Putting it all together, Phillies beat Braves again


Putting it all together, Phillies beat Braves again


ATLANTA -- Baseball is a game of adjustments, they say, and after getting tattooed all season long in the first inning, Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick made an adjustment to his pre-game warmup routine Tuesday night.

Instead climbing the bullpen mound about 20 minutes before game time, Kendrick started throwing a little earlier, took a 10-minute break then threw some more off the mound.

It worked.

Kendrick got through the first inning without allowing a run -- in fact, he struck out the first two batters on six pitches -- as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves for the second straight night, 5-2, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Entering the game, Kendrick had allowed 13 earned runs in the first inning of his 13 starts. That's a 9.00 ERA.

“I put up a zero in the first inning, that’s the main thing,” he said.

It was imperative that Kendrick put up a zero in the bottom of the first because he was staked to a 2-0 lead in the top of the inning as Jimmy Rollins doubled to lead off the game and Ryan Howard homered on a full-count pitch from Ervin Santana with two outs.

Throwing back an early lead like that would have been demoralizing to the whole team. Putting up the zero was a positive tone-setter for the night.

“We got those two runs, it was big,” Kendrick said. “I knew I had to put up a zero.”

Kendrick went seven innings and allowed just two runs for the night. He struck out six and walked just one. He is 8-2 with a 3.23 ERA in 22 career games (16 starts) against Atlanta.

He loves pitching in Atlanta, especially on muggy nights. The warm night might have helped cure his first-inning woes as much as his new warmup exercise.

“It could have been the weather, too, because I always enjoy pitching here,” he said. “I was pretty loose early.”

Manager Ryne Sandberg called the outing Kendrick’s best of the season “as far as command and quality of pitches.”

Kendrick did an excellent job keeping the ball down. That’s the key for any pitcher, but especially for someone who does not have overpowering stuff. He rolled a huge ground ball for a double play to short-circuit a Braves’ threat in the seventh.

A lot of things clicked for the Phillies in this game. That starting pitching was there. The big middle-of-the-order bat was there in Howard. And so was the bullpen. One night after needing 28 pitches to blow a save and get through the ninth inning, Jonathan Papelbon needed just seven pitches to close out the game. Jake Diekman pitched a scoreless eighth.

Over the first 36 games of the season, the Phillies’ bullpen had an ERA of 4.95, worst in the NL.

In the last 33 games, the bullpen has an ERA of 2.53, which ranks third-best in the NL.

The bullpen’s work has helped the Phillies win six of their last eight games. Management has one eye on breaking up the team and the other on the standings just to see if it wants to keep things together a little longer. Though the Phils are seven games under .500, they are just five games out of first place in the NL East. With Tuesday night’s win, the Phillies knocked the Braves out of first place in the division.

The Phils are two games into a stretch of 18 games that includes 14 against NL East opponents ahead of them in the standings. Teams can make up ground in a hurry, or get buried, in stretches like this. So far, the Phils are 2-0.

“We know where we’re at,” Kendrick said. “Shoot, we’re still in it. Obviously we’re seven under .500. We have to take it one day at a time. Hopefully we can come in tomorrow, sweep these guys and go on to St. Louis.”

Howard’s homer was his second in as many nights and 13th of the season. He hit a full-count fastball from Santana over the left-field wall. The fastball was away and Howard went with it nicely.

“It makes a big difference when Howard swings the bat like that,” Sandberg said. “It tends to bring out the best in everybody.

“It was especially big because they were early runs and that went a long way for Kendrick.

"We've played two good ballgames here."

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

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MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

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 (see full recap).

Tanaka, Yankees blank Astros to take ALCS 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 (see full recap).

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).