Phillies

Closer Jeanmar Gomez's leash shorter after tightrope act on opening day

Closer Jeanmar Gomez's leash shorter after tightrope act on opening day

CINCINNATI -- The taste of the Philllies' opening day win over the Cincinnati Reds was not as sweet as it could have been for manager Pete Mackanin.

Sure, he was thrilled to see Cesar Hernandez open the game with a home run and Freddy Galvis add a longball in the second inning and newcomers Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick come up with big hits and another newcomer, reliever Joaquin Benoit, put up a roadblock on the Reds' offense in the sixth inning.

But Mackanin was left with a bit of a sour aftertaste after closer Jeanmar Gomez had reprised the wobbly ways that cost him the job late last season.

"I'm concerned about it," Mackanin said, plainly.

The successful setup work of Benoit, Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris had netted Gomez a three-run lead and a layup of a save in his first appearance of the season, but he came way too close to coughing up that lead for Mackanin's liking. Gomez gave up a leadoff single and a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth as the Reds made it a one-run game. Gomez finally got the last out and the Phillies won, 4-3, but it was a little too close for the manager, who has carried an uneasiness about his closer situation for months. That much became evident when Mackanin started qualifying his comments about the closer role, saying things like Gomez was his closer "for now," and "He's going to get every opportunity to do the job. If he doesn't, we're going to take a look at it."

Well, Mackanin is already taking a look at it.

Gomez's leash got a little shorter on opening day.

"I had two guys up in the 'pen in that ninth inning," Mackanin said. "(Gomez) is just not getting the ball down the way he did when he was successful. I want to make sure that he gets opportunities, but at the same time, I don't want to let games slip away."

Gomez won respect from the skipper when he plugged a problematic closer position and saved 37 games last season.

But this year, the Phils have legitimate options at closer. They signed Benoit, who was throwing 96 mph on Monday, in the offseason, and Ramos and Neris, both owners of closer stuff, have a year of valuable experience under their belts.

"It's very tricky," Mackanin said. "Like I said, [Gomez] has earned the right to have the opportunity to be the closer. But at the same time, just because a guy is a closer doesn't mean you can't take him out of the game when he's getting the ball up.

"He got the save. He did the job. But he's got to get the ball down. That pitch was up in the zone for an opposite-field home run. I don't want that to happen.

"As I said last year, and I'll always say it, you audition every day. Just because you're the cleanup hitter doesn't mean you're going to stay the cleanup hitter. Just because you're the closer doesn't mean you have to stay the closer. Like I said, a closer doesn't have to stay in the game, win or lose. It depends on what the manager feels is best for the team. So, you know, we'll go from there.

"I certainly have options. I don't want to make too big of a deal out of it, but I owe it to the team to do what I think is best for the team."

The Phillies are off on Tuesday.

If they have a save situation on Wednesday night, Gomez will likely be the guy that Mackanin calls upon. But one more walk on the tightrope could lead to an early change in the role. Stay tuned.

MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON — Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

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Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

WASHINGTON -- Dusty Baker's time as the manager of the Washington Nationals is over after two seasons, two NL East titles and zero playoff series victories.

The Nationals announced Friday that they would not be bringing Baker back. His two-year deal with the club is expiring.

The contracts for the members of Baker's coaching staff also are finished. The team said it will work with its new manager to fill those positions.

The moves come the week after Washington was eliminated from its NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with a 9-8 loss at home in Game 5. The Nationals also were bounced from the postseason in the NLDS round in 2016 -- also with a Game 5 loss at home by one run, that time against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This outcome, essentially, is what Baker was worried about as far back as spring training in February, when he made clear his desire for a new contract, knowing his was up after 2017.

Before the series against the Cubs began, Baker was asked about his possible future in Washington.

"I've given some thought to some things, but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make a determination," he said at the time. "There's a good chance I'll be back."

He expected negotiations to pick up after the season ended (see full story).

Turner, Taylor repay Dodgers' patience by sharing NLCS MVP
CHICAGO -- Justin Turner and Chris Taylor shared MVP honors in the NL Championship Series, repaying a Dodgers organization willing to roll the dice on players whose big league careers were stalled.

In Turner's case, it was then-bench coach Tim Wallach who rediscovered him playing in a Cal State-Fullerton alumni baseball game four years ago, after his career appeared all but over.

In Taylor's case, it was Los Angeles' willingness to gamble that an offseason of grueling workouts would enable the young utilityman to rebuild his swing in a matter of months.

The co-MVPs turned up in the interview room together after the Dodgers eliminated the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs 11-1 in Game 5. They were champagne-soaked with hats turned backward, a pair of goggles still perched on Turner's head. Fittingly, they doused each other with praise.

"He's a dynamic player and a table setter," said Turner, who hit .333 for the series, with two home runs and seven RBIs. "When he goes, we usually go as a team."

"I talk to him as much as I can. He's one of the reasons I decided to make the changes I did," said Taylor, who finished at .316 with two homers and three RBIs. Both men also walked five times, as many as the entire Cubs roster (see full story).

Rare Jackie Robinson rookie jersey up for auction
NEW YORK -- A rare jersey from Jackie Robinson's historic rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers 70 years ago could be available for someone with a few spare millions.

The jersey, part of a Heroes of Sports offering by Heritage Auctions, has been certified by Mears, one of the top memorabilia authentication companies. It is accompanied by a letter from Robinson's widow, Rachel, saying it is the one brought home by the Hall of Famer at the end of the 1947 season, when he became the first black player in the majors and earned Rookie of the Year honors.

"This is the only one known from the `47 season, the only one that survived," Chris Ivy, Heritage's director of sports auctions, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "It stayed in his closet for five decades plus until it was eventually sold to a private collector in the early 2000s."

The online auction opened Friday and closes at 11 p.m. on Nov. 19. The entire collection is from one owner and can be viewed on Heritage's website. Other items available for bidding include Babe Ruth's pants from the Hall of Fame induction in 1939, Keith Hernandez's 1978 Gold Glove award, a Wilt Chamberlain jersey from 1966, Bill Vukovich's Indianapolis 500 trophy from 1953 and Muhammad Ali's shoes from his fight against Ken Norton in 1973.

Ivy said the Robinson jersey has been valued at more than $3 million. He wouldn't be surprised to see it exceed that.

"It's tough to estimate a piece like this -- it's a one of a kind," he said. "As far as collectibles a rookie (jersey) is always sought after, something that's significant."