NLCS: Cards crush Dodgers to reach World Series

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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-Nationals 5 things: Crucial night for struggling Jake Thompson

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Crucial night for struggling Jake Thompson

Phillies (60-70) vs. Nationals (75-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

After salvaging the weekend series at Citi Field against the Mets with a win Sunday, the Phillies move on to face the NL East-leading Nationals for three games at home. 

Let's take a look at the series opener:

1. East Coast bias
The Phillies' series against the Mets was the first of five straight series against division opponents. The Phils have a total of 16 straight games vs. NL East teams through Sept. 12.

They host the Nationals and Braves this week, then have three in Miami and four in D.C. next week. 

Of the 32 remaining games on the Phillies' schedule, only six are against teams outside the NL East. The Pirates come to town for four games Sept. 12-16 and the White Sox are at Citizens Bank Park for a two-game series Sept. 20-21.

Overall, the Phillies have mostly held their own against the NL East this season, going 23-27. They're 8-5 against the Braves, 6-7 vs. the Marlins, 5-7 vs. the Mets and 4-8 vs. the Nationals. 

Despite trailing the Marlins by seven games, the Phils' division record is one game better.

2. Important night for Thompson
All eyes will be on Jake Thompson Monday night in his fifth major-league start. The first four have been disastrous, with Thompson going 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA. He's allowed 35 baserunners and 21 runs in 19⅓ innings. He's walked 13 and struck out 13.

A consistent theme in Thompson's first four starts has been an inability to get hitters out with men on base. His opponents have a .386 on-base percentage, three homers, two doubles and a triple in 45 plate appearances with men on base. Thompson just hasn't been able to throw strike one out of the stretch.

After Thompson's last start, Phils manager Pete Mackanin said that he'd talk with GM Matt Klentak about the plan the rest of the season for Thompson. Nobody wants to see the 22-year-old pitching prospect go out there and get shelled every fifth day. It could do some long-term damage to his confidence. Hitters and pitchers are different in that way. A 22-year-old position player can come up and try to correct his mistakes on a nightly basis. A 22-year-old pitcher who comes up and struggles has to sit and think about it for four nights before having an opportunity to bounce back.

The Nationals are another tough offense so this could be another short night for Thompson. Washington is second in the NL in home runs and in the top-four in runs, walks, OBP and slugging percentage. And the Nats have been hot in August, hitting .287 with an .817 OPS as a team.

3. Underrated Roark
The Phillies face 29-year-old Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark, who's had an excellent season, going 13-7 with a 2.99 ERA in 168⅓ innings.

Roark had a solid year in 2014, going 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, but was moved to the bullpen last season when the Nats lengthened their rotation by signing Max Scherzer. Roark, perhaps undeservedly so, was the odd man out. But after doing what he's done this season, he won't be demoted again any time soon.

Roark has shut the Phillies down three times this season, going seven innings in all three starts and allowing no runs in two of them. Roark is actually tied for the MLB lead with Jake Arrieta with seven games of seven-plus innings and no runs. 

Roark has approached the Phillies differently each time he's faced them this season. In the first start, he threw a ton of sinkers and mixed in curveballs and changeups. In the next start, he tripled his usage of the slider and threw fewer sinkers. In the third start, he doubled the frequency of four-seam fastballs. 

His heater averages about 93 mph.

4. Harper heating up
Bryce Harper broke out last year and won an MVP, then hit to start this season before going into a lengthy slump. His numbers are still nowhere near where they were at this time in 2015, but he is finally on a hot streak.

Over his last 20 games dating back to July 31, Harper has hit .342/.433/.579 with seven doubles, a triple, three homers and 18 RBIs. On the year, he's hitting .254/.387/.471 with 23 homers and 74 RBIs. He had 81 extra-base hits last season and has 43 this season.

Harper is still being pitched around. He has 92 walks and 89 strikeouts. He leads the majors with 16 intentional walks. 

He's destroyed the Phillies the last two seasons, hitting .341 with 11 homers, 24 RBIs, 24 walks and 24 strikeouts in 27 games.

5. This and that
• Cesar Hernandez has hit .345 with a .417 on-base percentage over his last 230 plate appearances, but also has a .478 slugging percentage over that span. He's given the Phillies pretty much everything from an offensive perspective for more than two months.

• It's incredible that Hector Neris has made a National League-leading 65 appearances this season, 31 with the Phillies leading by between 1-3 runs, and has just two blown saves. (Keep in mind a pitcher is given a blown save even if he appears earlier than the ninth inning. Setup men often have a handful or more.)

• Neris has 84 strikeouts. Based on his current pace, he's projected to finish with 105, which would be second-most ever by a Phillies reliever. Dick Selma had 153 in 1970, albeit in about 50 more innings than Neris will finish with.

• Daniel Murphy does not stop. He's hitting .343/.387/.607 in his first year with the Nats with 37 doubles, 25 homers and 98 RBIs. 

Tales of Carlos Ruiz’s generosity still coming out of Phillies' clubhouse

Tales of Carlos Ruiz’s generosity still coming out of Phillies' clubhouse

NEW YORK — A.J. Ellis started (and starred in) his first game for the Phillies on Sunday afternoon (see game recap).
 
Carlos Ruiz has already been in the Dodgers’ lineup.
 
Initial reactions to the swap of backup catchers on Thursday has subsided, but there are still anecdotes worth sharing as it pertains to Ruiz’s impact in the Phillies’ clubhouse.
 
Here are a couple, compliments of Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis.
 
According to Franco, Ruiz viewed it as his responsibility to help young Latin players learn the ropes in the big leagues.
 
When Franco, a native of the Dominican Republic, came to the big leagues for the first time two years ago, Ruiz, from Panama, immediately reached out to him. Franco was just 22. Ruiz was 35 and had eight major-league seasons on his résumé and a World Series ring on his finger.
 
The Phillies were on a road trip and Ruiz told Franco to meet him in the hotel lobby one morning. They got in a cab and ended up at a stylish mall where Ruiz proceeded to purchase Franco some road attire — a suit, some nice shirts and a couple of ties.
 
“It was a beautiful thing he did for me,” Franco said. “Chooch was so good to me. I will never forget that day.
 
“The day he got traded, I called him. He had trouble talking because he was emotional. He almost cried. That boy is different. He’s special.
 
“I still have the suit. It is even more special now.”
 
Galvis also felt the warmth of Ruiz’s generosity.
 
He unexpectedly made the big club out of spring training in 2012 as a fill-in for injured Chase Utley.
 
There’s a lot of learning in your first season in the majors. Ruiz became Galvis’ tour guide.
 
“Every time we went to a new ballpark, he made sure to go with me on the first day so I would know where the entrance was, how to get to the clubhouse, things like that,” Galvis said. “He was always looking out for you.”
 
When Galvis broke camp with the club, he told Galvis, ‘You’re in the major leagues, you have to look good.’
 
“He took me out and bought me four suits, eight shirts and eight ties,” Galvis said with wide eyes.
 
That’s better than Franco did.
 
“Well, I was the only young guy on the team at that time,” Galvis said. “Chooch was good to me. That’s why I was sad to see him go, but also happy because he has a chance to win another World Series.”
 
Galvis, from Venezuela, and Ruiz were like brothers. At the all-star break in 2015, Galvis traveled to Panama with Ruiz for a few days of R&R.
 
In January, Galvis is planning to travel back to Panama. Ruiz and his wife are expecting a child.
 
“I am going to be the godfather,” Galvis said proudly.

New York team brings home Little League World Series championship

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USA Today Images

New York team brings home Little League World Series championship

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- As Ryan Harlost stepped to the mound on Sunday, he took it all in.

Chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A!" droned over his left shoulder as he dipped it to deliver a warm-up pitch. South Korean arms and flags waved furiously to his right. Little kids who asked for his autograph earlier in the week used makeshift sleds to slide down the hill toward most of the 22,000-plus fans who packed Lamade Stadium.

The Endwell, New York, pitcher admitted it made him uneasy. He sure didn't show it.

Harlost led New York to the Little League World Series title, striking out eight and limiting South Korea to five hits in six innings in a 2-1 victory. He scored the deciding run on a passed ball in the fourth inning.

"I was a little nervous at first in front of a lot of people but it's just another game and I felt confident going in," Harlost said.

But it was more than just another game.

Endwell snapped a five-year championship drought for U.S. teams on Little League's biggest stage and gave New York its first title since 1964. Huntington Beach, California, won in 2011 and Mid Island from Staten Island won New York's last World Series championship.

Conner Rush had the New York team's only RBI to give Endwell a lead it wouldn't relinquish in the bottom of the fourth. Harlost (2-0) scored the deciding run on a passed ball a batter later.

"I was just thinking get it in play any way you can," Rush said. "Once that happens, you never know what can happen."

For a while, it didn't look like New York hitters would be able to hit anything.

Junho Jeong (1-2) gave up two runs on four hits and struck out nine for South Korea (4-2). He was unflappable for most of the afternoon, working the outside of the plate masterfully for 3 1/3 innings of no-hit ball before Jude Abbadessa broke through in the fourth.

Waking to the plate as Endwell fans along the first base side bellowed "Juuude!" Abbadessa broke up the righty's no-hit bid with a single to center. Harlost followed with a liner to the same spot and Rush plated the go-ahead run with a hit that fell in behind the shortstop. Harlost raced home to give New York a 2-0 lead one batter later.

"It's just been amazing," Abbadessa said. "Just coming here would be amazing and then our team doing well is even more amazing. It's been fun the whole week and we're glad that it turned out this way."

Yoomin Lee homered for the Asia-Pacific champs from Seoul to halve New York's lead in the fifth. Harlost's precision and a stingy New York defense prevented further damage.

In the second, right fielder James Fellows made a running grab at the warning track to rob Sangheon Park of an extra base hit. With a runner on first an inning later, Harlost snagged a hard-hit liner at the mound, tossed to first to get the putout and escape the third unscathed.

Later in the fifth after Yoomin's blast halved the score, Abbadessa scooped up a grounder that took an awkward bounce and threw to first for final out of the inning.

"The Mid-Atlantic team is a really good defensive team," South Korean manager Heesu Ji said. "I'm really proud of my team."

Minho Choi struck out with runners on first and second to end the game.

Harlost turned toward his dugout on the first-base side but didn't make it there as his teammates rushed out to dogpile on him near the base line.

Most of New York's players had been on other teams together before. More than half of them were on the team that fell to last year's World Series runner-up Red Land in the Mid-Atlantic Region Championship, leaving them one win shy of qualifying for a trip to South Williamsport.

"It was all of our last years of Little League," Rush said. "So it's just awesome to know that we all came together to be the best team in the world."