Asche shines, but Phils find 'shifty' way to lose


Asche shines, but Phils find 'shifty' way to lose


The Phillies trudged out the door of Citizens Bank Park late Tuesday night for a flight to Toronto, where they will continue a home-and-home series with the Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

Good thing it’s a short flight to Toronto because this couldn’t have been a fun one. They seldom are when a team digs itself a five-run hole, battles back to tie the game, then loses it in extra innings.

That’s what happened in this one. Cole Hamels struggled for the second game in a row. (He has allowed 18 hits and 11 runs in 10 2/3 innings in those games -- see story.) Cody Asche bailed Hamels out with a game-tying grand slam in the sixth inning. But the Phils eventually lost to the Blue Jays, 6-5, when Antonio Bastardo allowed a couple of hits and Juan Francisco lifted a sacrifice fly to weak-armed centerfielder Ben Revere in the 10th (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies have lost two in a row to the Blue Jays to fall to 15-16 on the season.

A couple of things to keep an eye on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre in Toronto:

• Will manager Ryne Sandberg reward Asche for his grand slam and four-hit night with a start against lefty Mark Buehrle? Asche, who has struggled much of the early season, has not started against a lefty since April 4.

• Will Sandberg continue to employ a defensive shift in the infield when it cost the Phils a couple of runs Tuesday night?

Early indications are that Asche will get the start.

“I look at this as a possible breakout game for Cody,” Sandberg said. “I’ll give [starting him against Buehrle] a lot of consideration. We could give him some continued play and let him build on this.”

As for the shift, the Phils have had mixed results while using it against the Jays. The Phils lost, 3-0, to Toronto on Monday night. The score would have been more lopsided if the Phils hadn’t employed the shift in their infield. Losing pitcher Kyle Kendrick said as much.

But Tuesday night, the shift led to some miscommunication between shortstop Freddy Galvis and second baseman Chase Utley in the fourth inning. No one “took charge,” in Sandberg’s words, on a ball hit between the two fielders and Edwin Encarnacion ended up with a hit that sent a runner to third and set up a run.

In the decisive 10th inning, the Jays got a leadoff hit from Melky Cabrera. That brought up dangerous Jose Bautista. The Phillies shifted him to the left side of the infield in both games. This time, Bautista made an adjustment and singled through the area vacated by Utley, who was playing just on the other side of second. If Utley is in his usual position, it is a double-play ball. Then again, if Utley is in his usual position, Bautista probably doesn’t hit it there. He probably takes his normal big hack to the pull side.

Whatever the case, you live by the shift; you die by the shift.

“We had Bautista as a dead-pull hitter on the ground and he hit one away from the defense,” Sandberg said.

The Phillies were fortunate to even be in the game so late.

They made defensive miscues and baserunning gaffes -- the struggling Galvis was involved in both -- and failed to move runners or do much of anything offensively against Drew Hutchison in the early innings.

“We did not play a good fundamental game,” Sandberg said. “We made baserunning mistakes, didn’t get a man over from second, coverage on defense. A lot of little things came back to haunt us.”

Sandberg didn’t mention the fact that Revere had no shot to throw out Cabrera at the plate on a fly ball to medium center in the 10th.

He did mention that Hamels, who gave up 10 hits, including two home runs, was not sharp.

“He fell behind in some counts and they didn’t miss his fastball,” Sandberg said.

The Phillies' offense went 21 innings (back to Sunday) before finally scoring in the sixth. Ryan Howard’s RBI hit was the first of five in the inning against Hutchison, who was otherwise nasty on the Phillies.

Asche’s game-tying grand slam was the big blow against Hutchison. It came with two outs and brought to life the crowd of 26,057, which demanded (and received) a curtain call from Asche.

The first month-plus of the season has been difficult on Asche, who entered Tuesday night hitting .214. His four hits raised his average to .257.

“It felt good to produce and help the team out,” Asche said. “There have been a lot of games where I haven’t done that.

“But this is still a loss, a missed opportunity.”

The 23-year-old third baseman was asked whether he believed his big night would earn him a shot in Wednesday night’s lineup.

“If I’m in there, I’m in there,” he said. “If I’m not, I’ll be on the bench, ready to go.

“There’s a lot of mental turmoil in this game over the course of a long season. The good ones weather the storms. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

MLB Playoffs: Cubs beat Dodgers, move one win away from World Series

MLB Playoffs: Cubs beat Dodgers, move one win away from World Series


LOS ANGELES -- One win away. Two chances at home. Seven decades of waiting.

The Chicago Cubs closed in on their first World Series trip since 1945 by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 on Thursday in Game 5 of their National League playoff.

Jon Lester pitched seven sharp innings, Addison Russell hit a tiebreaking homer and the Cubs grabbed a 3-2 lead in the NL Championship Series.

On deck, a pair of opportunities to wrap up that elusive pennant at Wrigley Field.

"The city of Chicago has got to be buzzing pretty much right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're not going to run away from anything. It's within our reach right now."

The Cubs' first opportunity to clinch comes Saturday night in Game 6, when Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw faces major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks.

"That's a game we expect to win," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said.

Of course, the Cubs were in the same favorable position 13 years ago -- heading home to Wrigley with a 3-2 lead in the NLCS.

But even with ace pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood starting the final two games, Chicago collapsed against the Marlins in one of its most excruciating failures.

More than a decade later, the franchise is still chasing its first World Series championship since 1908.

"We've heard the history," center fielder Dexter Fowler said, "but at the same time we're trying to make history."

Budding star Javier Baez was in the middle of everything for the Cubs, a common theme this October. The second baseman made a sensational defensive play when the game was still close in the seventh, and his three-run double capped a five-run eighth that made it 8-1.

After busting out of his postseason slump Wednesday, Russell hit a two-run homer for the second straight game. This one was a sixth-inning drive off losing pitcher Joe Blanton that gave Chicago a 3-1 lead.

"Just rounding the bases, it was pretty exciting," Russell said. "Pumped up, not only for myself but for the team and that little cushion that Jonny had to go forward from that."

Baez had three of Chicago's 13 hits, matching the team's total in Game 4, when the Cubs snapped a 21-inning scoreless streak and won 10-2.

Lester allowed one run and five hits, improving to 2-0 in three playoff starts this year. He has given up two runs in 21 innings.

The left-hander struck out six and walked one in a slow-paced game that lasted 4 hours, 16 minutes.

"These guys won the game for us," Lester said, nodding toward Russell and Baez. "I was just kind of along for the ride."

Anthony Rizzo's run-scoring double gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the first.

Los Angeles tied it in the fourth on Adrian Gonzalez's RBI groundout.

Russell homered on an 0-1 pitch from Blanton, who gave up a single to Baez leading off the sixth. Baez stole second before Russell's shot to left-center put the Cubs ahead on another unusually hot night at Dodger Stadium.

Blanton took his second loss of the series. The veteran right-hander gave up consecutive homers in the eighth inning of Game 1, including a tiebreaking grand slam by pinch-hitter Miguel Montero.

"Our confidence hasn't wavered," Roberts said. "This series certainly isn't over."

With the Dodgers trailing 3-1 in the seventh, Gonzalez found himself on the wrong end of a replay review for the second consecutive night.

With Baez playing way out on the outfield grass in shallow right, the slow-footed Gonzalez tried to take advantage with a drag bunt leading off the inning. Baez rushed in for a barehanded scoop and off-balance throw, but Gonzalez initially was called safe by first base umpire Ted Barrett. The Cubs challenged and the ruling was overturned.

In Game 4, Gonzalez was tagged out at home to end the second after diving with his left hand stretched toward the plate while catcher Willson Contreras applied a tag. The Dodgers challenged, but the video review upheld umpire Angel Hernandez's out call.

Chicago jumped on struggling Dodgers rookie Kenta Maeda from the start. Fowler singled leading off the game and scored on Rizzo's double to right two batters later.

Maeda gave up one run and three hits over 3 2/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed eight earned runs in 10 2/3 innings this postseason.

The Dodgers' defense fell apart in the eighth.

Gonzalez tried flipping Russell's slow roller to reliever Pedro Baez, who came over to cover first and bobbled the ball for an error.

Contreras followed with a pinch-hit single, and the runners moved up on pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr.'s sacrifice bunt. Fowler reached on an infield single to first, with Gonzalez losing a foot race when Fowler slid into the bag as Russell scored.

Kris Bryant reached on an infield single to third, with the Dodgers unsuccessfully challenging the call that he was safe.

The Dodgers thought they'd finally escaped the inning when Rizzo lined out to second baseman Kike Hernandez, who nearly doubled up Fowler at second. But the Cubs challenged the call and it was reversed, prolonging the inning.

Baez got yanked after walking Ben Zobrist to load the bases. Ross Stripling came on to face Baez, who doubled to deep right, driving in three more runs.

"We can grab that momentum by one name: Kershaw," Gonzalez said. "We don't want to put it all on him, but if we score a couple of runs, we'll feel real good."

Scully returns
Vin Scully was back at Dodger Stadium for the first time since ending his 67-year career behind the microphone earlier this month.

The 88-year-old Hall of Fame announcer attended as a spectator and proclaimed, "It's time for Dodger baseball!" from an upstairs suite.

Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur isn't on the NLCS roster, but he's contributing. A day after his bat was borrowed by Rizzo to hit a home run, Szczur revealed during an in-game TV interview that Russell wore a pair of his underwear leggings Wednesday after leaving his own at home.

Up next
Dodgers: Kershaw takes the mound in Chicago on an extra day of rest. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.72 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance this postseason. Overall, the three-time Cy Young Award winner is 4-6 with a 4.39 ERA in 17 career playoff appearances.

Cubs: Hendricks' 2.13 ERA was tops in the majors this season. The right-hander allowed a solo homer in 5 1/3 innings of Game 2, his longest career postseason start. The Cubs lost 1-0 to Kershaw.

MLB Playoffs: Indians reach 1st World Series since 1997

MLB Playoffs: Indians reach 1st World Series since 1997

TORONTO -- For the Cleveland Indians, the script was the same every game -- hope for the best from whoever they started, then count on Andrew Miller and the bullpen to close it out.

That plan seemed especially dicey in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series, with lightly used Ryan Merritt on the mound.

But out of nowhere, the rookie delivered.

Merritt coolly kept the Indians ahead until reinforcements arrived, and Cleveland earned its first trip to the World Series since 1997 by blanking the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0 Wednesday.

The 24-year-old lefty defied expectations, shutting down the powerful Blue Jays before exiting in the fifth inning. Thanks to a most unlikely pitching performance, a most unexpected team won the ALCS 4-1.

Cleveland, which has never hosted a World Series opener, will play Game 1 at Progressive Field on Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers.

Manager Terry Francona's team will try to augment what's already been a scintillating year in Cleveland after LeBron James and the Cavaliers earned the city's first major pro sports championship since 1964.

The Indians' title drought dates to 1948. In 1997, they let a one-run lead get away in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 and lost to the Florida Marlins in the 11th.

"We always said if we could do it with this group it would be so special because this is as close to a family feel as you can get in a professional setting. So for that part of it, it is beyond feeling good," Francona said (see full recap).

Cubs' bats come alive to even series
LOS ANGELES -- Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and the rest of the Chicago Cubs' bats broke out in a big way.

Rizzo homered and ended a postseason slump with three RBIs, Russell's two-run drive highlighted a four-run fourth that stopped Chicago's 21-inning scoreless streak as the Cubs routed the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-2 on Wednesday to even the NL Championship Series at 2-all.

Kenta Maeda is set to pitch for the Dodgers in Game 5 on Thursday against Jon Lester. Before the game, manager Dave Roberts said he will not start Clayton Kershaw on short rest after the Los Angeles ace threw a bullpen session Wednesday.

Chicago ensured the NLCS will return to Wrigley Field for Game 6 Saturday.

To break out of his prolonged slump, Rizzo used teammate Matt Szczur's bat.

"I know Szczur's bat has a lot of hits in it," Rizzo said. "I've done it a few times this year, just switching up the bat, switching up the mindset."

Following consecutive shutout losses, the Cubs rapped out 13 hits on an 80-degree (26 degree Celcius) night with the warm Santa Ana winds fluttering the flags in center field.

Rizzo and Russell had three hits each. Chicago's 3-4-5 hitters -- a combined 2 for 32 in the first three games -- busted out. Every Cubs starter got at least one hit except Kris Bryant, who walked twice (see full recap).