Red Sox

Haggerty: Sox not helping cause with Valentine vote of confidence

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Haggerty: Sox not helping cause with Valentine vote of confidence

BOSTON The Boston Red Sox management and ownership are starting to take on the look and sound of FrankDrebinfrom the Naked Gun movies.

You know the one.Drebinyelling into a bull horn and exclaims to a curious group of bystanders to Move along. Theres nothing to see here. Please disperse while a warehouse is lighting up like the Fourth of July behind him.

Despite a 175 million-plus payroll team glumly sputtering along playing .500 baseball and a well-chronicled system of dysfunction between players, management and ownership, there are no changes that need to be made. Thats what John Henry and Ben Cherington are saying to the entirety of Red Sox Nation by giving the dreaded vote of confidence to Bobby Valentine on Monday afternoon.

It was done in a closed door meeting with Valentine shortly after 4 p.m. Monday afternoon when Cherington, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner met with the Sox skipper in his office.

Bobby is our manager and were not considering anybody else, said Cherington. Hes as committed to managing the team as he ever has been, and were committed to supporting him every way that we can to make this work. When the performance isnt what you want and its not and we acknowledge that winning and losing always has more to do with the players than anything else. I dont question the effort of our players. I think our players have fought and battled, and worked hard and played hard. Theyve fought out of tough things.

Its not a question of effort. But at some level the players are a reflection of me and the front office. If players win or lose more than anything else I need to be accountable for that, and I am accountable for that. In the meantime whatever puts us in the best position to win were going to continue to work on those things.

Thats got to make Valentine especially excited because the dreaded vote of confidence is usually followed by a pink slip not too long afterward.

The Sox front office and ownership are telling their fans that theres nothing to see here while an underachieving organization continues to flounder like a dying fish on a kitchen counter behind them.

Everybody knows the players are the individuals most responsible for an uninspiring 54-55 record nearly 100 games into the regular season. But Sox management made their decision to keep the Island of Misfit Baseball Players together during the July 31 trade deadline, so theres little that can be done to alter a group of grousing, underperforming ballplayers.

That relative inaction at the trade deadline was something Cherington almost sounded remorseful about while reserving judgment until after the season when asked whether the team needs a shake to jolt them awake.

Usually when that question is asked it relates to a player move, and at the deadline we were in a little bit of unfamiliar territory, said Cherington. Part of the conversation was about justifying a middle ground approach based on where we are, but would be there be some benefit in something bold to give the team a bit of a shakeup.

Ultimately we decided that we believe in our core of players and our best chance was to mostly keep them together given the opportunities we have. We werent going to make a shakeup move and get worse in the process. Well see. Time will tell moving forward if those decisions were the right ones. I dont think necessarily that is what needed. The biggest shakeup would be to collectively perform better and that starts with me.

News flash to Cherington: waiting until after the season to determine whether a team needs a shakeup is way, way too late.

Something is rotten along Yawkey Way, and its not last nights half-eaten hamburgers from RemDogs.

The team is badly in need of a spark or a shake-up after dropping three out of four to the lowly Minnesota Twins in their latest achievement in mediocrity. Its part of the general managers job description to determine when an underperforming team needs a swift kick in the backside.

A Red Sox team 10 games back in the division, five games back in the wild card and one game under .500 in mid-August most definitely qualifies for a punitive approach.

But Cherington, Henry, Lucchino and Co. seem to expect the Sox to suddenly find some inspiration and reel off 20 wins in 24 games without any outside impetus.

Sometimes its unfair to turf the manager in professional sports, but more often than not a team responds to that kind of personnel change regardless of whether hes the person most responsible for lackluster performance.

Valentine has done some good things. He recognized the talent of Franklin Morales as a starting pitcher, and has found a diamond in the rough in infielder Pedro Ciriaco. He appears to have a keen eye for talent when it comes to evaluating players at the big league level.

But hes suffered from a fractious relationship with the bulk of the Sox nucleus from the very beginning, and he offers very little explanation for his managerial moves after the fact. He appears to have a very tenuous hold on the status of his injured players, and is routinely looking around for help from the PR staff when going over any number of players rehab progressions.

For a baseball market that demands precision, accountability and unwavering confidence in their skipper, Valentine inspires none of these things. NESN replays in the dugout following Joe Mauers heart-breaking ninth inning home run uncovered Valentine as a lip-licking, fidgeting bundle of nerves that appeared ready for a nervous baseball breakdown.

Thats not the kind of leader of men the Red Sox need when things are going bad, and its not the kind of manager thats going to inspire confidence that the moth-ridden Red Sox are about to climb out of their year-long funk.

Valentine might not be the biggest problem as Henry surmised in an email hours before Mondays big game against the Texas Rangers.

But he sure as hell is not a part of any solution that will ultimately get Boston out of their baseball morass, and that should make the decision to jettison Valentine a relatively easy one.

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 sensed he was ready to bust out of his slump and give the Chicago Cubs the lift they needed.

As breakthroughs go, this was a big one. Just in time to keep the season going for the defending champs.

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

"We have to be much more offensive," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's got to start happening tomorrow. We're going to do this. Going to pull this off, we have to become more offensive tomorrow."

Baez finally got going with a pair of solo drives .

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to help the Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. 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.

"They're the world champs, and you know they're going to fight to the end," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "So today, they did. We got beat today."

Baez hit solo drives in the second and fifth after going hitless in his first 20 playoff at-bats. He had been watching videos and felt his timing was starting to come back in recent trips to the plate.

"I just need to take a step back and see what's going on," he said.

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.

"Great to have this win, because if not we were going home tomorrow," Baez said. "But I feel like we're still not on track as a team. But I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we're going to be the best again."

Contreras' 491-foot homer banged off the left-field videoboard and Baez sent a towering drive out to left.

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.

"Hopefully, it's not a goodbye, it's a thank you, obviously," Arrieta said. "I still intend to have another start in this ballpark. If that's where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there."

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.

"The only frustrating thing is we fell a run short," Turner said. "We played a great game, they played a great game. They just hit one more ball over the fence than we did."

FINISHING UP

Maddon said Davis would not be available on Thursday.

"So other guys got to do it," Maddon said. "We have to be much more offensive. It's got to start happening tomorrow. We're going to do this. Going to pull this off, we have to become more offensive tomorrow."

QUOTABLE

Chicago's Kyle Schwarber on all the Cubs' runs coming on homers in the series: "That's fine. A run's a run, anyway you can get them in. Obviously, we want to manufacture some runs, but we won a ballgame 3-2 hitting homers; I'll take that, too."

UP NEXT

Dodgers: The Dodgers turn to Kershaw to try to wrap up the series. The three-time NL Cy Young winner went five innings in Game 1, allowing two runs, and has a 4.76 ERA in two postseason starts this year.

Cubs: Quintana pitched five innings of two-hit ball in Game 1, one day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane in Albuquerque with a medical ailment.

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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 -- This time, it was Masahiro Tanaka who was untouchable on the mound.

And when the New York Yankees sent Houston ace Dallas Keuchel to an early exit, their rollicking crowd let loose with a cathartic roar that must have boomed all over the Bronx.

"New York is no joke," Keuchel said afterward.

One more big win, and these Yankees are World Series-bound.

Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and New York finally solved a longtime nemesis at just the right moment, beating Keuchel and the Astros 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

"What a performance," Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier said about Tanaka. "Just gutsy."

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, moving them within one victory of their first pennant since 2009 and record 41st overall.

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.

To take the series, the Yankees knew they needed to win at least one game started by Keuchel or Verlander, both Cy Young Award winners. Now they've done that - and they don't want to let Houston back up.

"Don't wake that sleeping dog. So we've got to just keep on rolling," Frazier said. "They're going to be ready to go. We know that."

Houston arrived 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 this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans.

New York has won 19 of its past 22 games at Yankee Stadium.

"It's been unbelievable. I haven't seen anything like it in Major League Baseball," veteran Chase Headley said. "Reminds me of college football games. They're going crazy the entire game. It's a huge advantage for us."

Aaron JudgeGreg Bird and Didi Gregorius also delivered big hits as New York chased Keuchel in the fifth and handed him his first postseason loss.

Keuchel had been Yankees kryptonite, entering 6-2 with a 1.09 ERA in eight career starts against New York - including a pair of scoreless outings in playoff wins.

Both of those came at the expense of Tanaka, who lost 3-0 to Keuchel in the 2015 AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium and 2-1 in Game 1 of this series. The ace lefty with the long, bushy beard entered 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 26 2/3 postseason innings overall.

But this night belonged to Tanaka and the Baby Bombers.

New York finally broke through against Keuchel with two outs in the second, when Starlin Castro doubled and scored on Greg Bird's sharp single. The sellout crowd of 49,647 almost sounded surprised by the hit - big enough for Bird to flash both thumbs down, doubling up on the Yankees' playful sign to each other for clutch swings.

"The most frustrating part is the fact that I didn't pick the guys up and they were looking towards me to kind of saddle up and get this thing back going again," Keuchel said. "That's a talented group over there and 1 through 9 right now the bats have woken up and it's quite a challenge."

In the third, Judge grounded an RBI double just inside the third base line and past a diving Alex BregmanBrett Gardner sped all the way around from first and scored with a headfirst slide.

Bregman's throwing error on an infield single by Headley, who had three hits in the No. 9 spot, aided the Yankees in the fifth. Keuchel walked Judge with two outs before Sanchez lined a run-scoring single into the left-field corner.

Going into that at-bat, Sanchez was 1 for 16 with seven strikeouts in the series - and 0 for 8 with six strikeouts against Keuchel overall.

Gregorius then grounded an RBI single up the middle that grazed the glove of diving second baseman Jose Altuve. That ended the night for Keuchel and gave the Yankees a 4-0 cushion, the most runs he had ever allowed against them.

With the stands pulsating, fans reveled in his slow walk to the dugout as the Yankee Stadium sound system blared Scandal's "Goodbye To You."

"When you play at home, things like this happen and that's why it's so tough to win on the road in the playoffs," Keuchel said. "Yankee Stadium is a tough place to play and it was rockin' these three games, but it's going to be rockin' on Friday for us."

Sanchez hit his third postseason homer off Brad Peacock in the seventh to make it 5-0.

Despite beautiful weather in the Bronx, the Astros didn't take batting practice on the field. If they were hoping that might help their slumping hitters reset, it didn't.

"One swing and we'll be back where we need to be," Bregman said. "We're going home. We've got to fight back."

The highest-scoring team in the majors this season, Houston is batting .147 in the series and Tanaka is a major reason. The normally reserved right-hander from Japan, who can opt out of his $155 million contract this winter, has been at the top of his game in October and showed rare emotion on the mound during this one.

He worked around a leadoff double in the second, when the Yankees - with a stingy Keuchel undoubtedly in mind - successfully played their infield in with Yuli Gurriel on third and one out in a scoreless game.

Tanaka later spun around and shouted in excitement after striking out struggling table-setters George Springer and Josh Reddick with two on to end the fifth.

"I love it. Those are the best guys. To see that, it gets me fired up again," Frazier said. "He's been doing it all postseason. Just dominant, man. You see him out there, he talks to himself, he does all this crazy stuff and the next thing you know the ball just disappears on batters."

Keeping the ball down with his slider and splitter, Tanaka struck out eight and walked one. Tommy Kahnle tossed two innings to finish the four-hitter.

Tanaka also beat the Indians 1-0 in the Division Series to save the Yankees' season when they were down 0-2 in that best-of-five playoff. After going 13-12 with a 4.74 ERA during an inconsistent season, he has a 0.90 ERA in three playoff starts.

"I feel like I'm just keeping it really simple," Tanaka said through a translator. "You go out there and you fight and you empty the tank."

MISTER OCTOBER

Wednesday marked the 40th anniversary of Reggie Jackson's three-homer game at old Yankee Stadium in the 1977 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

COMING UP EMPTY

The lowest team batting average in league championship series history was .155 for Minnesota during a three-game sweep by Baltimore in 1969.

UP NEXT

Astros: Verlander is 8-0 in eight outings for Houston since agreeing to a trade from Detroit, just minutes before the Aug. 31 deadline for postseason eligibility. The 2011 AL MVP is 3-0 with a 2.04 ERA in these playoffs, including a series-clinching victory in relief during the Division Series against Boston and his five-hitter with 13 strikeouts to beat the Yankees on a season-high 124 pitches in Game 2. The right-hander is 10-5 with a 3.18 ERA in his postseason career.

Yankees: Severino gave up one run and two hits over four innings in Game 2 but was pulled as a precaution after only 62 pitches because manager Joe Girardi was concerned about the 23-year-old righty pitching hurt, saying he didn't look comfortable in his mechanics. By now, the Yankees are confident he's fine.

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