Helton denies tagging Rollins in Phillies' loss

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Helton denies tagging Rollins in Phillies' loss

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In three of the five games Ryne Sandberg has managed for the Phillies, the offense has produced just three hits.

Obviously, all three of those games ended up being losses.

Tuesday night’s three-hitter resulted in a 5-3 loss to end a modest two-game winning streak for the Phillies (see Instant Replay), but maybe if Jimmy Rollins was able to get one hit the result would have been different.

With two on and two outs in the seventh inning, Rollins ripped a 1-2 pitch from reliever Rex Brothers down the third-base line that seemed to be rolling to the corner for a two-run double. Even when third baseman Nolan Arenado made a sensational diving stab to keep the ball in the infield, it looked like Rollins had a single at the very least.

But along with the great stop, Arenado also made a great throw. With his momentum carrying him into foul ground, Arenado made a strong, one-hop throw that pulled Gold Glove first baseman Todd Helton off the bag. With a quick downward swipe, Helton made what replays seemed to show a whiff on the tag to get Rollins at first. Still, first-base umpire Jim Wolf called Rollins out.

Apparently, Helton sold the tag well enough to fool both Wolf and Rollins. That’s because afterwards, Helton says he never touched Rollins.

“I didn’t tag him,” Helton said of the bang-bang play. “I tried to, but I didn’t tag him.”

That admission differed from Rollins’ reaction and his explanation to Sandberg. After running past first base -- and never touching it -- Rollins did not argue the call. It seemed as if everyone in the ballpark thought he was safe but him. And because Rollins did not react other than to wait for someone to bring him his glove and cap before taking his position in the field, first-base coach Wally Joyner didn’t argue the call.

Neither did Sandberg.

“It looked like a close play at first, but J-Roll felt some contact over there, he felt like a tag was applied,” Sandberg said.

“That was the biggest thing, Jimmy had no argument. He told me later he felt something over there on his back. From my angle, I just saw a throw that was slightly up the line with a swipe tag. I based it on Jimmy’s reaction.”

Had Rollins beat the throw, the bases would have been loaded with two outs and Carlos Ruiz at the plate. Or if Arenado’s glove had been an inch lower or higher, the game could have been tied with Ruiz at the plate.

“That was a game-saving play,” Sandberg said. “Two men on and a possible double, who knows?”

That was the Phillies’ best chance to score, and that even includes the three runs in the third inning when they got two singles, a walk and an error by Helton to rally to within two runs. But Rockies’ lefty Jorge de la Rosa held the Phillies in check on three hits and three walks into the seventh, making the five early runs stand up.

Nevertheless, spot starter Tyler Cloyd gave the Phillies a chance despite allowing three in the first highlighted by a long homer from Troy Tulowitzki and one in each of the second and third innings. After the second inning, Cloyd retired 13 of the final 16 he faced and had just two three-ball counts.

“I was just trying to do too much, trying to be too fine,” Cloyd said. “Mechanics wore down a little bit. Later on, I settled down and started trusting that my stuff was going to go where I wanted it to go.”

Sandberg lauded Cloyd for pitching through six innings after such a shaky start. However, Sandberg explained, starting pitching sets the tone for the game and with five runs before the bottom of the third, the hitters were at a disadvantage.

Then again, starting pitching has put the Phillies at a disadvantage a lot during the second-half swoon. Since the All-Star break, the Phillies’ starters are 6-17 with a major-league worst 5.79 ERA. The next closest team, Toronto, is nearly a full run a game better than the Phils’ starters with a 4.82 ERA since the break.

“Starting pitching really sets the tone for the game and letting the offense do the things,” Sandberg said. “When the pitcher can put up some early zeroes, I think the offense feels better about that. And then the offense can work on getting some runs on the board. But we needed some innings out of Cloyd and he put the three zeros up there at the end, which helped the bullpen and it gave us a chance to come back. We were still in the game for the last three or four innings.”

The series continues on Wednesday night when Cliff Lee (10-6, 3.19) faces right-hander Juan Nicasio (7-6, 4.94). Lee goes into the game searching for his first win since July 5.

Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

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Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's time for the 2017 Cleveland Indians to be introduced to the one and only 1884 Providence Grays.

They share some unlikely history, the two teams, which played a mere 141 years apart, are the only two clubs to have ever won 27 out of 28 games.

The Indians joined the Grays on Thursday when Francisco Lindor's three-run homer led Cleveland to a 4-1 victory and three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.

The Grays ended up winning 28 of 29, leaving the Indians one game shy of matching the record (see full recap).

Cubs rally in 9th, beat Brewers to open big series
MILWAUKEE -- Javier Baez grounded a tying single with two outs in the ninth inning, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the 10th and the Chicago Cubs widened their NL Central lead over Milwaukee, beating the Brewers 5-3 Thursday night.

The Cubs now are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers after winning the opener of a four-game series.

Milwaukee was in position to win it in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with one out. But Wade Davis (4-1) struck out Domingo Santana and then, after falling behind 3-1 in the count to Orlando Arcia, came back to retire him on an easy comebacker on a full-count pitch.

The Cubs trailed 3-2 when Ian Happ led off the ninth by hitting a grounder that first baseman Neil Walker fielded wide of the bag. Reliever Jeremy Jeffress covered first and Happ was called safe in a close play, a ruling upheld on replay (see full recap).

Twins rout Tigers, lead AL wild card by 2½ games
DETROIT -- With a postseason berth tantalizingly close, the Minnesota Twins snapped out of their mini-slump in emphatic fashion.

Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each, and the Twins extended their lead for the American League's second wild card by beating the Detroit Tigers 12-1 on Thursday night. Minnesota is 2 games ahead of the Angels in the race for the AL's final postseason spot. Los Angeles lost earlier in the day to Cleveland .

The Twins had lost five of six coming into the night, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, but they routed a depleted Detroit team that is 4-17 in September after trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton.

"As a whole in this season, it's been pretty impressive," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "Staying away from the long losing streaks, coming back from some tough losses and some tough stretches and getting back to playing winning baseball, for the most part,” (see full recap).

Fowler delivers again as Cardinals beat Reds
CINCINNATI -- The St. Louis Cardinals rinsed the bad taste of being swept by the Chicago Cubs the best way they could -- sweeping the Cincinnati Reds.

Dexter Fowler delivered again, hitting two doubles and a single as St. Louis overcame Scott Schebler's two home runs to beat the Reds 8-5 Thursday night.

The Cardinals began the day 2 games behind Colorado for the second NL wild-card spot and five games behind the Central-leading Cubs.

Fowler drove in two runs. He went 7 for 13 with two home runs and six RBIs in the three-game series (see full recap).

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

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In the end, things reverted to form: The Dodgers won and the Phillies lost.

The Dodgers are headed to the playoffs, the Phillies to who-knows-where.

Los Angeles scored twice in the seventh inning Thursday afternoon to beat the Phils, 5-4, and salvage the finale of a four-game series (see observations).

The Dodgers, the majors’ best team at 97-56, lowered their magic number to one for clinching a fifth straight NL West championship. The Phils, baseball’s second-worst team at 61-92, were left with a lovely parting gift: hope.

“I think it’s a good lesson,” J.P. Crawford, the rookie shortstop-turned-third baseman, said of the series as a whole. “It showed us, or showed me, we can compete with the best teams in the league. Just can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us.”

Crawford, the 16th overall pick in 2013, drew three walks in four plate appearances and fielded eight chances flawlessly, at least four of which could be described as moderately difficult.

In addition, Mark Leiter Jr. pitched six strong innings, Rhys Hoskins did another Rhys Hoskins thing — i.e., hit a two-run double in the fifth — and Nick Williams launched a two-run homer.

So it was that the Phillies finished the homestand with a 7-3 record. They have won eight of their last 12, and are 32-34 since the All-Star break, after going 29-58 beforehand.

There are those who question how much it means for an also-ran to excel in September, when the pressure is off. It would appear that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is not among those people. He mentioned in particular how valuable it is for his young relievers to face teams in the thick of the race.

“To get this kind of experience is worth a lot,” he said. “It’s a big part of this year.”

One of those relievers, Ricardo Pinto, faltered Thursday, allowing those two seventh-inning runs to take the loss. But Leiter, who had pitched to a 9.39 ERA in three previous September starts, allowed just one earned run on five hits over his six innings of work. He struck out three and walked one.

So it’s one for his résumé going forward. And he said a strong finish to the season — the Phils have nine games left — is “important for everybody.”

“I don't know if it's more important for us than other teams,” he said, “but you want to finish strong and start strong. Those are the goals. That's baseball. You're going to have some ups and downs, and to take a series is a good thing.”

Crawford, called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Sept. 5, hit .200 without a walk in his first six major-league games. In his last nine, he is slashing .296/.474/.481, with 10 walks and seven strikeouts in 38 plate appearances.

“Just a matter of getting my feet settled down,” he said, “and just being comfortable in the box.”

“It’s good to see,” Mackanin said. “He was advertised as someone who controls the strike zone and he’s proven that he can do that. Walk’s as good as a hit — the old saying. He keeps innings alive and he doesn’t expand the strike zone, he makes the pitcher get him out and he’ll take a walk, which is important.”

Speaking generally about such an approach (and not about Crawford in particular), Mackanin had only one small reservation.

“One of the problems with a guy who walks too often is you’d like him to be a little more aggressive at times,” he said, “but in general it’s good to see.”

Crawford made his eighth start at third base, and while he doesn’t possess the power bat normally required of someone who plays the position, he certainly looks like he can hold his own with the glove.

“There’s not really much transition,” he said. “I’m just going over there, reacting, catching the ball, throwing the ball.”

If nothing else, he gives the Phillies a possible alternative to Maikel Franco, who has struggled all year.

And if nothing else, the team as a whole has shown there is some reason for hope.