Halladay wins possible last home game as Phillie


Halladay wins possible last home game as Phillie


Roy Halladay was two months into his tenure with the Phillies when he pitched a perfect game against the Florida Marlins on a warm Miami night in May 2010.

The image of the triumphant pitcher raising his arms as Juan Castro threw across the diamond to Ryan Howard for the final out is still fresh in the mind.

It was difficult not to reflect on Halladay’s perfect game Tuesday night. Three-and-a-half seasons after that exhilarating moment, Halladay found himself facing the Marlins once again, only this time at Citizens Bank Park.

Times change. Back in May 2010, Halladay was just beginning his time with the Phillies. He is older now. Injuries have taken a toll on his fastball. The euphoria of the perfect game has been replaced with the uneasiness of an uncertain future.

And so, there was a very real possibility that Halladay made his final start in home whites for the Phillies on Tuesday night. At least he came away with the win in the Phils’ 6-4 victory (see Instant Replay).

Robotic to the end, Halladay said he felt no pangs of nostalgia as he walked off the mound after holding the young Marlins to four hits and a run over six innings.

“Honestly, I did not think about that,” he said. “It’s not out of lack of respect for the fans or anything like that. I just didn’t think about it. I don’t let myself look that far ahead.”

The fans didn’t think about it that much, either. The announced crowd was 28,872, the second smallest of the season.

Halladay, of course, will be a free agent this offseason. He has struggled since coming back from shoulder surgery in late August. The darting fastball that used to carve up hitters has lost its bite and is less menacing. The void has been filled by a heavy reliance on off-speed stuff, trickery out of the Jamie Moyer handbook. Halladay would like return to the Phillies next season. It’s unclear whether management will offer him the opportunity. He will be 37 in May. There are questions about how much he has left in the tank.

“Unfortunately, that’s out of my control,” Halladay said. “So I’m going to continue to play as hard as I can for the organization and my teammates and hopefully I have a chance to pitch again.

“But I can’t worry about things that are out of my control.”

Chase Utley, another aging player who has had his share of injuries, received a contract extension last month.

He hopes Halladay gets one.

“It did not dawn on me,” Utley said of the possibility that this was Halladay’s last start in home whites in Philadelphia. “I hope that’s not the case.

“He’s improving. Coming off surgery with a new arm slot, it’s something that he has to get used to. It seems like his command is getting better. I’m a true believer that the more reps and the more comfortable he gets with that new arm slot, the stronger he’ll get.”

Halladay did not face a world-beating lineup Tuesday night. The Marlins are young -- four of their nine starters were rookies -- and their offense is terrible. They rank last in the NL in runs per game (3.21), batting average (.231) and OPS (.627).

Giancarlo Stanton -- a.k.a. Ruben Amaro Jr.’s obsession -- is the only real threat in the Marlins’ lineup. Halladay got him to pop out on a changeup with two men on base to end an uprising in the fifth.

This has become Halladay’s style of pitching -- finesse, lots of off-speed stuff. His best fastball was just 88 mph Tuesday night.

Manager Ryne Sandberg was asked if he believed Halladay would continue with this style.

“For the rest of September I do,” he said. “His stuff has pretty much stayed the same.”

And beyond September?

“I don’t know. That’s the unknown,” Sandberg said. “You would think that getting these innings under his belt, these games, being healthy, are good signs. It’s hard to tell, but with a normal offseason throwing program, I’d be optimistic that he could gain some velocity.”

Halladay, who walked five batters in each of his previous two starts, said he tried to be more aggressive in this game. He was able to do that thanks in part to run support. Battery mate Carlos Ruiz drove in two runs in the third inning and Utley smacked a three-run homer in the fifth. The defense was also strong behind Halladay.

Getting back on a mound less than four months after surgery is a courageous move, but Halladay is not being evaluated on courage. If he were, the Phillies would offer him a five-year extension today. The team had a gaggle of front office types -- from Amaro to Pat Gillick, Dallas Green, Marti Wolever and Charley Kerfeld -- at Tuesday night’s game. Using cold, clinical evaluation, Amaro and his team of advisers must decide whether Halladay can still consistently get major-league hitters out.

They will have two more looks at the pitcher next week, but those starts will come on the road.

The home portion of Halladay’s season is over and it’s fair to wonder if he has thrown his last pitch in Phillies’ home whites.

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).