NLCS: Cards crush Dodgers to reach World Series

cardinalswsap.jpg

NLCS: Cards crush Dodgers to reach World Series

ST. LOUIS -- Carlos Beltran, Michael Wacha and the St. Louis Cardinals are going to the World Series -- not even Clayton Kershaw could stop them this year.

Beltran and the Cardinals stunned the Dodgers' ace with a four-run third inning, Wacha was again magnificent on the mound and St. Louis advanced to its second World Series in three seasons by roughing up the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-0 in Game 6 of the NL championship series Friday night.

Wacha, a rookie, was selected MVP of the series after throwing 13 2-3 scoreless innings and beating Kershaw twice in the NLCS.

Matt Carpenter sparked St. Louis' big third inning with a one-out double on the 11th pitch of his at-bat. Beltran singled him home and the Cardinals quickly removed all the suspense surrounding a team that squandered a 3-1 series lead in the NLCS last fall against San Francisco.

"I'm so happy right now. We did it as a team," Beltran said. "We fought hard, we worked hard all season long and thank god we're here."

Game 1 of the World Series is Wednesday at the winner of the ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. The Cardinals won their 19th NL pennant and will be trying for their third title since 2006, last winning in 2011.

The glamorous Dodgers, with the second-highest payroll in baseball at $220 million, failed to reach the World Series for the first time since winning it all in 1988.

After losing Game 5 in Los Angeles, the Cardinals turned to Wacha once again. The right-hander was even better in outpitching Kershaw for the second time this series.

It was 52 degrees at game time, a 23-degree drop from the Kershaw-Wacha matchup in Game 2 six days earlier, and Kershaw never warmed up.

The top NL CY Young Award candidate was knocked out of a start for the first time this season without finishing the fifth.

Beltran had three hits and drove in two runs while facing Kershaw and made a spectacular catch in right field, helping him advance to the World Series for the first time in his 16-year career.

Perhaps showing the Cardinals weren't stressed by the possibility of a second straight postseason meltdown, Games 1 and 5 starter Joe Kelly had a post-national anthem staredown against Dodgers reserve outfielder Scott Van Slyke that was broken up by a fed-up home plate umpire Greg Gibson after several minutes.

Kelly blinked first, all in good fun but, when it counted, St. Louis wouldn't budge.

The Cardinals jumped on Kershaw in the third, batting around. After Wacha grounded out, Carpenter doubled in a gritty at-bat. Beltran singled him home for the game's first run. With two outs, Yadier Molina added an RBI single, Shane Robinson drove in two runs with a single in his first career postseason start after replacing slumping Jon Jay -- and advanced to second base on Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig's first of two errors in the Cardinals' big innings.

The Cuban defector also struck out twice and was booed heartily. Hanley Ramirez, a last-minute addition to the Dodgers' lineup, went 0 for 3 while playing with a broken rib.

Kershaw needed 48 pitches, the most pitches of his career in one inning, in the third. He took exception one pitch in particular, complaining to plate umpire Greg Gibson after Matt Adams' full-count walk loaded the bases.

The Dodgers bench also was vocal after the call on a pitch that may have been an inch or two low of the strike zone.

The Cardinals knocked Kershaw out in a five-run fifth. Adams doubled in a run to chase Kershaw. Wacha drove in one with a fielder's choice grounder and Carpenter had a sacrifice fly

Wacha has a minuscule 0.43 ERA in three postseason starts, one of the gems in Game 4 of the division series to keep the Cardinals alive. In his last regular season start and the NL Central up for grabs, he no-hit the Nationals for 8 2-3 innings.

"There's not anything you can't say about him," Kelly said of Wacha. "He's just going out there and pitching his butt off right now and as you can see he's just a pretty damn good pitcher."

Beltran was the star of the Cardinals' 3-2, 13-inning Game 1 victory, driving in all three runs plus making a throw to keep it tied in extra innings.

Kershaw was charged with seven runs on 10 hits in four-plus innings. The lefty led the majors in ERA the last three years but has lost five straight starts against St. Louis.

None of his starts this year were shorter than five innings and the most runs he allowed was five, on two occasions. The four-run fourth was his worst since July 24, 2012, at St. Louis, when Kershaw yielded eight runs in 5 2-3 innings.

The Dodgers didn't have much of a chance again Wacha.

Carl Crawford led off the game with an infield hit but was erased on Mark Elllis' double-play ball. A.J. Ellis doubled to start the sixth and didn't advance.

Notes
Cardinals Hall of Fame SS Ozzie Smith threw the first pitch. ... Beltran has a .331 career postseason average.

Phillies trade RHP Severino Gonzalez to Marlins

Phillies trade RHP Severino Gonzalez to Marlins

The Phillies traded right-handed pitcher Severino Gonzalez to the Marlins on Tuesday, five days after designating him for assignment.

The Phillies will receive a player to be named later or cash.

Gonzalez was DFA'd on Jan. 19 to make room for outfielder Michael Saunders. 

Gonzalez pitched in 34 games for the Phillies in 2015 and 2016, starting seven. All told, he had a 6.68 ERA in 66 innings.

The 24-year-old from Panama has had excellent command numbers throughout his minor-league career, with 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings compared to 1.9 walks. But he's been a bit overmatched in the majors, especially as a starter, rarely exceeding the low-90s with his fastball.

The Phillies moved Gonzalez to the bullpen full-time last spring after adding depth to their starting pitching staff. He was successful at Reading and Lehigh Valley, posting a 2.93 ERA in 21 appearances, and though he struggled in the majors out of the Phils' 'pen, he showed a better fastball when being used as a reliever. Gonzalez's heater, which averaged 89.2 mph as a starter in 2015, rose to 93.5 mph as a reliever in 2016.

Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

usa-yordano-ventura-andy-marte-crash.jpg
USA Today Images

Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Yordano Ventura quit school as a teenager so he could begin working a construction job to help his family make ends meet, laboring day after day in the hot sun of the Dominican Republic.

It was a chance tryout with the Kansas City Royals that changed the trajectory of his life.

Yordano wowed scouts with an electrifying fastball, the best they had seen in years, and a confident demeanor that bordered on brash and arrogant. And both of those traits served him well as he rocketed to the major leagues, helped the Royals win a long-awaited World Series championship in 2015, and became one of the most popular players in a city that embraced baseball one again.

Ventura, whose nickname "Ace" fit so perfectly, died Sunday in a car crash on a stretch of highway near the town of San Adrian in his native Dominican Republic. He was 25.

"Our team and our organization is hurting deeply," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It's certainly something that puts everything into strong perspective, and challenges us all to never grow tired or weary or cease to do what is right, and loving others. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.

"We loved Yordano," Moore said. "We loved his heart, we loved who he was as a teammate, a friend. He was somebody that challenged us all and made us better and I'm going to miss him."

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a stretch of highway 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo, the nation's capital. Mateo did not say whether Ventura was driving.

He's the second young star pitcher to die in past four months. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was 24 when he was killed along with two other men in a boating accident near Miami Beach in late September.

Also Sunday, former major league infielder Andy Marte died in a separate car accident in the Dominican Republic. Metropolitan traffic authorities said he died about 95 miles north of the capital.

"I was traveling to the airport this morning and I got a phone call wanting to know if I'd heard about Yordano, and I thought they meant Marte," Moore said. "My first thought was, `Were they together?'

"Then shortly afterwards, I got a call from Major League Baseball confirming this tragedy."

The Dominican Republic has the second-highest traffic-related death rate in the world -- officials there believe alcohol, speed and a blatant disregard for traffic laws is to blame. Oscar Taveras, Jose Oliva, Rufino Linares and Jose Uribe are among players who have died in crashes in the country.

It wasn't known whether Ventura had been drinking or speeding at the time of his accident.

Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, a fellow Dominican whom Ventura called his hero, posted pictures of Ventura and Marte on Twitter and said, "Guys, the only way we can pay tribute to you, is by reflecting on the adjustments we all have to make in this game called life."

Moore speaks frequently with Latin American players about dangers of returning home, including driving on the perilous roads.

"I'm more intentional about it to the point where it probably goes in one ear and out the other," Moore said, "but we're constantly discussing these things."

The Royals lowered flags at Kauffman Stadium to half-staff Sunday, and displayed Ventura's photograph on the large, crown-shaped scoreboard in centerfield of the empty ballpark. Fans were leaving flowers, hats and other mementos within hours of learning of his death.

Royals teammates learned the news in a text chain and took to Twitter to share their sorrow.

"I love you my brother. I'm in disbelief and don't know what to say," first baseman Eric Hosmer said.

Third baseman Mike Moustakas also expressed disbelief, tweeting: "I love you Ace. I don't know what to say other than I'm going to miss you a lot. RIP ACE."

Ventura will be buried Tuesday in the Dominican Republic. Moore, manager Ned Yost and other members of the Royals are planning to attend.

Before his start in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, Ventura paid tribute to Taveras, his close friend and countryman who had been killed days earlier in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Ventura wrote "RIP O.T (hash)18" on his hat and also wrote messages on his glove, cleats and the mound before shutting out San Francisco for seven innings in a win.

"If he was still here, I would for sure be talking to him, and Oscar would be very happy for me," Ventura said afterward. "Oscar was a very humble guy and very likable, and I'm going to miss him a lot."

Ventura signed a $23 million, five-year deal with the Royals shortly before he started on opening day in 2015. He then helped them bounce back from their loss to the Giants in Game 7 by returning to the World Series and beating the New York Mets in five games for their first crown since 1985.

The right-hander went 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA last season, and his fiery demeanor was never more evident than when he hit Orioles star Manny Machado with a fastball to trigger a brawl. Ventura was suspended nine games for the pitch, though it was cut to eight on appeal.

In a surreal coincidence, the 33-year-old Marte played his final game in the big leagues for Arizona on Aug. 6, 2014. Ventura started that game for Kansas City.

"Today is a very sad day for our entire game and particularly for the many loyal fans in the Dominican Republic, the home of both Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

Said players' union head Tony Clark: "It's never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and there are no words to describe the feeling of losing two young men in the prime of their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends, teammates and fans throughout the United States and Latin America."

Moore said he spoke to Miami general manager Mike Hill early Sunday, in part because Moore admired the grace and heart in which the Marlins organization dealt with Fernandez's death.

It wasn't certain whether Fernandez was driving the boat when it crashed on Sept. 25. He had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.147, above Florida's legal limit of 0.08, according to autopsy reports released by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office.

"That was one of the first things that came to mind when I began to figure out how we were going to process this," Moore said. "Mike was able to provide some insight. Just give me some comfort, really."

Ventura wound up pitching his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.

Born June 3, 1991, in Samana, Dominican Republic, Ventura was a true rags-to-riches story. He quit school at 14 and was laboring on a construction crew to support his family when he heard about a tryout, which led to a spot in the Royals' academy located on his picturesque island home.

Still, the odds were long that Ventura would ever make it to the big leagues. Very few players from the Dominican academies reached the pinnacle of the sport.

But over time, Ventura was able to harness one of the most electric fastballs that scouts had seen in years, and his headstrong and confident nature was essential to his rapid rise. He made his debut to great fanfare in 2013, allowing just one run again Cleveland in a sign of things to come.

He eventually became a cornerstone of a youth movement that included young stars such as Hosmer and Moustakas, one that carried the Royals first to respectability, then to the top of the American League.

He was 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, and helped the Royals reach the World Series for the first time in nearly three decades. Then he helped to lead them back to the Fall Classic in 2015, this time completing the job on a crisp night in New York.

"He always had a zest for life, an innocence about the game, a freshness, a fearlessness," Moore said, his voice cracking. "He was a very compassionate human being, loved to compete, no doubt challenged us, but that made us better. Nobody could ever doubt how much he cared about his teammates, how much he cared about the fans, and how much he loved to compete and to pitch."