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Smith, Seager help Dodgers extend series

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ARLINGTON, Texas — One Will Smith outdid another Will Smith to keep the season alive for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A common name, a special result for the Dodgers catcher.

Smith hit a go-ahead, three-run homer off the Atlanta Braves reliever with the same name, Corey Seager homered twice and the Dodgers avoided elimination with a 7-3 win in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Friday night.

“I’ll always bet on our Will Smith,” Dodges manager Dave Roberts said.

Smith connected in the sixth against — of all people — Will Smith, the fourth of six Braves pitchers in their bullpen night that started with a couple of post-season firsts by A.J. Minter.

“For him to come through for us in that spot. I’m happy to see him expressing himself,” Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts said of his teammate who rarely shows emotion but was clearly pumped up by his big blast.

Betts got that decisive sixth started with an infield single, and the first-year Dodger and former AL MVP had a running, shoestring catch in right field that turned into an inning-ending double play. His snag took an Atlanta run off the board after a replay challenge right before Seager’s first homer.

“You’re talking about momentum shifts, that’s the play of the year,” Roberts said. “I just thought there was no way he was going to make that play.”

Game 6 is Saturday afternoon, with a pitching rematch from the series opener: lefty Max Fried for the Braves and right-hander Walker Buehler for the Dodgers. Both gave up one run in Game 1, which Atlanta won 5-1 after a four-run ninth. Atlanta is looking to get into the World Series for the first time since 1999.

“I knew it was going to be a really hard series, regardless of what situation you’re in,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I feel good tomorrow with Max on the mound. I feel really good with him going out there. Hopefully we can score a few runs and support him and wrap this thing up.”

Blake Treinen, the third of seven Dodgers pitchers and the Game 1 loser in relief, pitched two perfect innings for the win. Inconsistent closer Kenley Jansen struck out the side in a non-save situation to end it, which Roberts called a highlight for him.

Betts had a stolen base after his sixth-starting single before Justin Turner‘s one-out hard grounder that got Betts caught in a rundown. The Braves then brought in their lefty named Will Smith to face left-handed batter Max Muncy, who drew a walk before the Dodgers’ catcher named Will Smith hit a full-count pitch 404 feet to left-centre for a 4-2 lead.

“It got the team going. that energy bounces off of each other,” Smith said.

It was the first time since at least 1961 that a batter homered off a pitcher with the same name in the regular season or post-season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Dodgers extended their lead in the seventh when Chris Taylor hit a two-out double and scored on a single by Betts before Seager hit a ball into LA’s bullpen in right-centre.

Seager’s four homers and 10 RBIs have already tied NLCS records, with at least one more game for the Dodgers to play — two if they want a chance to get to the World Series for the third time in four years. The four homers are already a record for a shortstop in any post-season series.

“Just kind of putting good swings on pitches and everything is kind of clicking,” Seager said.

Taylor turned an ankle in left field during the eighth inning but remained in the game. Manager Dave Roberts said Taylor would get treatment and testing prior to Game 6.

Minter struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced as the first pitcher in MLB history whose first start came in a post-season game. The fourth-year big leaguer became the first pitcher — starter or reliever — with seven strikeouts in three innings or fewer in a post-season game. He had already matched his career high before striking out the side — all on called third strikes — in the third before leaving with a 2-0 lead.

After Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud had consecutive singles to start the third for Atlanta, there was one out when Dansby Swanson hit a sinking liner to right. Betts made a running catch, with his glove skimming the ground before his throw home was late. But the Dodgers challenged that Ozuna that left third base early — and it became the Braves third out instead of their third run.

“We were able to get a stop,” Betts said. “Yesterday we couldn’t stop the bleeding. Today, we were able to get a stop right there and put some pressure on them.”

Umpires and the off-site replay crew needed nearly two minutes to make their ruling, but Dodgers fielders — and even Braves runners — had already left the field after watching the play on the big video board.

“It’s not always on the offensive side that you get the spark,” Seager said. “A big play in a big moment you get some energy.”

Right after that, Seager’s leadoff homer to straightaway centre in the fourth cut the Dodgers deficit to 2-1.

Rookie centre fielder Cristian Pache made a leaping try at the wall, but the ball went just behind his extended glove. But Pache did time things up in the eighth, robbing Muncy of a homer with a nearly identical play.

The Braves scored in both innings off LA starter Dustin May. Freddie Freeman doubled, went to third and scored on d’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly in the first, and Pache had an RBI single in the second. D’Arnaud added an RBI groundout in the eighth.

CATCHER COMEBACK

Smith became only the third catcher in Dodgers franchise history to hit a go-ahead home run in the post-season. The last was Steve Yeager in Game 5 of the 1981 World Series of Ron Guidry of the New York Yankees. The other was Roy Campanella, who did it twice: in Game 3 of the 1953 World Series and Game 3 of the 1955 World Series.

FIRST RBIS

The 21-year-old Pache, who has played in only two regular season games in the big leagues, has an RBI in each of his four NLCS starts. He became a starter after outfielder Adam Duvall‘s left oblique injury in the series opener.

LOT OF RELIEF

Minter hadn’t started a game since his junior season at Texas A&M in 2015, the same year Atlanta drafted him in the second round. He had made 144 relief appearances (139 regular season, five playoff games) the past four seasons for the Braves, along with 77 minor league games, before his first professional start.

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Behind Ilya Mikheyev’s last-minute RFA contract with Maple Leafs – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Fewer than 24 hours before Wednesday’s scheduled arbitration case, restricted free agent Ilya Mikheyev and the Toronto Maple Leafs found common ground Tuesday night — although it did mean a last-minute financial concession on the player’s part.

The Russian winger and the club agreed to a two-year contract worth an average annual value of $1.645 million that will see Mikheyev in blue and white through the 2021-22 season and walk him to unrestricted free agency at age 27.

“Ilya decided to step off a little bit from an already agreed number to help the team fit under the cap,” Mikheyev’s agent, Dan Milstein, told Sportsnet after tweeting news of the signing.

“For Ilya, it was less about the money, but more about the role in the organization. He wishes to win the Stanley Cup. It’s been a lifelong dream.”

Mikheyev’s two-year pact carries a $1.1 million salary in 2020-21 and $2.19 million in 2021-22.

According to Milstein, the sides had initially agreed to a cap hit slightly higher than $1.645 million.

The agent was on the phone explaining the bridge deal’s terms to Mikheyev when the Maple Leafs quickly called back requesting the forward take slightly less so they could be cap compliant for 2021’s opening night.

The Leafs and Mikheyev discussed the sophomore’s position in a winger-loaded roster “extensively” during the negotiations, which had been ongoing for weeks.

“We know what they have going. We know what the goals are. Toronto and both camps communicated very clearly,” Milstein said. “We feel very comfortable about the next season, and Ilya is very excited about the next season as well.”

The 26-year-old Mikheyev — fast a fan favourite — appeared in only 39 games as a rookie with the Maple Leafs in 2019-20, scoring eight goals and adding 15 assists.

Returning for post-season action after suffering a gruesome wrist injury in late December, Mikheyev failed to register a point during the club’s five-game playoff qualification series versus Columbus.

“He would’ve liked to help the team get past Columbus, but overall this was a good first-year experience for him,” Milstein said. “He’s adjusted. He’s adapted. And I expect him to have a better season next year.”

He elected to file for salary arbitration to buy time, and a deadline, for amicable negotiations.

Mikheyev filed for one year at $2.7 million; the Leafs requested two years at $1 million.

But, Milstein maintains, the strongest efforts on both sides have long been directed at striking a two-year pact that worked to provide Mikheyev and his family a little more certainty in uncertain times.

The player affectionately known as “Mickey” to his teammates and “Souperman” to fans stayed up to the wee hours in Russia, where he’s training, in order to sign the paperwork.

“The first season didn’t go as well as planned, due to the injury, but it was never a question of whether he was coming back or not,” Milstein said. “He stayed up through the night, and we took care of business.”

Milstein has a tight working relationship with general manager Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs.

The agent is quick to note that 12 of his players have been welcomed into the Toronto system over the past three years, including winger Egor Korshkov (currently on loan to Yaroslav Lokomotiv of the KHL), 2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov and new KHL import Alexander Barabanov.

“While we were negotiating (Mikheyev’s contract) and perhaps disagreeing a little bit, I had to stop and talk to (the Leafs) about another player,” Milstein said. “We try to have good relationships with everybody, but a client comes first.”

Barabanov, 26, will join Mikheyev in trying to secure ice time from coach Sheldon Keefe in a competitive forward group that has added Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, Jimmy Vesey, Joey Anderson and Travis Boyd to the mix since free agency opened.

Barabanov flew to Toronto in early September and is preparing for his first North American campaign on this side of the pond.

Make no mistake: Like Mikheyev before him, Barabanov has his sights in the NHL, not the AHL.

“I feel good about his prospects. He’s a world-class player,” Milstein said. “I’m not a coach. I’m not going to make any predictions. But I feel good about it. You can quote me on that. I feel good about it. Barabanov is an Olympic champion.

“He is a phenomenal player, and I expect him to do well here in North America.”

With Mikheyev signed, the Maple Leafs only need to reach agreements with RFAs Travis Dermott and Anderson.

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Toronto Maple Leafs sign winger Ilya Mikheyev to two-year deal

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TORONTO — The Maple Leafs have avoided an arbitration hearing on Wednesday with restricted free agent winger Ilya Mikheyev, settling instead on a two-year, $3.29 million contract extension Tuesday night.

Mikheyev had exercised his right for an arbitration hearing earlier this month after the Leafs extended a qualifying offer to the pending RFA but then failed to find common ground with his camp on a new extension. The 26-year-old had been looking for a one-year, $2.7 million deal from Toronto, while the Leafs initially countered with a two-year contract, averaging $1 million per season.

According to CapFriendly, the Leafs are now exceeding the NHL’s flat salary cap of $81.5 million, with RFA Travis Dermott still left to be signed. General manager Kyle Dubas said in a conference call on Sunday he was waiting for Mikheyev’s deal to be done before turning the team’s attention to Dermott. Toronto can be 10 per cent over the cap until the 2020-21 regular season begins, at a date still to be determined.

Mikheyev’s case was an especially interesting one to consider from both sides, given how the forward’s promising rookie season was cut short by a gruesome injury.

Never originally drafted by an NHL club, Mikheyev’s stock built slowly over four seasons in his native Russia with the KHL’s Omsk Avangard. By the end of his career-best 45-point campaign in 2018-19, several NHL clubs were making offers, but it was the Leafs who landed Mikheyev in May 2019 on a one-year, entry-level contract.

Starting out in a third-line role for the 2019-20 season, Mikheyev scored in his NHL debut, and put up seven points in his first 10 games. He continued to show versatility from there, able to play on either wing and hold his own in the top-six when necessary.

Mikheyev had amassed eight goals and 23 points in his first 39 games when his freshman year took a brutal turn. Facing the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 27, he suffered ligament damage when Jesper Bratt’s skate blade accidentally cut into his right wrist. The injury required surgery to repair and Mikheyev was not able to return before the NHL hit pause in March amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

He was back to full health for Toronto’s qualifying-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in early August, but Mikheyev was ineffective and failed to register a single point through those five games, as the Leafs fell three games to two.

Despite that poor showing, Mikheyev’s speed, hockey sense and hard shot make him a valuable addition to the Leafs’ offence going forward and he projects to play in the top-six again next season.

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Price 'at peace' with opt-out decision despite missing World Series – theScore

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When the Los Angeles Dodgers step on the field against the Tampa Bay Rays for Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, veteran left-hander David Price will be watching from home.

Although he won’t be helping the Dodgers try to capture their first title since 1988, the 35-year-old doesn’t regret opting out of the 2020 season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m definitely missing it, but I’m at peace with my decision,” Price said, according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. “What I missed the most is the competition, being in the clubhouse, being in the dugout, picking someone up after a rough game or week, having them come over to my room, and forgetting baseball.

“But with a 3-year-old son, a 1-year-old daughter, I’ve got to watch them grow. That’s a time I would have missed out on, and very thankful to be at home with them. I’m a fan. Those guys know I’m watching and pulling for them.”

Price hasn’t sat idly by this season after opting out and forfeiting $11.9 million of salary in the process. He still checks in with his teammates daily to offer guidance and advice.

“Everyone in a Dodger uniform wishes he was here,” said Mookie Betts, who was part of the same trade that landed Price with the Dodgers from the Boston Red Sox. “We talk probably three or four times a week, he texts me after games, he pretty much texts the whole team.”

Price is also connected to this year’s World Series through the Rays, who he suited up for from 2008-14.

The southpaw, who was an integral part of the last Tampa team to reach the World Series in 2008, admitted he’s been rooting for them this postseason, but his allegiance in the big series sits with the Dodgers.

“We’re paying his checks, at least most of his checks,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I hope he’s rooting for us.”

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