the history attached to this home run trot.

On the 29th anniversary of Gibson’s celebrated pinch-hit homer that shocked Oakland in the 1988 World Series opener, Turner added another landmark shot to Los Angeles Dodgers postseason lore.

Turner hit a three-run drive with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

“One of my earliest baseball memories was being at my grandma’s house and watching that game in ’88 and seeing Gibby hit that homer,” said Turner, who wasn’t quite 4 years old at the time. “So yeah, it feels pretty cool. I thought about doing the fist-pump around the bases, but we’ll wait until we get to the World Series for that, hopefully.”

The dominant Dodgers are two wins away after Turner drove in all four runs in Game 2 to keep Los Angeles unbeaten in the postseason.

He delivered a tying single in the fifth before sending a long shot to center field off John Lackey in the ninth. Completing the poetry of the moment, a fan wearing a blue Dodgers jersey took a few steps onto a walkway and gracefully caught the ball in his glove on the fly.

“It’s very cool, and J.T., we were talking about it in there after the game,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. “Twenty-nine years to the day. It was special. Our guys feel it.”

Another generation of Dodgers fans now has its own historic homer, and these Dodgers are growing increasingly confident they can earn their first trip to the World Series since 1988.

Turner got swallowed up at home plate by another pack of ecstatic Dodgers, just as Gibson did. Unlike Gibson, Turner spiked his batting helmet after rounding third, allowing his unruly red hair to go as wild as the crowd.

“What’s not to enjoy about it?” Turner asked. “We have an opportunity to bring a championship back to LA. It’s been a long time.”

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Midseason acquisition Yu Darvish starts for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks.

Yasiel Puig drew his third walk of the game leading off the ninth, and Charlie Culberson bunted him to second. After losing pitcher Brian Duensing struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, Chicago manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen for the 38-year-old Lackey, who pitched on consecutive days for the first time in his 15-year career.

Lackey got the call over All-Star closer Wade Davis, and the veteran starter walked Chris Taylor on six tense pitches. Maddon said he wanted to save Davis for a potential save on the road, and Lackey would have pitched the 10th inning as well if the Cubs did not have a lead.

“Nobody is a really great matchup against Turner, so it just did not work out,” Maddon said.

Turner stepped up and ended it with his fourth career playoff homer. After taking a slight free-agent discount to stay with the Dodgers last winter, he had another solid season before excelling again in October.

The All-Star third baseman is batting .377 with 22 RBIs in his postseason career. He is 13 for 18 with runners in scoring position (.722), including 6 for 8 this year.

And after a collective offensive effort drove the Dodgers to a 5-2 win in Game 1, Turner did it all in Game 2. He has 10 RBIs in the Dodgers’ five postseason games, getting five in the playoff opener against Arizona.

Addison Russell homered in the fifth for the Cubs, who are down early in this rematch of the 2016 NLCS. Chicago won that series in six games after splitting the first two.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen got the win with a hitless ninth despite hitting Anthony Rizzo on the hand with a one-out pitch. That ended the Los Angeles bullpen’s impressive streak of 22 straight Cubs retired to begin the NLCS, but the Dodgers have thrown eight hitless and scoreless innings of relief in the NLCS.

Jon Lester yielded three hits and five walks while failing to get out of the fifth inning in the shortest start of his long postseason career, but the Dodgers couldn’t take advantage of a rare shaky night by the Cubs’ star left-hander.

Rich Hill struck out eight in five more impressive innings for the Dodgers, but he was pulled for pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson in the fifth in a debatable decision by Roberts.

Russell was off to a 4-for-22 start in the postseason with nine strikeouts before the slugging shortstop put a leadoff homer into the short porch in left field.

Turner tied it moments later by poking a two-out single to right after a leadoff double by Culberson, the Dodgers’ improbably successful replacement for injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager.

The Dodgers chased Lester with two outs in the fifth, but reliever Carl Edwards Jr. came through after several recent postseason struggles, striking out pinch-hitter Chase Utley and then pitching a strong sixth.

Lester was the co-MVP of last season’s NLCS, winning Game 5 at Dodger Stadium and yielding two runs over 13 innings in the series. He had nothing near the same success against the Dodgers’ revamped lineup in this one, issuing four walks in the first four innings and repeatedly escaping jams.

Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward held up Turner in the third when it appeared he could have scored from first on Cody Bellinger’s double to the left-center gap.

Javier Baez, the other co-MVP of last season’s NLCS for Chicago, got to third base in the third with one out, but also was stranded.

UP NEXT

Cubs: Hendricks dominated Chicago’s playoff opener with seven scoreless innings against the Nationals, but yielded four runs in four innings during the team’s wild Game 5 victory in Washington. He is starting on normal rest.

Dodgers: Darvish was outstanding in Game 3 against the Diamondbacks, earning his first career postseason victory with seven strikeouts over five innings of two-hit ball. He was acquired from Texas precisely for these moments, and he starts on seven days of rest.

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

MLB Playoffs Roundup: No Seager in NLCS, but Puig a party for Dodgers

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BACKING OUT

The Dodgers will have to get through the Cubs without star shortstop Corey Seager in the NL Championship Series. Seager was left off the NLCS roster due to a back injury, a surprise omission announced hours before Saturday’s Game 1 victory at Dodger Stadium. Charlie Culberson, who had 15 plate appearances in the big leagues this season, replaced last season’s NL Rookie of the Year. Culberson had a sacrifice fly and a double in the 5-2 win.

“Obviously, it’s a big blow,” Game 2 starter Rich Hill said about Seager. “That guy’s fought with us the entire year. It’s just an unfortunate thing.”

PUIG’S PARTY

Yasiel Puig has been on a roll this postseason, and he’s not holding back on celebrating it. Bat flips, fist pumps, tongue wags — he even took a curtain call Saturday, although Dodger Stadium didn’t seem to be demanding one.

Of course, Los Angeles’ energetic outfielder has had reason to rejoice. He got his third multihit effort in four games Saturday, and his curtain call came after his first career postseason homer, a leadoff shot in the seventh inning.

STARTING UP AGAIN

Cubs lefty Jon Lester starts Game 2 of the NLCS four days after an extended relief outing in the Division Series. Lester threw 55 pitches in a 5-0 Game 4 loss to Washington, giving up a run in 3 2/3 innings. Chicago also dropped his NLDS Game 2 start despite his one-run ball over six innings.

He’s not concerned about coming back from the bullpen on short rest.

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” Lester said. “This time of year you have to adjust and figure it out.”

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

As the ALCS shifts to the Big Apple, the Houston Astros plan to take batting practice at Yankee Stadium during an off day in the series. But the Bronx Bombers won’t work out and will instead take the day off in an attempt to refresh their big hitters. New York struck out 27 times while losing the first two games by identical 2-1 scores to Houston aces Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are a combined 1 for 14 with eight strikeouts in the series. Game 3 is Monday night, with CC Sabathia scheduled to pitch against Charlie Morton and the Astros. New York has dropped seven straight ALCS games dating to 2010.

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ASTROS 2, YANKEES 1

HOUSTON (AP) — With each stinging line drive, Jose Altuve is putting his stamp on this October. Same with every pitch from Justin Verlander, no matter the inning or score.

Houston’s longest tenured player and its durable new ace — an incomparable pair so far this postseason.

Altuve raced home on Carlos Correa’s double in the ninth inning, Verlander struck out 13 in a complete game and the Astros beat the New York Yankees 2-1 Saturday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Correa also homered , but Houston needed a daring dash from the 5-foot-6 Altuve to get Verlander a win. Altuve, an AL MVP front-runner, reached with a one-out single against closer Aroldis Chapman, then sprinted around from first base on Correa’s shot to right-center field. Shortstop Didi Gregorius’ relay beat Altuve to the plate, but catcher Gary Sanchez misplayed a short-hop, allowing Houston’s dynamo second baseman to slide past safely.

“When I saw him running I was like, ‘Oh God,'” Correa said. “And then obviously he beat it out.”

Altuve had two more hits and is 13 for 23 (.565) this postseason after hitting just 4 for 26 (.154) in the 2015 playoffs.

“He’s unbelievable,” Verlander said. “The guy does everything.”

Verlander improved to 8-0 in eight appearances with Houston since agreeing to an Aug. 31 trade from the Tigers, including his Game 4 win in relief during a Division Series against Boston. He has a 2.04 ERA over a postseason-leading 17 2/3 innings.

“When I decided to say yes, these are the moments that you envision,” Verlander said of agreeing to the trade. “You don’t envision going 5-0 in the regular season once you get here, that’s all fine and great, but that’s not why I was brought here. I was brought here to help this team win a championship.”

Verlander set a postseason career best for strikeouts and allowed five hits in his second career complete game in the playoffs. He threw a season-high 124 pitches and retired baby Bronx Bombers Aaron Judge, Sanchez and Greg Bird in the top of the ninth.

“This is such a big moment for our team, but he put us on his back today with his pitching,” manager A.J. Hinch said.

Dallas Keuchel won Game 1 for the Astros — also 2-1 — pairing with Verlander to give the Astros perhaps the best 1-2 punch in these playoffs.

“That was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in my professional career for sure,” Keuchel said. “But that’s why we got him — for his postseason pedigree.”

In the bottom of the ninth, Judge picked up Correa’s hit in right field and threw toward second base. Gregorius fielded there, and his throw beat Altuve to the plate by a few steps. Sanchez just couldn’t squeeze the one-hopper.

“That’s a play I’m used to making,” Sanchez said through a translator. “Really thought I had a chance at making that play there. Unfortunately I dropped the ball and couldn’t make that play.”

The Astros mobbed Correa in shallow center field while Altuve pointed and smiled from near home plate.

Houston took its first ever 2-0 lead in a Championship Series in front of a crowd of 43,193 which included Houston Rockets stars James Harden, Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza in front-row seats. Minute Maid Park buzzed throughout, and fans let out huge cheer when Hinch sent Verlander back out to pitch the ninth.

“No words were necessary,” Verlander said. “It was my game to win or lose.”

Verlander got the first complete game by any pitcher this reliever-heavy postseason and his first nine-inning outing since his Tigers beat the Astros 3-2 on July 30, 2016. This was the seventh time Verlander had 10 or more strikeouts in the postseason, extending his major league record, and his seventh postseason game with 120 pitches or more.

The unshakable right-hander struck out the side in the eighth, and television shots showed fiancée Kate Upton in a pink sequined shirt cheering and clapping wildly as he walked off.

Verlander, Keuchel and two relievers have combined to strike out 27 Yankees in the series.

“They’re making pitches on these kids,” New York manager Joe Girardi said. “And maybe are they trying a little bit too hard? Yeah, of course. But I think everyone out there’s probably trying a little bit too hard.”

Correa’s homer in the fourth off starter Luis Severino sailed just out of reach of Judge and 12-year-old Carson Riley, who was sitting in the front row in right field. The ball bounced off Riley’s glove and into the stands, and Girardi asked for a video review to check for fan interference. Umpires upheld the call.

Riley hopes to get the ball signed by Correa and called the moment: “A really cool one.”

It was reminiscent of a homer by Derek Jeter in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS between the Yankees and Orioles. A 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached out and deflected Jeter’s hit into the stands, but umpires ruled it a home run.

The 23-year-old Correa is the fifth player ever with five home runs in the postseason before turning 24.

Todd Frazier drove in New York’s run with a ground-rule double in the fifth when his shot to left-center got stuck in the chain-link fence protecting the visitors’ bullpen. Center fielder George Springer tossed his glove in the air several times attempting to knock the ball loose, but never got close.

Severino allowed two hits and a run in four innings. He was hit by a comebacker from Yuli Gurriel on the last out of the fourth, and Girardi said they lifted him as a precaution.

Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson threw two scoreless innings each for New York before Chapman allowed his first run in 18 2/3 innings.

Verlander got out of the third inning unscathed thanks to two big defensive plays. The first came when Josh Reddick made a leaping catch before crashing into the low wall in right field to rob Chase Headley of a hit for the second out of the inning.

Verlander raised his right fist into the air after the catch before pounding it into his glove several times to acknowledge Reddick’s work.

Brett Gardner followed with a rip to the corner of right field, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. Reddick threw it to Correa, whose one-hop to third base was just in time for Alex Bregman to tag Gardner out. He was initially ruled safe, but Bregman was so confident in his tag that he walked off the field as soon as the play was done. Hinch challenged, and it was quickly overturned.

UP NEXT

Yankees: CC Sabathia will start Game 3 on Monday in New York. It will be his third start this postseason and 21st career playoff start. The 37-year-old lefty allowed eight hits and six runs — four earned — with 14 strikeouts across 9 2/3 innings in two starts in the ALDS.

Astros: Charlie Morton is scheduled to pitch for Houston in Game 3. He allowed seven hits and two runs in 4 1/3 innings of Houston’s 5-4 win over the Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALDS.

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DODGERS 5, CUBS 2

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although Clayton Kershaw once again failed to dominate in a postseason start, these Los Angeles Dodgers don’t need one guy to carry them.

With a relentless lineup, flawless relief pitching and a collective charisma epitomized by the bat-flipping Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers are still unbeaten in the postseason and off to a strong start in the NL Championship Series.

Chris Taylor hit a tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning, Puig added a homer and an RBI double to his dynamite postseason, and the Dodgers overcame a short start by Kershaw for a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night in the NLCS opener.

“We just tried to set the tone early against the Cubs,” closer Kenley Jansen said. “We understand they’re the defending champions, so they’re a really good team. We understand that we won 104 games, but right now it doesn’t matter.”

Charlie Culberson doubled, drove in the tying run and scored another while replacing injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager for the resourceful Dodgers, who improved to 4-0 in this postseason.”

With another collective offensive effort and four innings of perfect relief for Kershaw, the Dodgers calmly overcame an early two-run deficit and took the first game of this rematch of the 2016 NLCS, won in six games by the Cubs on the way to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

“It’s two different ballclubs,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “There are some similar players, but I think that the season we had versus the season they had last year, I think that you could parallel those two, and the confidence we have in our group, and they had in their group last year. I just know that this year we’re a very focused group, very confident group.”

The Dodgers hadn’t won the opening game of an NLCS since 1985. Game 2 is Sunday, with Rich Hill starting at home against Chicago’s Jon Lester.

Kershaw pitched five innings of four-hit ball, but the Los Angeles ace fell behind 2-0 before getting pulled for a pinch-hitter during the Dodgers’ tying rally.

After winning 104 games in the regular season and sweeping Arizona in the Division Series, the Dodgers have a lineup and bullpen equipped to handle almost anything. They made Kershaw’s latest laborious postseason start virtually irrelevant, just as they did after he gave up four homers in his 2017 playoff opener against the Diamondbacks last week.

Albert Almora Jr. hit a two-run homer in the fourth, but the final 18 batters failed to reach base for the weary Cubs, still bouncing back from a 10-hour cross-country flight after finishing off Washington in an epic Game 5 late Thursday night.

“Their bullpen is pretty firm, and we have to really get our feet back on the ground,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Puig added another huge offensive game to his recent surge with his first career postseason homer — though in a postgame interview on TBS, he was convinced he had hit one before.

The Cuban slugger also included his usual array of creative bat discards and portentous pauses at the plate.

Los Angeles finally got rolling in the fifth when Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes drew one-out walks before Puig hammered a double to left-center. The ebullient Cuban slugger headed to second only after flipping his bat and spreading his arms wide at the plate.

Puig’s sky-high homer off Mike Montgomery in the sixth barely got over the fence in left. Puig is 7 for 15 with six RBIs in the Dodgers’ first four playoff games.

“I grew up a little bit,” Puig said. “(I’m) going to home plate having fun, because I know (if) I hit nothing, (if) I do nothing in the game, my teammates are going to have my back.”

Kenta Maeda got three outs and the victory in his latest standout relief effort, and Jansen struck out all four batters he faced for his third save this postseason.

Kershaw’s inability to match his sublime regular-season performances in the playoffs is a central theme of his career. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner won the NLDS series opener last week despite giving up four homers at Dodger Stadium, and Almora’s shot made him the first Dodgers pitcher to yield five homers in a single postseason.

CLOSE CALL

Maddon was ejected in the seventh after a call at the plate was reversed. Culberson initially was ruled out when he attempted to score from second, but was called safe after video review when catcher Willson Contreras was deemed to be in violation of blocking home plate without the ball.

“I saw a great baseball play,” Maddon said. “His technique was absolutely 100 percent perfect. I could not disagree more with the interpretation of that.”

GOOD START

Jose Quintana pitched five innings of two-hit ball for the Cubs one day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane in Albuquerque with a medical ailment. But the Dodgers tied it against him in the fifth and went ahead in the sixth with Taylor’s leadoff shot off loser Hector Rondon.

Despite pitching for the third time in six days after a start and a relief appearance against Washington, Quintana retired 12 of Los Angeles’ first 13 batters.

SEAGER OUT

Seager was left off the NLCS roster due to back pain. The All-Star’s surprise absence deprived Los Angeles of its No. 2 hitter and prompted the club to play Culberson, who had only 15 big league plate appearances in the regular season. But Culberson came through with a series of big plays at the plate and on the basepaths.

UP NEXT

Cubs: Lester won Game 5 of the 2016 NLCS at Dodger Stadium. He started Game 2 of the Division Series this year and added 3 2/3 innings of relief in Game 4 on Wednesday, but the veteran lefty compared that relief appearance to normal side work between starts. Lester’s nine career postseason victories are the most among active pitchers except Justin Verlander, who picked up No. 10 in Houston earlier Saturday.

Dodgers: Hill is a former Cubs pitcher with just one career postseason victory, but the resilient veteran regularly comes through in tough situations for LA. He made it through just four innings in Game 2 against Arizona, but yielded only two runs.

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

MLB Playoffs: Altuve’s October, Dodgers get weary Cubs

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-     A look at what’s happening all around the majors today:

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ALTUVE’S OCTOBER

Jose Altuve was a candidate for AL MVP during the regular season and he’s been among the best players in the postseason so far, too. Houston’s 5-foot-6 dynamo had three more hits in a Game 1 win over New York on Friday night in their AL Championship Series. He is 11 for 19 (.579) in the playoffs and has the most hits in a team’s first five postseason games since Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.

BACK TO START

Returning to his usual role as a starter, Justin Verlander gets the ball for Houston in ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Verlander came out of the bullpen to win ALDS Game 4 against Boston, throwing 40 pitches over 2 2/3 innings. The right-hander will be working on four days’ rest since that outing and should be well rested, even if his routine is a little off.

Luis Severino will pitch for New York. The 23-year-old fire-baller is coming off a Game 4 win over Cleveland last round, when he struck out seven and pitched three-run ball over seven innings.

RESTED DODGERS, WEARY CUBS

Los Angeles has been waiting comfortably at home since Tuesday to begin their NL Championship Series, while Chicago enters the opener fatigued and well-traveled. The Cubs finished a 4-hour, 37-minute victory in Washington early Friday morning to clinch their NLDS, then sat on their ensuing charter flight to the West Coast for about 10 hours after a passenger’s medical problem forced a long stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After arriving around lunchtime Friday, they had to skip a scheduled workout to catch up on sleep.

“So we’re going to be tired (Saturday). Who cares?” Chicago manager Joe Maddon asked Friday. “They’re going to be ready to play.”

CALLING ON CLAYTON

The Dodgers turn to ace Clayton Kershaw for Game 1, while the Cubs are likely deciding between Jose Quintana and John Lackey but hadn’t announced a decision as of Friday night.

Kershaw won Game 1 against Arizona in the Dodgers’ NLDS despite allowing four solo homers — the left-hander got aggressive in the zone after Los Angeles spotted him a big lead early. In last year’s NLCS against Chicago, Kershaw went seven innings in a 1-0 Game 2 victory but struggled in a decisive Game 6 loss, allowing five runs in five innings to the World Series champions.

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ASTROS 2, YANKEES 1

HOUSTON (AP) — Dallas Keuchel faced the New York Yankees in the postseason for the second time and the Houston Astros ace shut them down again.

Keuchel struck out 10 in seven scoreless innings to help Houston to a 2-1 victory on Friday night in the AL Championship Series opener.

“I think it’s just pitch execution, and it’s just been there more times than it hasn’t against the Yankees,” Keuchel said.

Keuchel threw six scoreless innings in a 3-0 win over New York in the 2015 AL wild card game.

He allowed four hits — all singles — and walked one to improve to 8-2 with a 1.09 ERA in eight starts against the Yankees in the regular season and postseason combined. He joined Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott as the only Astros pitchers to reach double digits in strikeouts in a postseason game.

“Late movement — he moves the ball and he commands it well,” the Yankees Greg Bird said.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit RBI singles in the fourth off loser Masahiro Tanaka, and left fielder Marwin Gonzalez threw out Bird at the plate trying to score on Aaron Judge’s two-out single in the fifth.

“We had a shot,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “If Bird’s safe maybe we really get to him in that inning.”

Bird homered off Ken Giles with two outs in the ninth, and the closer struck out pinch-hitter Jacoby Ellsbury . Giles, who threw a season-high 37 pitches, escaped a two-out jam in the eighth by striking out Didi Gregorius .

Greeted by MVP chants each time to the plate, Jose Altuve had three more hits and at 11 for 19 (.579) has the most hits in a team’s first five postseason games since Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.

Houston is in the Championship Series for the first time since beating St. Louis in 2005. The Yankees, who overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat Cleveland in the Division Series, lost their sixth straight ALCS game since 2010.

After the Astros totaled eight runs in the first innings of their four AL Division Series games, Tanaka kept the Astros hitless until Altuve’s infield single rolled through the pitcher’s legs in the fourth. Altuve swiped second before scoring on Correa’s single. Gurriel followed with a two-out single, his 10th hit of the postseason.

Bird singled to start the fifth and Matt Holliday, making his first appearance of the postseason, reached when Altuve dropped his slow bouncer to second for an error. Judge singled with two outs and Gonzalez, throwing with such force that he fell to the ground, made a 97 mph one-hop throw to catcher Brian McCann, who tagged the sliding Bird.

“That was their best moment in the game, (I needed) to stop the momentum,” Gonzalez said. “All I was thinking was to go get the ball as fast as I could.”

The call was confirmed in a video review.

“I’m too slow. I wish I was a little faster,” Bird said.

Primarily an infielder, Gonzalez had just two outfield assists in the regular season. He beat his hand into his glove three times in celebration after watching McCann make the tag.

“It’s one of the best throws I’ve ever seen from an outfielder,” Correa said. “Long hop, low tag right there. It was just perfect. Unbelievable.”

Gonzalez threw out Boston’s Mitch Moreland at the plate in the Division Series finale and is the first outfielder with assists in consecutive postseason games since Jim Rice in the 1986 World Series. He joined Lance Berkman as the only players in franchise history to have two outfield assists in one postseason.

After controversially failing to challenge a call in Game 2 of the Division Series, Girardi didn’t hesitate to ask for a review.

“We thought he was out,” he said. “But God knows I’m not doing that again.”

UP NEXT

Yankees: Luis Severino will make his third start of this postseason on Saturday. Severino yielded three runs and four hits in seven innings of a win in Game 4 of the ALDS to bounce back after allowing three runs and getting just one out in the wild-card game.

“I feel good, I feel confident in myself,” he said. “I knew that that first start I did, that wasn’t me, and I made adjustments. That’s how we do it; we make adjustments and the second start I put in place those adjustments and did good.”

Astros: Justin Verlander is scheduled to make his 18th playoff start on Saturday. Verlander got the win in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox and picked up win No. 2 of this postseason when he made his first career relief appearance in Game 4. He’s 9-5 with a 3.36 ERA and 115 strikeouts in his postseason career.

GAME 3

Manager A.J. Hinch announced that Charlie Morton will start Game 3 and that Lance McCullers, a starter who pitched in relief in the ALDS, could pitch Game 4. The Yankees will start CC Sabathia in Game 3 and Sonny Gray in Game 4.

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A capsule look at the Cubs-Dodgers playoff series

A look at the best-of-seven National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers:

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Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Saturday, at Los Angeles, 8:08 p.m. (TBS); Game 2, Sunday, at Los Angeles, 7:38 p.m. (TBS); Game 3, Tuesday, Oct. 17, at Chicago, 9:01 p.m. (TBS); Game 4, Wednesday, Oct. 18 at Chicago, 9:01 p.m. or 8:08 p.m. (TBS); x-Game 5, Thursday, Oct. 19, at Chicago, 8:08 p.m. (TBS); x-Game 6, Saturday, Oct. 21, at Los Angeles, 4:08 p.m. or 8:08 p.m. (TBS); x-Game 7, Sunday, Oct. 22, at Los Angeles, 7:38 p.m. (TBS).

x-if necessary.

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Season Series: Dodgers won 4-2.

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Projected Lineups:

Cubs: CF Jon Jay (.296, 2 HRs, 34 RBIs, .374 OBP) or 2B-OF Ben Zobrist (.232, 12, 50), 3B Kris Bryant (.295, 29, 73, .409 OBP), 1B Anthony Rizzo (.273, 32, 109, .392 OBP), C Willson Contreras (.276, 21, 74), LF Kyle Schwarber (.211, 30, 59, 150 Ks), SS Addison Russell (.239, 12, 43), RF Jason Heyward (.259, 11, 59), 2B Javier Baez (.273, 23, 75).

Dodgers: CF Chris Taylor (.288, 21, 72, 17 SBs), SS Corey Seager (.295, 22, 77), 3B Justin Turner (.322, 21, 71, 56 Ks, 59 BBs), 1B Cody Bellinger (.267, 39, 97), LF Curtis Granderson (.212, 26, 64, .323 OBP with Mets and Dodgers; .161, 7, 12, .288 OBP in 36 games with Dodgers), 2B Logan Forsythe (.224, 6, 36) or Chase Utley (.236, 8, 34), C Yasmani Grandal (.247, 22, 58), RF Yasiel Puig (.263, 28, 74, 15 SBs).

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Starting Pitchers:

Cubs: RH Kyle Hendricks (7-5, 3.03 ERA; 2.19 in 13 starts after All-Star break), LH Jon Lester (13-8, 4.33, 180 Ks in 180 2/3 IP), LH Jose Quintana (11-11, 4.15 with White Sox and Cubs), RH Jake Arrieta (14-10, 3.53).

Dodgers: LH Clayton Kershaw (18-4, 2.31, 202 Ks, 30 BBs, 23 HRs allowed in 27 starts, 175 IP), LH Rich Hill (12-8, 3.32, 166 Ks in 25 starts, 135 2/3 IP), RH Yu Darvish (10-12, 3.86, 209 Ks, 27 HRs allowed in 31 starts with Rangers and Dodgers), LH Alex Wood (16-3, 2.72 in 27 games, 25 starts).

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Relievers:

Cubs: RH Wade Davis (4-2, 2.30, 32/33 saves), LH Brian Duensing (1-1, 2.74), RH Pedro Strop (5-4, 2.83), RH Carl Edwards Jr. (5-4, 2.98), LH Mike Montgomery (7-8, 3.38, 44 games, 14 starts, 3 saves), RH Hector Rondon (4-1, 4.24), RH John Lackey (12-12, 4.59, 31 games, 30 starts), LH Justin Wilson (4-4, 3.41, 13 saves with Tigers and Cubs; 5.09 in 23 appearances for Cubs), RH Justin Grimm (1-2, 5.53).

Dodgers: RH Kenley Jansen (5-0, 1.32, 41/42 saves, tied for NL lead), RH Josh Fields (5-0, 2.84, 2 saves), LH Tony Cingrani (0-0, 4.22, 52 Ks, 12 BBs, 42 2/3 IP in 47 games with Reds and Dodgers; 2.79 in 22 games with Dodgers), RH Brandon Morrow (6-0, 2.06, 2 saves), LH Tony Watson (7-4, 3.38, 10 saves in 71 games with Pirates and Dodgers; 2-1, 2.70 in 24 games with Dodgers), RH Pedro Baez (3-6, 2.95), RH Ross Stripling (3-5, 3.75, 2 saves), RH Kenta Maeda (13-6, 4.22, 1 save in 29 games, 25 starts), LH Luis Avilan (2-3, 2.93, 61 games).

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Matchups:

Chicago is making its third straight appearance in the NLCS and looking to knock off Los Angeles for the second year in row. The Cubs eliminated the Dodgers in six games in 2016 on the way to their first World Series title since 1908. The Dodgers shut out the Cubs in Games 2 and 3 behind dominant starts by Kershaw and Hill. But the Cubs took the next three, with Hendricks outpitching Kershaw in a 5-0 win in Game 6 at Wrigley Field. … The Dodgers outscored the Cubs 22-11 in head-to-head meetings this season. … Los Angeles outscored Arizona 20-11 in its NLDS sweep. Turner hit .462 (6 for 13) with five RBIs against the Diamondbacks, and Puig batted .455 (5 for 11). … Lester and Baez were co-MVPs of the NLCS last year. Lester is coming off a strong NLDS against Washington, with a 1.86 ERA in two appearances. He pitched six innings of one-run ball in Game 2. He relieved Jake Arrieta in Game 4 and retired first 10 batters he faced. Baez was 0 for 14 in the NLDS. … Bryant was 4 for 20 with 10 strikeouts against Washington. … After managing eight runs through the first four games of the NLDS, the Cubs closed out the Nationals with a wild 9-8 win. … Wood made two starts against Chicago this season and went 1-0 with a 1.04 ERA. He struck out 12 in 8 2/3 innings. … Kershaw got hit hard in his only start against the Cubs this year, allowing four runs and a season-high 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings in a no-decision on May 28. … Cubs OF Albert Almora Jr. went 4 for 9 in five games against the Dodgers this year. He hit .342 against left-handers this season, making him a tempting start for manager Joe Maddon against Kershaw, Hill or Wood. … Rizzo batted .292 with two homers and five RBIs against Los Angeles this season. The team batting average for the six games versus the Dodgers was .191.

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Big Picture:

Cubs: That long championship drought for the Cubs seems like ancient history with each passing day. Chicago is the first team with three straight appearances in the NLCS since St. Louis made it four times in a row from 2011-14. It has survived four straight win-or-be-eliminated postseason games, including three straight to end the 2016 World Series. … The Cubs last won consecutive World Series in 1907 and 1908. They are trying to become first team to repeat as champion since New York Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000. … Chicago has played a major league-high 517 games since the start of the 2015 season. The Blue Jays and Dodgers are tied for second at 506 games. The Cubs also lead the majors with 310 wins over that same time span, with the Dodgers in second at 297 victories.

Dodgers: Is this the year? Los Angeles has made it to the playoffs for five straight years and nine times in last 14 seasons, but it hasn’t made it to the World Series since it won it all in 1988. After a first-round sweep against Arizona, the Dodgers are rested and their rotation is lined up for the rematch with the Cubs. … Los Angeles finished with the majors’ best record for the first time since 1974 and will enjoy home-field advantage throughout the postseason. It went 57-24 at Dodger Stadium during the regular season, finishing with five more wins than any other team had at home, and then outscored Arizona 17-10 in its two home wins in the NLDS.

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Watch For:

—Turner’s Time. Turner is batting .388 (26 for 67) with three homers and 17 RBIs in his last 19 playoff games. The All-Star third baseman has developed into one of the game’s most dangerous hitters. Holding him in check will be one of Chicago’s top priorities.

—Closing Time. Chicago’s bullpen was shaky against Washington — even Davis. All but automatic during the regular season, the three-time All-Star gave up Michael A. Taylor’s grand slam in Game 4. He got the last seven outs of Game 5 in his longest appearance since 2012. But he yielded a run in the eighth inning before working a perfect ninth.

—Kershaw’s Chance. Kershaw has done it all during his stellar major league career, except lead Los Angeles into the World Series. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner is 5-7 with a 4.63 ERA in 19 career playoff games. He pitched 6 1/3 innings in the playoff opener against Arizona and was charged with four runs and five hits.

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

MLB Playoffs: Yankees-Astros open ALCS, Cubs-Dodgers in NLCS

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-    A look at what’s happening all around the majors today:

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WILD REMATCH

Astros ace Dallas Keuchel opposes Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka in the opener of their AL Championship Series at Minute Maid Park. It’s a rematch of the 2015 wild-card game, when Keuchel dominated a lineup that included current New York regulars Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Greg Bird and Didi Gregorius — that group was 2 for 9 with four strikeouts against Keuchel in a 3-0 loss. Keuchel also stumped the Yankees in a start this May, striking out nine with just an unearned run over six innings.

Tanaka had an up-and-down season but has been riding high of late. After finishing the regular season with a 15-strikeout game against Toronto, Tanaka pitched three-hit ball over seven innings in a 1-0 Game 3 win against Cleveland during the ALDS. The Japanese hurler with the nasty split-finger fastball has a 1.50 ERA over two career playoff starts.

DON’T JUDGE HIM

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge was out of whack in the AL Division Series, going 1 for 20 and striking out a whopping 16 times vs. Cleveland. The rookie led the AL with 52 home runs this season and also topped the majors with 208 strikeouts.

Judge’s slump brought to mind other severe playoff skids. Yankees star Robinson Cano went 3 for 40 in the 2012 postseason and was hitless in 29 straight at-bats. In 1995, big-hitting Reds outfielder Reggie Sanders struck out 19 times while going 4 for 29. Reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant fanned in six straight at-bats for the Cubs this week in the NLDS vs. Washington.

TAKE YOUR TIME

Dodgers star shortstop Corey Seager is getting over a sore back. He didn’t practice during a workout at Dodger Stadium, two days before the NL Championship Series opener at home against the Chicago Cubs. The 23-year-old aggravated his back during the NLDS win over Arizona earlier this week. He’s expected to be OK for Los Angeles in Game 1.

The Cubs beat Washington 9-8 in the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS late Thursday night. Chicago topped the Dodgers in six games last year in the NLCS.

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Cubs get to Scherzer, then hold on to top Nats 9-8 in Game 5

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Chicago Cubs win whenever they need to, with whatever it takes, even a seven-out save by Wade Davis to preserve a shrinking lead and a “Did that really happen?” four-run inning against Washington’s Max Scherzer in a thriller of a Game 5.

That wild, bat-around fifth inning Thursday night for Chicago included Addison Russell’s go-ahead, two-run double, a bases-loaded hit by pitch, and a disputed dropped third strike followed by a throwing error, helping the defending World Series champion Cubs come back — and then hold on — to edge the Nationals 9-8.

And for the third year in a row, Chicago reached the NL Championship Series.

“Give the boys credit,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s one of the most incredible victories I’ve ever been part of. I know a lot of people are probably saying the same thing, but under the circumstances, in the other team’s ballpark, after a tough loss at home, to come back and do that, give our guys all the credit in the world.”

Russell drove in four runs and Davis, Chicago’s seventh pitcher, turned in his longest appearance since 2012.

“I’ve always known he’s got a lot of mettle in his soul,” Ben Zobrist, who scored two runs for Chicago, said about Davis. “The guy just shows up. He’s got ice in his veins.”

The same could be said for all of the Cubs.

They trailed 4-1, then led 8-4 and 9-6, in a game that lasted more than 4½ hours and ended after midnight on Friday.

“It was ‘Bizarro World,’ there’s no question about it,” Maddon said. “But it happens. It happens this time of the year.”

Catcher Willson Contreras picked off Jose Lobaton at first base to quash a Washington threat in the eighth and Davis fanned a swinging Bryce Harper for the final out.

“Just trying to stay focused and confident in the end,” Davis said.

Chicago, which surpassed its total of eight runs from the first four games of the NL Division Series, advanced to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will start ace Clayton Kershaw at home in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday night.

For Maddon and the Cubs, this was their fourth consecutive victory in a win-or-be-eliminated postseason game. That includes three straight to end the 2016 World Series, when Chicago trailed the Cleveland Indians 3-1 before forcing a Game 7 won by the Cubs in 10 innings.

The Nationals, meanwhile, went one-and-done yet again: This is the fourth time in the past six years that the club won the NL East and immediately lost its opening playoff series. And this is the third time in that span that Washington bowed out with a Game 5 NLDS loss at home; that also happened in 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals and last year against the Dodgers.

This one was played exactly five years to the day after the decider against the Cardinals, which the Nationals lost 9-7 in Washington. Just like that night, the Nationals started Gio Gonzalez. Just like that night, Washington raced out to an early lead (6-0 back then). And just like that night, Gonzalez had control problems and started giving back some of the edge.

“It was a series of bad events,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “It really hurts, you know, to lose like that, especially after what we went through all year long, and that was tough.”

Homers by Daniel Murphy and Michael A. Taylor — whose grand slam off Davis backed Stephen Strasburg’s 12-strikeout masterpiece in Washington’s 5-0 victory in Game 4 at Wrigley Field on Wednesday — gave the hosts a 4-1 lead in the second against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks.

But Gonzalez gave back two of those runs, so it was 4-3 as two-time Cy Young Award winner Scherzer entered for the fifth. He started Game 3 of this series, pushed back because of an injured right hamstring, and hadn’t come out of the bullpen since 2013 with the Detroit Tigers.

“Huge. You look out there and you see Scherzer up there and you think, ‘One of the best, if not the best, pitcher out there on the mound,” Russell said. “You kind of have to change your game plan, your approach.”

By the time Scherzer’s one inning was over, the Cubs had taken a 7-4 lead, and Russell had delivered the biggest hit. Chicago scored two earned runs and two unearned runs, on the strength of three hits, one hit by pitch, one intentional walk, a catcher’s interference, and one very odd play.

What could have been a potentially inning-ending strikeout turned into a run, as Javier Baez swung and missed, but the ball went under catcher Matt Wieters’ glove and through his legs. When Wieters collected the ball, he threw it into right field for an error, then appeared to argue that the play should have been ruled over because Baez’s follow-through carried the bat into the catcher’s mask.

“This game’s cruel sometimes,” Scherzer said. “Just the way things can happen.”

The play was not reviewable under the challenge rules.

“When the ball gets past him,” plate umpire and crew chief Jerry Layne said, “in my judgment he didn’t have any more opportunity after he had a chance to field the ball. There was no further play that could have been made on it.”

“The graze of the helmet didn’t have anything to do, in my judgment, with anything at all, with that particular play,” he said. “I got together and found everybody was in agreement. That’s what we went with.”

Russell made it 8-4 in the sixth on an RBI double when left fielder Jayson Werth tried to make a sliding catch but whiffed.

Werth said he lost the ball in the lights.

“It feels,” he said, summing up the night for Washington, “like if it could go wrong, it did.”

The lead was 9-6 when Washington got one run in the seventh on Harper’s sacrifice fly, and one in the eighth on Taylor’s RBI single.

But the Nationals wasted some opportunities. In the eighth, with two on and no outs, pinch-hitter Adam Lind hit into a double play. Later in that inning, again with two men aboard, Lobaton was nailed by Contreras’ snap throw for the third out — Lobaton was originally ruled safe, a call that was overturned on replay.

In the seventh, Ryan Zimmerman was up as the go-ahead run with two men on, but Davis struck him out. That was part of an 0 for 4, three-K night for the first baseman who had a resurgent season, leading the Nationals with 36 homers and 108 RBIs.

That season is over for him and his team. The Cubs, though, will play on.

“We’ve been through it. And in those situations, we tend to start believing we’re going to get the job done,” Zobrist said, “even if it doesn’t look like we are.”

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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MLB Playoffs: Yanks complete comeback, beat Indians 5-2 in Game 5 of ALDS

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —    A look at what’s happening all around the majors today:

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GOING THE DISTANCE

It’s a win-or-go-home Game 5 in the NL Division Series between the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals at 8:08 p.m. EDT. Kyle Hendricks pitches for the World Series champion Cubs after beating Stephen Strasburg 3-0 in the opener. Washington manager Dusty Baker was non-committal when asked about his starter, with Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark the most likely candidates.

Back home after saving their season Wednesday with a 5-0 win at Wrigley Field behind Strasburg, the NL East champions have a chance to avenge years of playoff heartache. The Nationals also made it to the playoffs in 2012, 2014 and 2016 and fell in the first round each time, including five-game losses to St. Louis in 2012 and the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

“Once you get out there, that stuff doesn’t really matter,” said Michael A. Taylor, who hit a grand slam for Washington late in Game 4. “What we did last year doesn’t help or hurt us once we’re in between the lines.”

The winner heads for Los Angeles to play the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series beginning Saturday.

READY AND WAITING

Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros are staying home to start the AL Championship Series. They will face the wild-card New York Yankees, who advanced Wednesday night with a 5-2 victory at Cleveland in Game 5 of their Division Series. Game 1 is Friday night in Houston. Dallas Keuchel is scheduled to start for the Astros, who went 5-2 against New York during the regular season. Houston reached the best-of-seven ALCS by eliminating Boston in Game 4 on Monday. Altuve batted .533 in four ALDS games against the Red Sox.

HELP WANTED

The Boston Red Sox are looking for a new manager after firing John Farrell on Wednesday following the team’s second consecutive loss in the AL Division Series. The team announced the move less than 48 hours after it was knocked out of the playoffs with a 5-4 loss to Houston. Farrell managed the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2013, his first season in charge, and his contract had been scheduled to run through the 2018 season. President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said the team plans to move swiftly on its next hire and the next manager would “most likely not” be a member of Farrell’s current coaching staff. Dombrowski said it would be important to be comfortable in front of media and relatable to the team’s current young core.

CLEAN IT UP

If the Cubs are going to win at Washington in the deciding Game 5 of their NL Division Series, they may need to tighten up their defense. Chicago has committed seven errors in the first four games of the series. In addition, 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant looks to bounce back from a tough day in Game 4, when he struck out four times as the defending champs went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

___

CLEVELAND — Breaking down Game 5 of the ALDS between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

Yankees 5, Indians 2Yankees win series 3-2. The Yankees captured the winner-take-all game against the favored Indians to advance to the American League Championship Series where they will face the Houston Astros. Game 1 is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. ET on Friday at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The Yankees rallied to win the series after losing the first two games.

***

The game: Didi Gregorius hit home runs in each of his first two plate appearances, both off Indians ace Corey Kluber, to give the Yankees an early lead.

Gregorius hit a solo shot with two outs in the first inning to open the scoring then increased the Yankees’ lead to 3-0 with a two-run homer in the third. Gregorius was just 1-for-13 in the series through the first four games, though he had drawn six walks.

Gregorius and Brett Gardner each had three of the Yankees’ eight hits.

Kluber allowed three runs in 3 2/3 innings while taking the loss. He also was tagged for six runs in 2 2/3 innings in Game 2, though he did not factor in the decision as the Indians rallied to win in 13 innings.

The poor ALDS performance came on the heels of Kluber having an 18-4 record with a 2.25 earned run average in 29 regular-season starts when he led the AL in ERA and tied for the league lead in wins. He is considered the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award, which is voted on before postseason play begins.

The Yankees add two insurance runs in the ninth inning off closer Cody Allen to make it 5-2 when Gardner hit an RBI single and a second run scored when right fielder Jay Bruce bobbled the ball for an error.

Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia took a shutout into the fifth inning before giving up four straight singles with one out. He was removed after Roberto Perez and Giovanny Urshela, the bottom two hitters in the Indians’ batting order, had consecutive RBI hits to make it a one-run game.

David Robertson relieved and got Francisco Lindor to hit into an inning-ending double play. Robertson pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings for the win and Aroldis Chapman got the last six outs for the save.

Yankees rookie right fielder Aaron Judge had a rough night, going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts. He set a postseason record for most strikeouts in a series with 16 while managing only one hit in 20 at-bats.

***

State of the Yankees: They advance to the ALCS for the first time since 2012 when they were swept by the Detroit Tigers in four games. The Yankees were 2-5 against the Astros in the regular season.

***

State of the Indians: Their season comes to a disappointing end in which their 102-60 record was the best in the AL and they set with a league record with a 22-game winning streak. The Indians remains without a World Series title since 1948 and it will be wait ‘til next year again before they open the 2018 season March 29 against the Mariners at Safeco Field in Seattle.

***

Pivot point: Robertson made the biggest pitch of the game when he got Lindor to hit into the double play. The air came right out of the Indians — and the crowd of 37,802.

***

Man of the moment: Robertson. The right-hander got the big double play and wound pitching 2 2/3 scoreless innings for the victory. He struck out two, walked one and did not allow a hit.

***

What you missed on TV:  An Indians’ fan in the lower concourse was wearing a Cory Snyder jersey. Snyder and teammate Joe Carter were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview issue in 1987 as the magazine predicted the Indians to win the World Series. The Indians finished with a record of 61-101 that season. Thirty years, the franchise is still seeking its first title since 1948. Maybe the Snyder jersey jinxed the Indians.

___

CLEVELAND (AP) — These young Yankees were unshaken, resilient and as tough as the city they represent.

The baby Bronx Bombers have grown up fast.

Didi Gregorius, following in the October footprints left by Derek Jeter, homered twice off Corey Kluber as New York beat the Cleveland Indians 5-2 in Game 5 on Wednesday night to complete its comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the Division Series and dethrone the AL champions.

The bend-but-don’t-break Yankees, way ahead of schedule, staved off elimination for the fourth time in this postseason and advanced to play the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series starting Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

With a blend of young stars and older veterans coming up big, the Yankees rocked Cleveland and bailed out manager Joe Girardi, who failed to challenge a key call in a Game 2 loss that threatened to sabotage New York’s season.

“These guys had my back and they fought and fought,” Girardi said. “They beat a really good team. What those guys did for me, I’ll never forget it. “

The Yankees went 2-5 against the AL West champion Astros, led by 5-foot-6 dynamo and MVP candidate Jose Altuve. But none of that matters now to this group of New Yorkers.

After winning twice at home, and after Girardi said he “screwed up” and felt horrible about it, the Yankees — with little offensive help from rookie star Aaron Judge — came into Progressive Field and finished off the Indians, who won 102 games during the regular season, ripped off a historic 22-game winning streak and were favored to get back to the World Series after losing in seven games a year ago to the Chicago Cubs.

Cleveland’s Series drought turns 70 next year — baseball’s longest dry spell.

“Nobody wanted the season to be over,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It doesn’t wind down, it comes to a crashing halt. It’s disappointing. We felt good about ourselves. We made it harder to win, especially in the last two games.”

The Indians closed to 3-2 in the fifth against starter CC Sabathia before David Robertson pitched 2 2/3 hitless innings for the win. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who faced Cleveland in last year’s spine-tingling World Series and signed an $86 million free agent contract in December, worked two innings for the save.

Chapman went to the mound with a three-run lead in the ninth after Brett Gardner battled Cody Allen for 12 pitches before hitting an RBI single, with New York’s fifth run scoring when Todd Frazier raced home on right fielder Jay Bruce’s throwing error.

Gardner’s gritty at-bat was symbolic of these Yankees. They wouldn’t give in.

“We can win a lot of different ways,” Gardner said.

When Austin Jackson was called out on strikes to end it, the Yankees rushed to the mound to celebrate with a wide-eyed Chapman. An elated Girardi hugged his coaches.

On Friday, Girardi was crestfallen, afraid he had wrecked the season.

“After Game 2, Joe came up to me in this same spot (outside the manager’s office) and said, ‘Hey, man. I’m sorry,'” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “I told him, ‘We just have to keep battling. Nothing is over yet.’ No one on the plane home thought it was over at all.”

The Yankees became the 10th team to overcome a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-five playoff series. New York also did it in 2001, rallying to beat Oakland — a series remembered for Jeter’s backhand flip to home plate.

Gregorius, who took over at shortstop following Jeter’s retirement after the 2014 season, hit a solo homer in the first off Kluber and added a two-run shot in the third off Cleveland’s ace, who didn’t look like himself during either start in this series.

One win shy of a Series title last year, the Indians had only one goal in mind in 2017.

They came up short again, and have now lost six consecutive games with a chance to clinch a postseason series. The skid dates to last year’s World Series, when they squandered a 3-1 lead to the Cubs.

Cleveland is the first team in history to blow a two-game series lead in consecutive postseasons.

Everything was set up for the Indians: Kluber on the mound, Game 5 at home, sensational setup man Andrew Miller rested.

The Yankees, though, wouldn’t be denied. They battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the first inning of their wild-card game against Minnesota and then had to overcome a crushing loss in Game 2, when Girardi’s decisions led to him being booed at Yankee Stadium.

But these Yankees displayed pinstriped pride and pulled Girardi off the hook.

“I had a hole in my heart for about five or six days,” he said.

It’s healed now.

JUDGE NOT

The Yankees advanced without much help from Judge, who struck out four times in Game 5 and went 1 for 20 (.050) in the series with 16 strikeouts — an ALDS record. But the 6-foot-7 rookie might have saved New York’s season in Game 3, when he reached above the right-field wall to rob Francisco Lindor of a two-run homer in a 1-0 win. “I didn’t do my job at the top of the order, but my teammates came up big for me,” Judge said.

KLUBER KLOBBERED

Kluber was one of baseball’s most consistent pitchers all season, winning 18 games and leading the AL with a 2.25 ERA.

However, October was cruel to the right-hander. He allowed nine runs, including four homers, over 6 1/3 innings in two postseason starts, hardly what he or the Indians expected.

Kluber overcame a back issue earlier this season and it flared up this fall.

“He’s fighting a lot,” Francona said. “I think you also have to respect the fact that guy wants to go out there and he’s our horse. And sometimes it doesn’t work.”

SLUMPS

The Indians batted .171 as a team with All-Stars Francisco Lindor (2 for 18) and Jose Ramirez (2 for 20) unable to snap out of funks.

SWEET SWING

Gregorius set a franchise record for home runs in a season by a shortstop with 25, one more than Jeter hit in 1999 when No. 2 led the Yankees to a second straight World Series title.

Gregorius got New York off to an ideal start, homering with two outs in the first when Kluber grooved a fastball. The shot deep into the seats in right raised the anxiety level to an already jittery Cleveland crowd fearing the worst.

___

Strasburg, Nationals beat Cubs 5-0, force NLDS to Game 5

CHICAGO (AP) — Stephen Strasburg gave Washington everything he had, and it was more than enough.

So much for all those questions about heart and character.

Strasburg shook off an illness and pitched seven dominant innings, Michael A. Taylor hit a late grand slam and the Nationals beat the Chicago Cubs 5-0 on Wednesday to send their NL Division Series to a decisive Game 5.

“I just focused on one pitch at a time and going as long as I could,” Strasburg said.

Moments after Sean Doolittle closed out Strasburg’s first career playoff win, the focus shifted to the final game of the series in Washington on Thursday night. Kyle Hendricks starts for the World Series champion Cubs after throwing seven sharp innings in a 3-0 victory over Strasburg in Game 1.

Washington manager Dusty Baker was non-committal when asked about his starter, with Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark the most likely candidates.

“You know, whoever it is, I hope they pitch like Stras did today,” Baker said.

No kidding.

Strasburg got sick after his terrific performance in the playoff opener on Friday, and the Nationals had planned to go with Roark even after a persistent rain washed out Game 4 on Tuesday. That led to a flurry of comments and criticism about whether the ace had the right stuff to pitch in big moments.

But Strasburg felt better when he woke up Wednesday and told Baker he wanted the ball. That was all Baker needed to hear.

“I could see the focus and determination in his eyes, you know what I mean, when he came in the office and we talked to him,” the manager said. “You know, he’s a man of few words, but the words he said, you know, gave us every indication that he was ready.”

Standing tall as clouds of mist rolled through Wrigley Field, Strasburg struck out 12 , allowed three hits and walked two. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft has 22 Ks in 14 innings in the series, allowing only a pair of unearned runs in the sixth in the opener.

“I like to think that any game that I pitch is the most important game,” Strasburg said. “That’s just how I tried to go into Game 4, and now we get a chance for a Game 5.”

Chicago wasted a gutsy performance from Jake Arrieta and solid relief by Game 2 starter Jon Lester in its first home playoff loss since Game 4 of the World Series last year. NL MVP Kris Bryant struck out four times, and the defending champs went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

“We just have to be offensively a little bit better tomorrow,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “They have been really good. We have been really good. Listen, they got a grand slam. Otherwise, it’s kind of like the same game both sides.”

Arrieta walked five in four innings in his return from a hamstring injury, but limited Washington to an unearned run and two hits. Lester got the Cubs all the way to the eighth, picking off Ryan Zimmerman before departing after Daniel Murphy’s two-out single.

But Chicago’s bullpen faltered from there. Carl Edwards Jr. walked two in a row and threw ball one to Taylor before he was replaced by Wade Davis. Taylor then drove a 1-1 pitch into the basket overhanging the brick wall in right field for his first career homer in the playoffs.

“I was kind of numb, just running around the bases,” Taylor said. “Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to get out the way the wind was blowing in.”

Ryan Madson worked the eighth and Doolittle finished the three-hitter, giving the NL East champions a chance to avenge years of playoff heartache.

Washington also made it to the playoffs in 2012, 2014 and 2016 and fell in the first round each time, including five-game losses to St. Louis in 2012 and Los Angeles last season.

“Once you get out there, that stuff doesn’t really matter,” Taylor said. “What we did last year doesn’t help or hurt us once we’re in between the lines. We’ll just go out there and play our game.”

The Nationals jumped in front in the third, taking advantage of a Chicago error for the second straight game. Trea Turner doubled with one out for his first hit of the series and advanced on a wild pitch. Jayson Werth struck out looking before Arrieta walked Bryce Harper, putting runners on the corners.

Zimmerman followed with a slow roller to shortstop. Addison Russell charged the ball, but he couldn’t bring it in.

It was Chicago’s sixth error of the series, and reliever Brian Duensing picked up another one on an errant throw in the ninth. Left fielder Kyle Schwarber committed two errors on one play in Game 3, setting up Washington’s only run in a 2-1 loss.

“It’s two heavyweights going at it,” Lester said. “We’re going to the last round. We’re going to figure it out. We’ve got Game 5 so it should be exciting TV. It should be exciting in our clubhouse.”

___

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

___

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

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