Phillies

Brock Stassi has a storybook ending to spring training

Brock Stassi has a storybook ending to spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- There was no holding back Brock Stassi this spring and when he achieved his goal, there was no holding back the tears.

"I can finally say I'm a big-leaguer," the 27-year-old first baseman/outfielder said moments after learning he'd earned one of the final two spots on the Phillies' opening day roster late Thursday afternoon.

"It's a dream come true. I really don't have words to describe it right now."

Words were not needed. The tears in Stassi's blue eyes said it all.

An against-all-odds professional baseball journey that started when he received a $1,000 signing bonus as a 33rd-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2011 will take him to Cincinnati and the Phillies' season opener on Monday.

Daniel Nava, another first baseman/outfielder, will also be there. Nava and Stassi were chosen for reserve roles with the club while 22-year-old prospect Jesmuel Valentin, the third candidate for one of the final two spots on the bench, was sent to Triple-A so he could play every day and further his development.

The Phillies cleared room on their 40-man roster by designating outfielder Tyler Goeddel for assignment.

Nava, a 34-year-old who has played in the majors with Boston, Tampa Bay, Anaheim and Kansas City, came to camp on a minor-league contract and earned his way onto the club by hitting .362 (17 for 47) with a .944 OPS.

As happy as Nava was to make the club, he couldn't help but get caught up in Stassi's elation. Nava has walked a few miles in Stassi's spikes. He was an undrafted player and began his pro career in an independent league before signing with Boston in 2008.

"It's awesome," Nava said. "I've been in his position. Also, we have unique stories. Neither one of us were big prospects or big signs so when he started sharing his story I was happy for him that he was doing so well, and to make the team -- it's special. It's special, your first one. He earned it. Nothing was given to him. Everyone was pulling for him and now we're all pumped for him."

A couple of years ago, Stassi thought his baseball dream was dying. He feared he might get released in spring training 2015. But he made the Double-A roster that spring, revamped his swing and had a huge season that earned him Eastern League MVP honors. He was invited to big-league camp last spring and spent all of 2016 at Triple A. He was invited back to big-league camp this spring with the mindset of winning a job.

And he did it with his lefty bat and good glove work at first base and in the outfield.

Stassi started hitting early in camp and never stopped. For the spring, he batted .333 (19 for 57) with six homers, 17 RBIs and a 1.099 OPS.
 
Stassi got the news in a meeting with manager Pete Mackanin after Thursday's 14-1 loss to the Yankees.
 
"What number do you want?" Mackanin asked Stassi, who wore non-roster number 78 in camp.
 
Stassi was speechless.
 
"I didn't really know what to expect," he said of the meeting. "I was pretty nervous. When Pete asked what number I wanted -- it was pretty special."
 
After getting the news, Stassi tried to call his folks. No answer.
 
"They’re working," he said with a laugh.
 
But they will be in Cincinnati on Monday.

And a lot of people who pulled for him along the way will be there in spirit, as well.

"My scout, Joey Davis -- he drafted me in the 33rd round -- he saw something in me," Stassi said. "I'm so thankful."

Stassi's dad, Jim, is a physical education teacher in the Sacramento area. A former catcher, Jim Stassi made it to Triple-A with the Giants before becoming a successful high school coach in Yuba City, California, where he coached his three sons. Max, also a catcher, has played in the majors with Houston each of the last four seasons.

Even Mackanin got a little caught up in Stassi's story.

"I got a little choked up, to be honest with you," Mackanin said. "I've sent a lot of guys to the big leagues as a Triple-A manager. I had my share of sending guys down and releasing them, which is the worst part about my job. But over the years, I have sent a lot of guys up and it's always fun. 

"This was special to me. And I know it was to (player development director) Joe Jordan because Brock earned every bit of it. He's just a good-looking player. He gives you good at-bats. He's a good defender. He plays the game the right way."

Stassi's journey to the majors was difficult. Staying in the majors is not easy, either, especially for a rookie reserve who must learn to stay sharp when the at-bats are not plentiful. 

Stassi realizes that.

"I'm going to celebrate tonight, but it's not done," he said. "I don't just want to get here, I want to stay here. I accomplished one of my goals. I'm just looking forward to the next one."

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and level the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Yankees trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored on Gary Sanchez's go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees have rallied from a second straight 0-2 series deficit -- they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth, and New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday and rematch of the opener, won by the Astros 2-1 (see full recap).

Dodgers on brink of World Series after shutout
CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip -- on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since their last championship in 1988. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. The lineup is patient and pesky and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline (see full recap).

MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs

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MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES -- Justin Turner hit a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

The red-bearded slugger connected on the 29th anniversary of the Dodgers' last game-ending postseason homer: Kirk Gibson's famous pinch-hit drive to beat Oakland in the 1988 World Series opener.

"One of my earliest baseball memories, I was 4 years old at my grandma's house watching that game in `88 and seeing Gibby hit that homer," a smiling Turner said. "So yeah, it feels pretty cool. I thought about doing the fist pump around the bases, but we'll wait until we get to the World Series for that, hopefully."

Turner drove in every run for Los Angeles, going the other way for a tying single in the fifth before sending a long shot to center field off John Lackey in the ninth. A fan wearing a blue Dodgers jersey reached over a railing to catch the ball on the fly.

Turner's second homer of the postseason ended another dramatic night for the Dodgers, who remained unbeaten in these playoffs and moved within two wins of their first World Series appearance since 1988.

"It's very cool, and J.T., we were talking about it in there after the game," manager Dave Roberts said. "Twenty-nine years to the day. It was special. Our guys feel it."

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Midseason acquisition Yu Darvish starts for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks.

Yasiel Puig drew his third walk of the game leading off the ninth, and Charlie Culberson bunted him to second. After losing pitcher Brian Duensing struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, Chicago manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen for the 38-year-old Lackey, who pitched on consecutive days for the first time in his 15-year career.

Lackey got the call over All-Star closer Wade Davis, and the veteran starter walked Chris Taylor on six tense pitches.

Turner stepped up and ended it with his fourth career playoff homer. He's been at his best in October, batting .377 with 22 RBIs in the postseason.

"We've been doing it all year long," Turner said. "We're never out of a game. As long as we have outs left, we're going to keep fighting."

Completing the poetry of the moment, a fan in a Chase Utley jersey in the center-field bleachers caught the ball in his glove.

Addison Russell homered in the fifth for the Cubs, who are down early in this rematch of the 2016 NLCS. Chicago won that series in six games and went on to its first World Series championship since 1908, while the Dodgers have been absent from the Fall Classic since 1988.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen got the victory with a hitless ninth despite hitting Anthony Rizzo on the hand with a one-out pitch. That ended the Los Angeles bullpen's impressive streak of 22 straight Cubs retired to begin the NLCS, but the Dodgers have thrown eight hitless and scoreless innings of relief in the NLCS.

After a collective offensive effort drove the Dodgers to a 5-2 win in Game 1, Turner did it all in Game 2. He has 10 RBIs in the Dodgers' five postseason games, getting five in the playoff opener against Arizona.

Jon Lester yielded three hits and five walks while failing to get out of the fifth inning in the shortest start of his long postseason career, but the Dodgers couldn't take advantage of a rare shaky night by the Cubs' star left-hander.

Rich Hill struck out eight in five more impressive innings for the Dodgers, but he was pulled for pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson in the fifth in a debatable decision by Roberts.

Russell was off to a 4-for-22 start in the postseason with nine strikeouts before the slugging shortstop put a leadoff homer into the short porch in left field.

Turner evened it moments later by poking a single to right after a leadoff double by Culberson, the Dodgers' improbably successful replacement for injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager.

The Dodgers chased Lester with two outs in the fifth, but reliever Carl Edwards Jr. came through after several recent postseason struggles, striking out pinch-hitter Chase Utley and then pitching a strong sixth.

Lester was the co-MVP of last season's NLCS, winning Game 5 at Dodger Stadium and yielding two runs over 13 innings in the series. He had nothing near the same success against the Dodgers' revamped lineup in this one, issuing four walks in the first four innings and repeatedly escaping jams.

Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward held up Turner in the third when it appeared he could have scored from first on Cody Bellinger's double to the gap.

Javier Baez, the other co-MVP of last season's NLCS for Chicago, got to third base in the third with one out but also was stranded.

Up next
Cubs: Hendricks dominated Chicago's playoff opener with seven scoreless innings against the Nationals, but yielded four runs in four innings during the team's wild Game 5 victory in Washington. He is starting on normal rest.

Dodgers: Darvish was outstanding in Game 3 against the Diamondbacks, earning his first career postseason victory with seven strikeouts over five innings of two-hit ball. He was acquired