It wasn't good enough for Wilson Valdez to simply go out to the mound and throw his heater pitch after pitch. Nope, Valdez wanted to keep the Reds on their toes, so he shook off some of the pitch calls from backup catcher Dane Sardinha. Ryan Howard got quite a kick out of this, and discussed it with us after the game.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins made good on Evgeni Malkin's pledge to force Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final.
Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist, and Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory that evened the best-of-seven series with the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-3.
Game 7 is Thursday night, with the Penguins hoping to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009 and the Lightning looking to advance to the Cup Final for the second straight year.
"I just told them to embrace the moment. It's a great opportunity for us. These are the type of circumstances to where you have an opportunity to write your own story," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.
"They had a certain mindset going into this tonight: `We're going to leave it all out there and do everything we can to bring this back to Pittsburgh,'" Sullivan added. "And, certainly that's what they did."
Malkin was the most demonstrative of the players expressing confidence the Penguins could take the series back to Pittsburgh, saying he believed in himself, his teammates and that they could return home for a seventh game "for sure."
Crosby stepped up with his third game-winning goal of the series. The Penguins captain assisted on Kessel's 5-on-3 power-play goal in the opening period and later skated around Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman into the clear before sending a wrist shot between goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy's legs for a 3-0 lead in the final minute of the second period.
"We know the circumstances. It makes you go out there with a mindset of playing desperate," Crosby said. "I think we had confidence in the whole group. I think everyone played great.
"Everyone contributed in their own way. In a big game like this you, don't do anything special, just do your job. I think that's gotten us this far."
Rookie goaltender Matt Murray returned to the lineup after being replaced as the starter for Game 5 by Marc-Andre Fleury, but his 10th playoff victory did not come without a bit of suspense.
Brian Boyle scored twice in the third period for Tampa Bay, with one of the goals bouncing off Kessel before getting past Murray, who finished with 28 saves. The second score drew the Lightning within one goal with 7:17 remaining.
Instead of flinching, the young goalie who turns 22 on Wednesday retained his composure down the stretch to help the Penguins avoid relinquishing a third-period lead for the second straight game.
"I just think it's part of his DNA. He has a calming influence. He doesn't get rattled if he lets a goal in. He continues to compete," Sullivan said.
"That's usually an attribute that takes years to acquire. And to have it at such a young age is impressive. I think one of his biggest strengths is just his ability to stay in the moment."
Rust's breakaway goal at 17:52 of the third gave Pittsburgh breathing room, and Bonino added an empty-netter to finish it off.
"We had a great chance tonight and just tip-toed around a little bit," Boyle said. "We were tentative and weren't aggressive."
Kessel's goal was his team-leading ninth of the playoffs. Crosby had the primary assist, his first point since delivering game-winners in Games 2 and 3, and Malkin also had an assist to extend his point streak to four games after a slow start in the series.
The Lightning had an apparent goal by Jonathan Drouin waived off a little more than five minutes into the game, when Sullivan successfully challenged that the young Tampa Bay winger was offside on the play before tapping in a rebound off Ondrej Palat's shot that bounced off Murray's pads.
Sullivan announced the decision to go back to Murray following Tuesday's morning skate.
Murray started the first four games of the series. Fleury replaced him during the third period of Game 4, then made his first start in nearly two months in Game 5, which Tampa Bay won 4-3 in overtime.
Before Game 5, Fleury had not started a game since March 31, when he suffered a concussion.
Tampa Bay entered the game determined to not come out flat in Game 6 of the conference final for the second straight year.
The Lightning beat the New York Rangers on the road to go up 3-2 in that series, but were badly outplayed at home the next game and had to return to Madison Square Garden to finish the series.
Now, they'll have to win on the road again to make the third Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history.
"I know we can. I've got confidence in this group. We believe we can do that," Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan said. "We've had success on the road in the playoffs. We've had success in their building already. It's going to be a good one."
The Penguins were 1 for 3 on the power play and are 4 for 19 in the series. The Lightning were 0 for 1, dropping to 2 for 12. ... Malkin was penalized in the first period for slashing Tampa Bay Bay's Ryan Callahan in what appeared to be retaliation for the Lightning forward whacking him across the wrist with his stick. ... Murray improved to 4-0 following a loss. He's 10-4 overall in the playoffs.
BOSTON -- David Price scattered five hits over seven innings and Jackie Bradley Jr. had a pair of hits to extend his streak to 28 games as the Boston Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies 8-3 on Tuesday night.
David Ortiz had a two-run double and a two-run single, and Dustin Pedroia added three hits to help Boston win its third straight game. Price (7-1) allowed three runs, walking one and striking out six to earn his third consecutive win.
Colorado lost for the fifth time in six games.
Jorge De La Rosa (1-4) made his first start after spending almost a month on the disabled list with a left groin strain. He gave up two runs in the first, two more in the second and left with one out in the fourth with two on and one run already in (see full recap).
Polanco, Pirates crush Diamondbacks
PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco hit a three-run homer and drove in a career-best five runs as the Pittsburgh Pirates rolled by the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-1 on Tuesday night.
Polanco's shot to the concourse in right-center field off Shelby Miller (1-6) in the first inning gave Pittsburgh an early boost. Francisco Liriano (4-3) scattered two hits in 5 2/3 innings and added an RBI single as the Pirates improved to 6-2 during a 10-game homestand.
After a short adjustment period, Polanco has thrived batting third in the lineup, hitting .317 (20 of 63) with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 15 games. The Pirates spread their 17 hits among 11 batters.
Miller's recent recovery from a miserable start with the Diamondbacks took a step backward. Less than a year removed from an All-Star appearance with Atlanta, Miller's ERA ballooned to 7.09 after surrendering six runs in five innings (see full recap).
Strasburg strikes out 11 in Nationals' win
WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg remained unbeaten with an 11-strikeout performance, and the Washington Nationals hit three of their season-high five home runs off struggling Matt Harvey in a 7-4 victory over the New York Mets on Tuesday night.
Strasburg (8-0) gave up two runs and four hits over 6 2/3 innings in defeating Harvey and the Mets for the second time in six days. Strasburg has five games this season with at least 10 strikeouts and 26 over his seven-year career.
Harvey (3-7) stumbled through a third straight ineffective start, allowing five runs and eight hits over five rocky innings. The right-hander has yielded 16 earned runs and 31 hits over his last three outings.
Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon hit successive solo shots to put Washington ahead in the fourth inning, and Daniel Murphy added a two-run drive off his former teammate in the fifth for a 5-1 lead (see full recap).
DETROIT – Back on March 26, the Detroit Tigers made the trip to Clearwater to play the Phillies during the final week of the Grapefruit League schedule.
Justin Verlander was the Tigers’ starting pitcher that day at Bright House Field. The Phillies ended up losing that game by a run when their bullpen came undone in the late innings. But earlier in the game, the Phils had pretty good success against Verlander. They knocked him around for three runs in five innings. They had seven hits against him, four for extra bases.
Two months later, the Phillies came face to face with Verlander again on a warm Tuesday night in Detroit.
This time, the Phils had no chance.
They were manhandled by the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner in suffering a 3-1 loss to the Tigers (see Instant Replay).
“Verlander pitched well,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He had a good fastball and we weren’t catching up to it.”
Yes, Verlander had good fastball and he knew it. Sixty-five of his 108 pitches were fastballs. He averaged 94 mph with the pitch and topped out at 97. That’s how hard his final pitch of night was. He blew it by the Phillies’ best hitter, Odubel Herrera, for his 10th strikeout of the night.
In all, Verlander pitched eight shutout innings and gave up just three hits against one of baseball’s worst offenses; the Phils entered the game averaging just 3.24 runs per game.
The loss was the Phillies’ fourth in the last five games and it dropped them to 25-21. They have opened this challenging road trip, which finishes with three against the Chicago Cubs, owners of the best record in the game, with two straight losses heading into Wednesday’s series finale against the Tigers. Aaron Nola will get the ball against Anibal Sanchez.
Can Nola be a stopper? The Phillies could really use a victory. To get it, they will need some offense. They got just about none until Verlander left the game Tuesday night.
“We just couldn’t get enough going,” Mackanin said. “Verlander really relied on his fastball and we couldn’t capitalize.”
Jeremy Hellickson pitched well for the third straight time for the Phillies. (He has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts. He has walked just three batters and struck out 20 over that span.) But with no run support, Hellickson couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and he needed excellent defensive support – which he did not get.
Hellickson served up a down-the-middle fastball to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning and Cabrera swatted it for an RBI double. He has four RBIs in the first two games against the Phillies.
In the third inning, Hellickson struck Cabrera out on a nasty changeup for the third out. The pitch was so good that Cabrera flashed Hellickson a thumbs-up before spiking his helmet to the ground.
Hellickson’s changeup has been very good lately.
“I really feel comfortable with it right now and I’m throwing it for a lot of strikes,” he said.
In a close game with not much offense going against Verlander, Hellickson needed strong defense behind him. He did not get it from third baseman Maikel Franco in the fifth inning. With a runner on first and no outs, J.D. Martinez hit a bounding ball to Franco’s right. Franco tried to backhand the ball with a quick snap of his glove. Fielded cleanly, Franco probably could have started a double play. Instead, the ball got by him, was generously scored a double and led to a run. The Tigers scored twice in the inning to take a 3-1 lead.
“Yes, it’s makeable,” Mackanin said of the ball that got by Franco. “He got to a certain spot and then he stopped and tried to snag it instead of taking one more step toward it. I don’t think he could have gotten in front of the ball but he could have gone through it instead of stopping and trying to snag it. I thought he could have done that.
“It’s a potential double-play ball. He needed to take one more step instead of reaching for it.”
Tommy Joseph had the best at-bats against Verlander. He lined out twice to the pull side and had a base hit in the seventh. In the ninth, the Phillies rallied for a couple of hits against Francisco Rodriguez. Joseph scorched a liner to left for a sacrifice fly and the Phillies’ only run.
“He hit the ball on the nose four times, really good at bats,” Mackanin said of Joseph. “If that ball he hits in the ninth inning finds a gap, we have the tying run at second.”
Joseph has seven hits in his first 23 at-bats and has made some hard outs. He will start at first base again Wednesday and also on Friday as the Cubs will start lefty Jon Lester. After that, he could get starts against right-handers because he’s simply out-hitting Ryan Howard, who went 1 for 4 and saw his average climb to .159.
Before the game, Mackanin said Joseph could take playing time away from Howard if he continues to hit.