Relievers' pivotal eighth inning ensures Phillies' win


Relievers' pivotal eighth inning ensures Phillies' win


Carlos Ruiz pumped his fist once toward pitcher Jeremy Horst, and dashed back to the dugout as if he was part of a big prank and that he couldn’t believe he got away with it.

Perhaps as a result of the Phillies’ 6-2 victory over the hard-hitting Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay), maybe they did get away with something.

Horst fired just four pitches — all fastballs — to escape a first-and-third jam in the eighth inning with a strikeout against the Indians. As a result, Horst was the unlikely setup man in manager Charlie Manuel’s patchwork maneuvering of the bullpen. With regular setup man Mike Adams unavailable because of back spasms for the second straight game, Manuel needed three pitchers to get the three outs in the inning.

It came together brilliantly.

Antonio Bastardo faced the first three batters in the eighth, allowing a leadoff triple to Asdrubal Cabrera and a walk to Carlos Santana sandwiched around a strikeout against cleanup hitter Nick Swisher.

With runners at the corners and one out, Manuel turned to righty Justin De Fratus in his second outing of the season after throwing six pitches for the win in his debut last Sunday in Arizona. On Tuesday against slugger Mark Reynolds, De Fratus threw two fastballs. One was a strike and the other was a broken-bat pop out for the second out.

De Fratus gave way to Horst and four pitches later, Ruiz was grinning and running away from the batting circle after an inning-ending strikeout. In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies added a pair of runs to ensure that rookie Jonathan Pettibone picked up his third straight win in five starts.

Pettibone is the first Phillies starting pitcher to begin his career 3-0 since Randy Wolf went 5-0 before his first loss in 1999.

Regardless, Pettibone doesn’t get that third win if it wasn’t for the work in the eighth inning from the bullpen. Better yet, in a big spot of the game, the much-maligned Phils' relievers stepped into a crucial spot and came through.

“Those are the spots you want to pitch in as a reliever,” De Fratus said. “You just go out there and attack the zone and hope for the best.”

For a relief corps that entered the game with a 4.00 ERA, an opponents’ batting average that ranked 12th in the National League and the worst success rate with inherited runners, the eighth inning was a true confidence builder.

So with Adams unavailable, Manuel said he leaned on the matchups when deciding which pitcher to use in the eighth. Considering De Fratus has faced only one player on the Indians in the big leagues and Horst retired Brantley two weeks ago in Cleveland, those were Manuel’s best options.

Though the sample size was miniscule, the amount of confidence gained was immeasurable.

“We got the guys some experience and if they do the job, we build their confidence, too,” Manuel said. “That’s not bad.”

That was especially the case for De Fratus, who was making just his 20th big-league appearance and just his second appearance in a game that wasn’t played in September or October. To step in a situation with runners on first and third to face the hitter leading the American League in homers was no small feat.

That is if De Fratus was even thinking about whom he was facing when he reared back and gave Reynolds heat.

“The plan there knowing we never faced each other is to go out there and give him a good heater and see if he sees me,” De Fratus said. “Then I’d throw pitches off of that. So based on the first pitch I felt confident enough to come back with the heater.”

De Fratus needed just two of them to splinter Reynolds’ bat.

“The goal is to go out there and get outs and preserve the lead,” De Fratus said. “But it’s definitely a cool feeling to go out there in the eighth inning in a tight situation against a big-time hitter. It’s a lot of fun and I hope to get the chance to do it again.”

Depending on when Adams is next available, De Fratus could find himself back in another tight spot soon. In two appearances, the right-hander has thrown eight pitches for two outs and already has a win and a hold.

Talk about efficiency.

Meanwhile, the Phillies showed a bit of offense in holding off the Indians. Kevin Frandsen opened the game with a homer in the first inning and the Phillies tacked on two more to take the lead they would never relinquish with John Mayberry’s two-run double in the fourth.

Domonic Brown slugged a solo homer (his seventh) in the sixth before Mayberry singled home an insurance run in the eighth and came around to score on Freddy Galvis’ two-out single just three batters later.

The Phillies go for the sweep of the mini-series on Wednesday afternoon when Cole Hamels (1-5, 4.18) faces righty Cory Kluber (2-2, 5.64).

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).