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Rays finally close lid on Astros to earn World Series berth



It took them long enough, but the Tampa Bay Rays finally closed the lid on the Houston Astros in the ALCS Saturday night with a 4-2 Game 7 victory.

Of course, it didn’t have to be like this. The Rays were up 3-0 in the series and flirted with a historic collapse by allowing the Astros to force a seventh game in the first place. But that short sells a talented Houston club that, trash cans or not, is far from an easy playoff out.

The Astros actually out-hit the Rays, 59-44, in the series and were only outscored by three cumulative runs over the seven games. They brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning of Game 7 and were truly only an errant throw, a booted ball, or a wild pitch away from a different result in any of their four losses.

But that’s the maddening thing about playing the Rays — they don’t beat themselves. They pitch phenomenally, they play crisp defence, and they’re managed with a deft touch. Whichever team they contest the World Series with will be in for a tough test.

The Rays and the rest of us will learn that opponent Sunday night. For now, here are your takeaways from a tightly played game which served a suiting end to a suspenseful series.

Randy stays hot

Entering Game 7, Randy Arozarena was already the breakout star of the post-season. Then, a dozen pitches into the bottom half of the first inning, he went and did this:

That was Arozarena’s seventh homer of these playoffs, setting an MLB record for most by a rookie. And only three players — Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltran, and Nelson Cruz — have ever hit eight in a single post-season.

It also gave the Cuban outfielder 21 hits since the playoffs started, putting him just one back of Derek Jeter for the most by a rookie in a single post-season. At this rate, it’ll be shocking if that record doesn’t fall sometime early in the World Series. Just another October night for the ALCS MVP.

Big game Charlie

When the Astros won the 2017 World Series with a 5-1 Game 7 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lance McCullers Jr. threw the first 2.1 innings of the game, while Charlie Morton threw the final four. Three years later, they were both back on the mound in the seventh game of a post-season series — except this time they were starting for opposite teams.

Morton departed the Astros as a free agent after the 2018 season, signing a two-year, $30-million contract with the Rays that looks like an absolute bargain in hindsight. Morton’s made 42 starts since, pitching to a 3.33 ERA and 2.92 FIP with sparkling 10.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, and 0.7 HR/9 peripherals.

And he’s been even better in the post-season, allowing only two earned runs over 20 innings spread between four playoff starts the last two seasons. So why would Saturday’s Game 7 be any different?

Morton was on an absolute mission, allowing only a Michael Brantley single over his first five innings, cruising into the sixth on just 49 pitches. He didn’t face a three-ball count until that inning, having retired 13 of the first 17 hitters he faced on three pitches or fewer.

He did it with a steady stream of curveballs, sinkers, cutters and four-seamers, constantly mixing and matching while living on the plate. Morton didn’t get much swing-and-miss, but he didn’t need it, as the Astros either stared flummoxed at perfectly located strikes on the black or put soft contact into play for Tampa’s elite defence to vacuum up.

But the Rays are still the Rays. So, with two runners on and two out in the sixth inning, and Morton not having allowed a ball out of the infield in the frame, manager Kevin Cash came to get him at only 66 pitches. Morton might have had the stuff to get through nine. But it was game 7. And the Rays had a plan.

A lot from Lance

Having stretched their bullpen thin just to reach this position, the Astros needed a lengthy outing from McCullers, who went seven innings during his Game 2 start earlier in the series.

But the Rays knew that, too. And their early-innings approach couldn’t have been better as they doggedly worked deep counts, refusing to chase curveballs off the plate while running up McCullers’ pitch count. The Rays forced him to throw 30 pitches in the first inning, and 20 more in the second. It’s tough to pitch deep into a ball game when your pitch count is surpassing 60 in the third.

McCullers nevertheless proved tricky to square up, locating curveballs, changeups and sinkers for called strikes, while getting swing-and-miss beneath the zone. But when he made mistakes, the Rays capitalized. There was Arozarena’s bomb in the first. And then there was this hanging curveball to Mike Zunino in the second:

You can see it all in McCullers’ body language as the ball comes off Zunino’s bat. It was an absolute bomb, hit 430-feet over the left field wall. That there was no one on base at the time is the only solace McCullers could take from it.

It had to be a frustrating outing through and through, as McCullers was featuring nasty stuff but paid the price for a couple missed locations and never settled into a groove. Ultimately, his inefficiency led to an early hook, as Dusty Baker came to get him with two out in the fourth inning, just as he was about to complete his second trip through the Rays lineup. McCullers gave his best argument for staying in, but the veteran Astros manager wasn’t hearing it.

A bullpen advantage

By the sixth inning, it was up to the bullpens. And that’s exactly what the Rays wanted. The Astros had to lean on leverage relief over the previous three games, as they fought tooth and nail to stay alive in the series. Ryan Pressly had pitched in three consecutive games; Andre Scrubb and Blake Taylor had pitched in two straight; and Chris Javier had thrown long outings in two of the last three.

The Rays, meanwhile, had Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, and Ryan Thompson all rested and ready to go, not to mention Diego Castillo, who was available after throwing just 14 pitches in Game 6. As soon as the starters were done, it was advantage Rays.

And that bore fruit immediately, as the Rays tacked on a run in the sixth off Jose Urquidy to go up by four. Meanwhile, Anderson got four outs behind Morton to carry the Rays’ shutout into the eighth. But then things got a little dicey.

Anderson put a couple runners on with two out, turning things over to Fairbanks, who couldn’t find the zone, walking Michael Brantley on four pitches to load the bases. The next pitch he threw — one of those 91-m.p.h. sliders that are somehow becoming normal in today’s game — ended up in right field off Carlos Correa’s bat, plating a couple.

But the nice thing about being Pete Fairbanks is you can throw a baseball 100-m.p.h., which he did on three of four pitches to Alex Bregman, striking out the Astros third baseman to end the inning.

Back out for the ninth, Fairbanks struck out a batter, gave up a single, struck out another, and finished it with a fly ball to right. Job done. Series done. The Rays had a plan and, as usual, it worked.

Odds and ends

• This was just a miserable post-season for Yuli Gurriel, who went 5-for-44, including 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position. In his second-last plate appearance of the ALCS, Gurriel hit into a double play on this absolute cookie:

• The Rays defended masterfully all series long, combining perfect positioning with instincts and athleticism to rob the Astros of hit after hit. This ridiculous play by Willy Adames will get lost in the shuffle but deserves to be appreciated:

• Jose Altuve’s 2020 was easily the worst offensive season of his career. But there’s no arguing with what he did in the playoffs, going 18-for-48 with five homers and hits in 10 of Houston’s 13 games. He’s now a .303/.376/.566 career hitter in 63 post-season games.

• Rays starter Tyler Glasnow was throwing off the bullpen mound throughout the eighth and ninth innings, staying ready to enter the game if things went sideways. They didn’t, which means he ought to be in line to start Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday against either the Atlanta Braves or Los Angeles Dodgers.


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Dodgers cement legacies by finally capturing elusive World Series title –



Back in February, when the Los Angeles Dodgers first reported to spring training, they had ambitious goals for the year ahead. They had come close to winning it all over the years, only to lose time after time in the playoffs. But by adding Mookie Betts to a team that had won eight division titles in a row, they had legitimate World Series aspirations once again.

Well, it’s happened, just not in the way anyone anticipated. The COVID-19 pandemic shortened the regular season to 60 games, but the Dodgers still had the best record in baseball at 43-17. Playoff wins over Milwaukee, San Diego and Atlanta followed, setting up a World Series matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays.

It took six pitching changes and nearly four hours, but the Dodgers beat the Rays 3-1 Tuesday to defeat the Rays in six games. Now, the Dodgers are World Series champions for the first time since 1988. At long last, it’s time for Clayton Kershaw & Co. to celebrate.

As the champagne starts flowing in Texas, here are some observations from a tightly-contested Game 6…

Legacies on the line

Year after year, the Dodgers have been in the playoffs and year after year they’ve been eliminated – often in painful fashion. If any player has carried the weight of those losses, it’s been Kershaw. And Dave Roberts, the team’s manager since 2016, has faced plenty of criticism of his own.

This year, Kershaw went a long way toward silencing his critics, capping off a stellar month of pitching with a 2.31 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 11.2 innings in the World Series. And while no manager escapes second guessing altogether, Roberts should be able to breathe a little easier now that he has led the Dodgers to a championship.

Also deserving of recognition is Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations whose front office sets the standard for combining financial might with player development and acquisition. Along with expensive veterans like Kershaw and Justin Turner, the Dodgers have a pipeline of young players such as Will Smith, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Julio Urias. They don’t part with that young talent often, but when they do, it’s for good reason – the Betts trade, for instance.

Now, they’re all World Series champs. With a talented young core in place more championships may be on the way, but as the Dodgers know all too well, talent is no guarantee of rings in baseball. Regardless, they’ve each accomplished something meaningful.

Meanwhile, the Rays deserve credit for an impressive season of their own. They won their second AL pennant in franchise history, took the Dodgers to a sixth game and enjoyed the continued breakout of Randy Arozarena. For now, though, this loss just stings.

An early hook backfires

Blake Snell was dealing Tuesday, with a fastball that topped out at 98 m.p.h. and three breaking pitches that kept Dodgers hitters guessing. Through five innings, he had allowed just one hit while striking out nine. Better still, he was relatively fresh after throwing just 69 pitches.

But when Austin Barnes hit a one-out single in the sixth inning, the top of the Dodgers’ lineup was coming to the plate and Rays manager Kevin Cash went to his bullpen. Nick Anderson promptly surrendered a double to Betts, threw a wild pitch that allowed Barnes to score and allowed an RBI fielder’s choice to Seager. With that, the Dodgers had a 2-1 lead and the second guessing began. Should Snell have stayed in the game?

Whether Snell would have fared better than Anderson is an open question, of course. Like most pitchers, Snell’s numbers deteriorate the second and third times through the order. In 2020, he didn’t complete six innings a single time. Plus, it was Cash’s stated intention to build an early lead then hand the ball to the bullpen. Within that context, the decision to pull Snell was reasonable.

But any plan can fail, even one as seemingly sound as handing the ball over to a pitcher with a 0.55 ERA. In this case, the Rays’ best intentions were no match for the Dodgers’ lineup, setting up ‘what ifs’ for years to come.

An early hook pays off

While Snell certainly had a case for staying in the game a little longer, his outing feels like a throwback compared to that of his counterpart, Tony Gonsolin. Roberts had the bullpen up in the first inning and pulled Gonsolin in the second after just five outs.

From there, six relievers combined to close out the win: Dylan Floro, Alex Wood, Pedro Baez, Victor Gonzalez, Brusdar Graterol and Urias. Wood was effective in the middle innings, with two scoreless, hitless frames, and Urias dominated at the end.

The pitchers themselves deserve the most credit, of course, but don’t forget about Roberts, whose bullpen management has often been questioned as the Dodgers have been eliminated year after year. This time, far fewer critics will be second guessing his work.

Turner positive prompts questions for MLB

It was revealed after the game that Turner left Game 6 because he tested positive for COVID-19. Now the diagnosis raises the question of whether others in the organization have been exposed to the virus, especially since Turner was on the field for some of the Dodgers’ post-game celebrations despite the positive test.

In one way, MLB caught a lucky break with the Dodgers’ Game 6 win. What would have happened in Game 7 if others had been exposed? But the positive test for Turner also serves as a reminder of how thin the margins for error were all season long. As MLB prepares for the 2021 season, there’s plenty more work to be done on this front to ensure the health of players, staff and fans.

Even more history for Arozarena

With his first-inning home run off of Gonsolin, Arozarena became the first player in baseball history to homer 10 times in a single post-season. With each home run that he hit, Arozarena’s month became more impressive…

• Arozarena became the first rookie in 81 years to hit three homers in a World Series. Before him, outfielder Charlie Keller of the 1939 Yankees was the last one to do it, and while Keller’s accomplishments have mostly been forgotten, those three homers were a sign of what was to come. Over the course of the next decade, Keller would hit .281/.406/.521, make five all-star teams and average 30 home runs and 109 RBIs per 162 games played.

• Arozarena now has more playoff home runs than regular season home runs (seven in 2020, eight for his career).

• He has more playoff home runs than anyone on the team that traded him hit during the entire 2020 regular season. After trading Arozarena and Jose Martinez for prospects Matthew Liberatore and Edgardo Rodriguez on January 9, the Cardinals had very little power in their lineup this year. Outfielder Tyler O’Neill and infielder Brad Miller tied for the team lead in homers with seven apiece.

• Though he’s now a household name, Arozarena could still be named Rookie of the Year in 2021. In fact, at this point, he has to be considered the favourite.

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Canadiens add Toffoli, Anderson, Edmundson to take next step –



After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2020-21 regular season, which is targeted to start Jan. 1. Today, the Montreal Canadiens:

The Montreal Canadiens weren’t shy about revamping their roster following a surprise appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They agreed to a four-year contract with free agent forward Tyler Toffoli, a four-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL; traded for forward Josh Anderson, defenseman Joel Edmundson and goalie Jake Allen; and agreed to a six-year extension with forward Brendan Gallagher on Oct. 14 that prevented him from becoming an unrestricted free agent after this season.

“We put a team on the ice that we believe is going to be competing better than it was last year,” general manager Marc Bergevin said. “The backup goalie (behind Carey Price) was important for us. Overall, I think getting a big power forward was important (Anderson is 6-foot-3, 222 pounds). I think some goal scoring was also important, and bringing a defenseman with size and grit (Edmundson is 6-4, 215) that can eat some big minutes was also important.”

[RELATED: Complete Team Reset coverage]

The Canadiens strengthened a roster led by emerging centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi that helped them reach Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Philadelphia Flyers after they finished the regular season with a .500 points percentage (31-31-9). Kotkaniemi scored four goals in 10 postseason games after the 20-year-old scored six in 36 regular-season games and finished the season with Laval of the American Hockey League. Suzuki scored three goals against the Flyers, including two in Game 6, and the 21-year-old tied forward Jonathan Drouin for the Montreal postseason lead with seven points (four goals, three assists).

“Honestly, it’s unbelievable to see the additions we’ve been able to make,” Gallagher said. “Every one of them is going to play a key role on our team, and to be able to have that many pieces is pretty exciting. So when I’m sitting there thinking about where you want to be, you add those pieces on top of what we had as a group and what we were building, you talk about the young talent coming up, it’s pretty exciting right now for anyone around the Montreal Canadiens organization.”

Here is what the Canadiens look like today:

Key arrivals

Tyler Toffoli, F: The 28-year-old, who agreed to join Montreal on Oct. 12, scored 44 points (24 goals, 20 assists) in 68 games for the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks last season, including 10 (six goals, four assists) in 10 games after he was traded to Vancouver on Feb. 17. He scored four points (two goals, two assists) in seven postseason games. … Josh Anderson, F: The 26-year-old agreed to a seven-year contract Oct. 8, two days after he was acquired in a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was limited to 26 games last season because of a shoulder injury and did not play in the postseason. … Alexander Romanov, D: The 20-year-old agreed to a three-year, entry-level contract July 13. He had seven assists and was plus-21 in 43 games for CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League last season. … Joel Edmundson, D: The 27-year-old agreed to a four-year contract Sept. 16, four days after he was acquired in a trade from the Carolina Hurricanes. He had an NHL career-high 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 68 games last season and scored one goal in four postseason games. … Jake Allen, G: The 30-year-old signed a two-year contract extension Oct. 14 after being acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 2 to back up Price. He was 12-6-3 with NHL career-bests in goals-against average (2.15) and save percentage (.927) in 24 games (21 starts) last season. He went 2-1-1 with a 1.89 GAA and a .935 save percentage in five postseason games (four starts).

Video: Toffoli joins Montreal Canadiens

Key departure

Max Domi, F: Traded to the Blue Jackets with a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft for Anderson on Oct. 6 and signed a two-year contract with Columbus the next day. He scored 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 71 games last season and had three assists in 10 postseason games.

On the cusp

Jake Evans, F: The 24-year-old agreed to a two-year contract Sept. 23. He played 13 regular-season games and six postseason games for Montreal in 2019-20, when he led Laval with 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) in 51 games. …  Ryan Poehling, F: The 21-year-old could be the third-line center behind Suzuki and Kotkaniemi if he earns a full-time role in the NHL. He scored two points (one goal, one assist) in 27 NHL games and 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 36 AHL games. … Cole Caufield, F: The 19-year-old scored 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists) in 36 games for the University of Wisconsin and will return there in 2020-21.

Video: MTL@FLA: Evans scores in 3rd period

What they still need

Their power play to improve. The Canadiens were 22nd in the NHL last season at 17.7 percent. They are counting on Suzuki and Kotkaniemi to take on more prominent roles, and for Drouin to build on his strong playoff showing.

Fantasy focus

Toffoli, Anderson and Allen each has sneaky fantasy appeal. Toffoli has scored at least 23 goals in four of the past six seasons and should have a spot in the top six and potentially on the first power-play unit. Anderson could finish among the top 100 players in the League with his rare category coverage after being one of two players (along with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin) with at least 25 goals (27) and 200 hits (214) in 2018-19. Allen could have strong peripherals in a backup role to Price. — Rob Reese

Projected lineup

Tomas TatarPhillip Danault — Brendan Gallagher

Tyler Toffoli — Nick Suzuki — Josh Anderson

Jonathan Drouin — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Joel Armia

Paul Byron — Ryan Poehling — Artturi Lehkonen

Ben ChiarotShea Weber

Joel Edmundson — Jeff Petry

Victor Mete — Alexander Romanov

Carey Price

Jake Allen

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Dodgers’ Justin Turner lifted from Game 6 after testing positive for COVID-19 –



Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was lifted from Game 6 of the World Series after being informed he had tested positive for COVID-19.

Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed the diagnosis that Fox first reported.

“It’s a bittersweet night for us. We’re glad to be done. I do think it’s a great accomplishment for our players to get the season completed,” Manfred said after presenting Corey Seager with the World Series MVP award. “But obviously we’re concerned when any of our players test positive. We learned during the game that Justin was a positive. He was immediately isolated to prevent spread.”

Turner was replaced by Edwin Rios defensively in the top of the eighth inning. No reason was immediately given for the change but Turner was spotted by cameras celebrating with teammates on the field after the game, sometimes wearing a mask and sometimes not.

After the game, Turner tweeted that he was feeling “great” and wasn’t experiencing any symptoms.

“Thanks to everyone reaching out! I feel great, no symptoms at all,” he wrote. “Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine. Can’t believe I couldn’t be out there to celebrate with my guys! So proud of this team & unbelievably happy for the City of LA #WorldSeriesChamps.”

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that MLB was notified during the second inning of Game 6 that Turner’s COVID-19 test on Monday had come back inconclusive. According to Passan, Turner’s test taken Tuesday morning then came back positive shortly after, at which time MLB notified the Dodgers that Turner needed to be lifted from the game.

MLB opted to use bubble sites for its playoffs after the success the NBA and NHL had with the format earlier this year. The World Series was played at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas in front of 11,000 fans. MLB last issued an update on its daily COVID-19 testing on Oct. 23, saying that it had been COVID-19-free among all teams for 53 consecutive days.

The Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 Tuesday night to win the World Series for the first time since 1988.

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