Red Sox

First Pitch: Monday, August 29

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First Pitch: Monday, August 29

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

Welcome to First Pitch, a quick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at least the corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. For a complete wrapup of Sunday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's And That Happened (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

BLUE SKIES: Storm? What storm? Things are looking bright in Red Sox Nation, thanks to a pair of wins over the A's (csnne.com) on Saturday in the pre-Irene muck and mire, a two-game lead over the Yankees in the A.L. East, and a couple of days off before starting a three-game Fenway series against the Yanks (csnne.com) in a matchup of the two highest-scoring teams in baseball. (si.com) Those numbers may expand -- at least on the Boston side -- if A.J. Burnett pitches one of the games of the series. (New York Daily News)

Still, the story of the weekend -- even in baseball -- was HurricaneTropical Storm Irene. (cbssports.com) After all, how often do players get a weekend off in August? (cbssports.com)

BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW . . . that Red Sox prospect Will Middlebrook and Patriots rookie QB Ryan Mallett are a) best friends and c) roommates? (Providence Journal)

GOING UP: The Red Sox leapfrogged the Brewers and Yankees and moved to the No. 2 spot in si.com's weekly Power Rankings.

AMERICA'S MOST BELOVED . . . SOMETHING: In an attempt to defend Tropicana Field, home of the Rays, the St. Petersburg Times' Tom Jones lists the five worst stadiums in sports . . . and he has Fenway Park at No. 5. (The Trop, incidentally, isn't on the list.)

WAR OF WORDS: The Yankees split their Sunday doubleheader with the Orioles (New York Daily News), but that wasn't the big news of the day in Y. Universe. The Yanks claim they were left out of the decision-making process when one of Saturday's rainouts was rescheduled for Sept. 8, costing them one of their two remaining off-days this year, and they're hopping mad about it. (New York Post) Buck Showalter -- who hasn't been afraid to talk the talk against the big boys this year (csnne.com), even if his team hasn't exactly walked the walk on the field -- responded quickly, saying New York's complaints had "a feeling of hypocrisy" and that the Yankees' "opinion on what the Baltimore Orioles should do for their fans and for their organization isn't really that relevant to me personally." (masn.com)

UM . . . NEVER MIND: And then it turns out that a miscommunication between Yankee players and a lawyer for the Major League Baseball Players Association may have been the reason the Orioles selected the Sept. 8 make-up date. (New York Post)

DON'T LOOK NOW . . . but the Rays -- fresh off a 14-strikeout performance from David Price in a 12-0 win over the Jays (St. Petersburg Times) -- are only six games behind the Yankees in the wild-card race.

MILESTONES: Derek Jeter has now played more games as a Yankee than anyone in history (mlb.com) . . . The Tigers' Justin Verlander is MLB's first 20-game winner this season. (Detroit News)

GOOD LUCK: Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice-president of operations, agrees that the relationship between players and umpires -- which improved in the wake of the Richie Phillips fiasco -- is deteriorating, and he's determined to fix it. (si.com) Interesting note: He says don't believe the computerized strike zones you see on TV, which frequently show the umpires missing ball-and-strike calls. Writes Mel Antonen: "Torre said the problem with the TV networks is that their strike zonetechnology is set up for one strike zone, to a batter that stands sixfeet tall . . . 'TV is not accurate' said Torre."

OLD FRIENDS: Wil Ledezma -- yes, he belonged to the Red Sox once upon a time -- was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays (bluejays.com) . . . That was one ugly outing for Brad Penny yesterday in what is fast becoming one ugly season (rotoworld.com) . . . Hanley Ramirez says he'll be back in the Marlins' lineup Wednesday against the Mets (Twitter) . . . Nick Hagadone, whom the Sox sent to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez trade, was quietly recalled by the Indians Friday for his first taste of the big leagues (cleveland.com) and just as quietly sent back to the minors yesterday (Rotoworld) . . . Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens can't figure out Jason Bay (New York Post) . . . Adrian Beltre doesn't think he needs a rehab assignment, but the Rangers insist so he'll go (AP via SI.com).

NEW FRIENDS: Andre Ethier-to-Boston rumors have been circulating forever, so it's interesting when a) he seems to complain about the Dodgers making him play through a knee injury (Los Angeles Times), and then b) backs off those comments (mlb.com).

THE QUIET MAN: Joe Buck's voice problem has been evident to anyone who's watched a Fox game this season, and he explains what's wrong -- thankfully, it's nothing serious -- to the New York Times.

AND FINALLY . . . Looking for an athlete who'll inundate you with Tweets? R.A. Dickey's your man. (The Wall Street Journal)

NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

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NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

CHICAGO - Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

Baez hit solo drives in the second and fifth after going hitless in his first 20 playoff at-bats. Contreras added a long homer against Alex Wood.

Davis entered with a 3-1 lead in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff homer to Turner, who went 2 for 2 and drew two walks.

Maddon became incensed that a swinging strike three against Curtis Granderson was ruled a foul after the umpires discussed the play. Maddon got tossed, and Granderson struck out swinging at the next pitch.

And after walking Yasmani Grandal to put runners on first and second, Davis struck out Chase Utley, who is hitless in his last 24 postseason at-bats.

All seven of Chicago's runs in this series have come on homers. And long drives in the second by Contreras and Baez made it 2-0.

Contreras' homer banged off the left-field videoboard and Baez's landed beyond the left-field bleachers on Waveland Avenue.

Bellinger cut it to 2-1 with his drive to right in the third. But Baez got the lead back up to two with a shot to the left-field bleachers in the fifth, the raucous crowd chanting "Javy! Javy!" for the flashy young star who was co-MVP of the NLCS last year.

No Cubs player had hit two in a playoff game since Alex Gonzalez went deep twice in Game 2 of the 2003 NLCS against Miami.

Arrieta exited with runners on first and second in the seventh after walking Chris Taylor on a 3-2 pitch. He tipped his hat as fans gave him a standing ovation, a fitting show of appreciation for a pitcher with an expiring contract.

Arrieta turns 32 in March and figures to land a huge deal in free agency. The trade that brought him from Baltimore helped fuel Chicago's rise, with the right-hander capturing the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and contributing to last year's drought-busting championship run.

Limited by a right hamstring injury in the final month of the season, he threw 111 pitches. Brian Duensing retired Bellinger on a fly to end the seventh.

Turner made it a one-run game with his homer off the left-field videoboard against Davis in the eighth.

A career-high 16-game winner, Wood gave up three runs and four hits in 42/3 innings.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

ALCS: Tanaka, Yankees top Keuchel, Astros 5-0 for 3-2 lead

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ALCS: Tanaka, Yankees top Keuchel, Astros 5-0 for 3-2 lead

NEW YORK - Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE