Red Sox

NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

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NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

CHICAGO -- Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

Fueled by a home run trilogy from their emotional utilityman, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally going to the World Series.

Hernandez homered three times and drove in a record seven runs, Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Los Angeles ended the Chicago Cubs' title defense with an 11-1 rout in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night.

"It feels good to hear World Series," Kershaw said. "It's been a long time coming for this team."

After years of playoff heartache, there was just no stopping these Dodgers after they led the majors with 104 wins during the regular season. With Kershaw firing away at the top of a deep pitching staff and co-NLCS MVPs Justin Turner and Chris Taylor leading a tough lineup, one of baseball's most storied franchises captured its first pennant since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to Los Angeles' last championship in 1988.

"Every night it is a different guy," Turner said, "and this is one of the most unbelievable teams I've ever been a part of."

Kershaw will be on the mound again when the Dodgers host the New York Yankees or Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Yankees have a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 of the ALCS at Houston on Friday night, so one more New York win would set up another chapter in an old October rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Los Angeles made the playoffs eight times in the previous 13 seasons and came up short of its 22nd pennant each time, often with Kershaw shouldering much of the blame. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner took the loss when his team was eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of last year's NLCS at Wrigley Field.

The ace left-hander was just OK during his first two starts in this year's postseason, but Los Angeles' offense picked him up each time. Backed by Hernandez's powerful show in Chicago, Kershaw turned in an efficient three-hit performance with five strikeouts and improved to 6-7 in the playoffs - matching Burt Hooton's club record for postseason wins.

"To get to be on the mound tonight and get to be going to the World Series on the same night, it's a special thing," Kershaw said. "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series? I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

When Kenley Jansen retired Willson Contreras on a liner to shortstop for the final out, the party was on . The Dodgers poured out of the dugout and mobbed their dominant closer near the mound, and a small but vocal group of Los Angeles fans gathered behind the visitors' dugout and chanted "Let's go Dodgers! Let's go Dodgers!"

On the field, manager Dave Roberts hugged Lasorda and told the iconic skipper the win was for him.

"I bleed Dodger blue just like you," Roberts said. "Thank you, Tommy."

Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second for his first career playoff homer and then a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. Hernandez added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.

The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player with a three-homer game in a league championship series, joining Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS) and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS). Hernandez's seven RBIs tied a postseason record shared by four other players who all did it in a Division Series.

Troy O'Leary was the previous player to have seven RBIs in a playoff game, for Boston at Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.

It was a stunning display for a player with 28 career homers who remains concerned about his native Puerto Rico, which is recovering from a devastating hurricane. He delivered a historic performance in front of his father, Enrique Hernandez Sr., who was diagnosed with a blood cancer related to leukemia in December 2015, but got word last November that he was in remission.

"For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special," said Hernandez, who also goes by Kik�. "My body's here, but my mind's kind of back home. It's hard being away from home with what's going on.

"All I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug."

Kris Bryant homered for Chicago, but the NL Central champions finished with just four hits in another tough night at the plate. Each of their eight runs in the NLCS came via the long ball, and they batted just .156 for the series with 53 strikeouts.

Long playoff runs in each of the last two years and a grueling five-game Division Series against Washington seemed to sap Chicago of some energy, and its pitching faltered against sweet-swinging Los Angeles. Jose Quintana was pulled in the third inning of the final game, and the Cubs never recovered.

"They executed their plan," Bryant said. "They pitched great and the bullpen was lights out. That makes for a tough time scoring runs."

Turner and Taylor helped put it away for Los Angeles, contributing to a 16-hit outburst while closing out a pair of impressive performances.

Turner singled home Taylor in the Dodgers' five-run third, giving him seven RBIs in the series and 24 throughout his postseason career. Taylor finished with two hits and scored two runs as the Dodgers, who have won five straight NL West titles, improved to 7-1 in this postseason.

Taylor's versatility helped Los Angeles cover for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who missed the series with a back injury, but is expected to return in the next round. Coming off a breakout season, the 27-year-old Taylor hit .316 with two homers and scored five times against the Cubs.

"I couldn't be happier to be a part of this and be with these guys," Taylor said. "It's been an unbelievable year, and I'm just super excited."

OUT WITH A BANG

Hernandez joined Kennedy (2002), Adrian Beltre (2011), Reggie Jackson (1977 vs. the Dodgers) and Babe Ruth (1928) as players to hit three home runs in a postseason series clincher.

LIGHTS OUT

Dodgers relievers have thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a postseason record.

Red Sox notebook: Velazquez, Elias getting shots at fifth spot

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Red Sox notebook: Velazquez, Elias getting shots at fifth spot

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The starting pitchers for the Red Sox in the first two games of the Grapefruit League season, Hector Velazquez and Roenis Elias, are likely going to get major league opportunities in 2018 — and one of them very well might get a look in the first week of the season.

The first four starters the Red Sox will carry are obvious, assuming health: Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello. Alex Cora on Saturday declined to name an Opening Day starter, but Sale is the obvious choice after finishing second in American League Cy Young voting to Corey Kluber. Cora said too that he likely would insert Porcello somewhere in the middle of the rotation, considering the other three aforementioned starters are lefties.

Where the Sox go beyond those four, though, could be to some relatively unknown quantities. 

Steven Wright is rehabbing from knee surgery and awaiting potential discipline from the league office following an offseason arrest on a domestic assault charge. Wright could well be suspended to begin the season, and may not be physically ready to start on the active roster anyway. Eduardo Rodriguez’s own knee surgery has him slated to come back perhaps in late April. 

That puts righty Velazquez and lefty Elias in prime position for at least temporary contributions. Both are on the 40-man roster and have big league time. In a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Ray on Saturday, Elias pitched two scoreless innings on Saturday, just as Velazquez did Friday against the Minnesota Twins.

In past seasons, the Red Sox would often have an off-day after their very first game of the regular season, thereby allowing for a fifth starter to be skipped if desired. That’s not the case for this year, with six straight games for the Sox — three vs. the Rays, three vs. the Marlins — before an off-day. Come April 2, then, the Sox will need a fifth starter. 

(Whether the Sox even use off-days this year to skip pitchers or just to rest their guys is to be seen. Sale, for example, historically has pitched often on extra rest, and the Sox want to keep him fresh.)

Lefty Brian Johnson could wind up a reliever, but he’s certainly capable of starting. Lefty Jalen Beeks, who is not on the 40-man roster but likely will be at some point this year, is depth as well, just like righty Chandler Shepherd.

***

• The Sox did say long ago they wanted to add lefty reliever this winter. Now they’ve done it. As depth, anyway. Tommy Layne, last with the Sox in 2016, is back — in minor league camp without an invite to major league spring training. He was a free agent who participated in the camp the Players Association set up for unsigned players in Florida. Don't be surprised if Layne sees some time in big league games anyway.

***

One area of the Red Sox spring complex has four practice fields aligned, with each field’s home plate positioned at nearly the same point, angled 90 degrees differently. In the past, the Sox more frequently used all four fields at once for the same set of drills. Now, they’ve cut back. The reason is so that coaches can see players better. This way, a coach could catch 50 percent of one pitcher’s live batting-practice and 50 percent of another. Attention is spread too thin if three or four fields are going simultaneously. That was Tony La Russa’s suggestion.

• Rafael Devers has shown some very quick feet in the early going, making a great diving stop to his right on Thursday. On Saturday, he made another smooth play but then threw away a throw to second base.

“Just get one out,” Cora said. “He was trying to get two which is great. This level you’ve got to turn double plays but there there’s certain plays you cant force.”

• Players union head Tony Clark visited camp on Saturday, part of his annual tour to meet different teams. Clark defended the collective bargaining agreement, which has been criticized because it helped create the environment that led to many unsigned free agents.

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Sox bringing Nunez along slowly at camp

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Sox bringing Nunez along slowly at camp

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Eduardo Nunez isn’t a starting pitcher, but the Red Sox are going to build him up slowly too.

The infielder (and assumed second baseman in place of the still-recovering Dustin Pedroia) hasn’t seen Grapefruit League action yet.

“Everything he did in the simulated game, he did a lot,” manager Alex Cora said Saturday after a 4-3 win over the Rays at JetBlue Park. “Stole bases..he had to dive [in the field]. I don’t want to push him. Today was a great day for him to just to, instead of being with the guys taking ground balls, we put him aside, just taking it easy, right at him, work on your footwork. Building up. So we’ve got to be fair with him too." 

Nunez, 30, a trade deadline acquisition last season from the San Francisco Giants, injured his knee and had to be carried off the field four pitches into the A.L. Division Series loss to the Houston Astros. 

“Over the course of the offseason it was more rehabbing for him and getting his strength back," Cora said. "We’ll take it easy with him. He’ll probably DH before he plays second or third or short or the outfield. But today I saw him taking ground balls before the live BP, and he did a good job moving his feet and working at third base too.”

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