October 11, 2016
Confounding just about everyone's expectations, the Cleveland Indians completed their sweep of the Boston Red Sox last night, leaving the fans in Fenway Park dazed and confused. How could this happen? Well, the Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz only had a 8-10 record this year, and in the fourth inning he gave up a two-run single to Tyler Naquin that gave the Indians the lead for good. The Red Sox rallied in the bottom of the eighth to close the deficit to just 4-3, but Xander Bogaerts hit a hard line drive right to the second baseman to end the inning. The Red Sox put two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth, but Travis Shaw hit a fly ball out to end the game -- and the Red Sox postseason dreams.
Perhaps more importantly, this marked the end of an era in baseball that will be remembered for a long time. David Ortiz was loudly cheered when he was replaced by a pinch-runner during the eighth-inning rally, and he came back onto the field after the game was over to issue a tearful farewell to his adoring Boston fans. What a moment to remember! "Big Papi" is almost guaranteed entry into the Hall of Fame, even though most of his career was as a designated hitter.
So the Cleveland Indians will host the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on [Friday]. It's the second ALCS in a row for the Blue Jays, and the first ALCS for the Indians since 2007, when they lost to the eventual World Champion Boston Red Sox. Neither Cleveland nor Toronto was considered a top contender back in mid-season, which reminds you that in baseball, as in life in general, the future is never a sure thing.
After the big victory on Sunday, Nats fans were cautiously hopeful, but not many of them expected the eight-run outburst unleashed by their batters in Dodger Stadium yesterday afternoon. In the pivotal confrontation with the Dodgers, the Nationals rose to the occasion, inspired by the clutch hitting and dauntless leadership of Jayson Werth. (He actually started his career as a Dodger before joining the Phillies.) For the third game in a row, the Los Angeles team took a 1-0 lead in the first inning thanks to Corey Seager. But this time it was from an RBI double rather than a home run. After that, the Nats' starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (a left-hander) did pretty well. The Nats put together a big rally in the third inning, starting with a single by Trea Turner, then an RBI double by Werth, then an RBI single by Bryce Harper, and finally a two-run homer by Anthony Rendon. Unlike his recent shaky outings, this time Gio Gonzalez did not give the lead right back to the opposing team. But when Carlos Ruiz hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning, shrinking the Nats' lead to just one run (4-3), Dusty Baker replaced Gio with Sammy Solis, who gave up a walk but no runs.
After that came Oliver Perez, and Shawn Kelley, and all of them performed superbly. In the three NLDS games thus far, the Nats bullpen has pitched 14 innings without giving up a single run. That is much, much better than most observers expected of Washington's relief pitchers at the beginning of the season. In the top of the ninth, Jayson Werth led off with a tremendous home run (estimated at 450 feet) high up into the left-center bleachers, stunning the Dodgers' closing pitcher Kenley Jansen. He was obviously not used to pitching with the other team ahead, as he proceeded to allow two more base-runners, at which point Ryan Zimmerman smashed a two-run double to the top of the right field fence. Another couple feet, and it would have been a home run, but it might have been just a long out if Josh Reddick had judged it better. Zimmerman then scored on a sac fly to make the score 8-3, and Mark Melancon got the Dodgers out 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth to seal the spectacular victory. For more details, see MLB.com.
As the Nats go for a series win in Dodger Stadium this afternoon, it marks the first time they have enjoyed a 2-1 postseason series lead. In 2012 they won NLDS Game 1 against the Cardinals in St. Louis, even though they had supposed home field advantage (it's complicated), then they lost the next two as well as Game 5. In  they lost the first two games against the Giants, wasting their home field advantage, then won Game 3 in San Francisco before being eliminated in Game 4. Thus far in postseason play, the Nats are 2-5 at home and 3-2 on the road. Hmmm...
Further up the coast in California, the San Francisco Giants were fighting for their lives hosting the Chicago Cubs in NLDS Game 3. It was yet another unbelievable saga that tested the mettle of players, and fans as well. The Cubs' ace pitcher Jake Arrieta shocked everybody by hitting a three-run homer to left field in the top of the second inning. The Giants scored two runs over the next three innings, while the Cubs' slugging crew fell curiously silent. Were they getting complacent? Then in the bottom of the eighth inning, their manager Joe Maddon, often regarded as a baseball genius, put their closing pitcher Aroldis Chapman on the mound. Chapman was not accustomed to pitching before the ninth inning, and he not only failed to hold the one-run lead, he let the Giants take the lead, 5-3. Things seemed pretty bleak for the Cubs, but then Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth, sending the game into extra innings. The Cubs wasted a chance to score in the top of the 13th inning, and that failure cost them dearly as Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik hit consecutive doubles to end the game in astounding walk-off fashion. So, there will be a Game 4 this evening!
(True confession: Since it was after midnight here in the east, I fell asleep soon after the Giants took the 5-3 lead in the eighth inning, and when I woke up about an hour later, the score was tied 5-5 in the top of the 11th inning. What the heck had happened??? )