Freddie Freeman launched a two-run homer and drove in three runs, and Ozzie Albies went 3-for-4 with a solo homer and a pair of RBI on Tuesday, as the Braves held on for a dramatic 8-7 victory over the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS at Globe Life Field in Arlington. Corey Seager clobbered a three-run homer and Max Muncy walloped a two-run blast to spark a late comeback, but it simply wasn’t enough to overcome a massive early deficit. Trailing by a pair of runs, and facing lights-out stopper Mark Melancon, the Dodgers were down to their final strike before Will Smith reached on a fielding error by Albies and Cody Bellinger followed with an RBI triple to right field. With the tying run just 90 feet away, A.J. Pollock scalded a 101-mph groundball right to third baseman Austin Riley to end the contest. With the narrow victory, Atlanta takes a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series heading into a pivotal Game 3 matchup on Wednesday night. They’ve won seven consecutive postseason games and are only two wins away from their first World Series appearance since 1999. With their season on the brink, the Dodgers will hand the ball to southpaw Julio Urias, while the Braves will counter with right-hander Kyle Wright.
Despite battling persistent control issues, Braves rookie sensation Ian Anderson managed to scatter a career-high five walks over four scoreless frames. It wasn’t a dominant performance by any metric, but the fact that he was able to grind, preventing the game from getting away, made this his most impressive outing of the postseason so far. He walked a pair of batters and also uncorked a wild pitch, in a 29-pitch opening frame. Yet, he managed to escape without any damage. He also handed out a pair of free passes before wriggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the third inning. The 22-year-old righty, who hasn’t given up a run in 15 2/3 postseason innings so far, and lefty reliever Tyler Matzek combined for six scoreless frames to open the contest, and the Braves offense erupted for seven unanswered runs during that span, before Seager finally put the Dodgers on the board with a three-run homer off A.J. Minter in the seventh inning.
With three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw scratched just a few hours before first pitch due to back spasms, Tony Gonsolin was unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight; ostensibly tasked with taking the place of the future Hall of Famer with Los Angeles’ postseason hopes on the line. It was an extraordinary situation, especially since Gonsolin was a complete afterthought when the Dodgers prepared to break camp this spring. Despite posting respectable numbers during his brief major-league debut late last year, the 26-year-old rookie right-hander was slated to open the 2020 campaign in the minor leagues. Suddenly, the entire world was turned upside down. Amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, Gonsolin took advantage of his newfound opportunity, blossoming into a full-fledged member of the Dodgers’ starting rotation, compiling a pristine 2.31 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 46/7 K/BB ratio across 46 2/3 innings (nine appearances, eight starts) during the shortened regular season. His meteoric rise further augmented a loaded Dodgers squad, which posted the best record in baseball and cruised to their eighth consecutive NL West crown.
For a brief moment, it looked like he was in complete control, while his Braves’ counterpart dealt with plenty of traffic on the basepaths early on. Gonsolin retired nine consecutive batters to open his first playoff start -- his first appearance in nearly three weeks -- before issuing a lead-off walk to Ronald Acuña and serving up a two-run homer to Freeman -- his second long ball of the series -- in the fourth inning. The presumptive NL MVP favorite, Freeman is a true generational talent. Yet, it was still shocking to see him clear the right-field wall, especially since Gonsolin had allowed only six round-trippers across 86 2/3 innings at the big-league level. It didn’t get any better from there as the Dodgers completely unraveled in the fifth inning when Gonsolin and reliever Pedro Baez combined to cough up four runs in the disastrous frame. Rookie outfielder Cristian Pache -- starting in place of Adam Duvall, who suffered a season-ending oblique injury in Game 1 -- slapped an RBI double down the left field line, before Freeman followed with an RBI single, Travis d’Arnaud drew a bases-loaded walk and Ozzie Albies capped off the four-run outburst with a sacrifice fly to center field.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ struggling offense failed to capitalize on several opportunities in the early stages of the contest, which ultimately came back to haunt them in the end. They managed to draw six walks, but were held to just a pair of hits against Anderson and Matzek, before finally getting to Darren O’Day and Minter in the seventh inning. By that point, they faced an insurmountable deficit, but at least they were able to build some much-needed offensive momentum heading into a critical Game 3 matchup on Wednesday. Despite their late-inning heroics, the Dodgers’ offense is hitting .206 (14-for-68) with only five extra-base hits through two games. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time because it put the Braves up by five runs, but Albies solo shot to left-center field off lefty specialist Adam Kolarek in the ninth inning wound up being the difference in the game. The 23-year-old switch-hitter has gone deep twice in the series already, with both round-tripper’s coming from the right side of the plate.
What’s Next: Clayton Kershaw’s health remains the central question for the Dodgers as they attempt to piece together their scrambled pitching plan moving forward. The 32-year-old lefty, who developed back spasms on Saturday, has already been ruled out for Game 3, which further amplifies the pressure on southpaw Julio Urias, who was brilliant his last time out. The 24-year-old lefty allowed a single unearned run over five innings, picking up a win over the Padres in Game 3 of the NLDS last week. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters Tuesday that the likelihood of Kershaw starting at some point in the series is “very good,” but also added that will not happen until Game 4, at the earliest. He also ruled out hard-throwing righty Dustin May, who threw 21 pitches over 1 2/3 innings in relief in their Game 1 loss on Monday, as an option to pitch in Game 3. Meanwhile, the Braves have an opportunity to push the Dodgers to the brink of elimination, and have this series in a vice grip, with right-hander Kyle Wright on the mound. The 25-year-old righty recorded seven strikeouts over six shutout frames to collect a win in the Braves’ series-clinching NLDS Game 3 victory over the Marlins last week.
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Renfroe’s Heroics Propel Rays Over Astros
Joey Wendle hit a two-run single and Hunter Renfroe blooped a two-run double, catalyzing a five-run explosion in the sixth inning, propelling the Rays to a 5-2 victory over the Astros in Game 3 of the ALCS at Petco Park in San Diego. The pair of unlikely heroes became the latest unheralded difference-makers -- joining outfielders Randy Arozarena and Manuel Margot -- to emerge with key contributions for the Rays during their remarkable postseason run. Wendle came through with the go-ahead knock, while certifiable Mike Trout doppelganger Renfroe delivered a pinch-hit two-run double, and also made a pair of spectacular sliding catches, taking away potential extra-base hits from George Springer and Kyle Tucker in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. With the victory, Tampa Bay takes a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS and are one win away from their first World Series appearance since 2008.
The Astros held a one-run advantage and appeared to be on the verge of a much-needed victory, before coming apart in the middle innings. Jose Altuve kicked off the scoring with a solo homer to left field off Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough in the opening frame. It was his 17th career postseason home run, which ties him with teammate George Springer for the franchise record. Unfortunately, their bullpen melted down in spectacular fashion. After witnessing brilliant performances by Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr. wasted earlier in the series, Jose Urquidy became the latest Astros’ starter to have his excellent outing squandered. The 25-year-old righty was charged with two runs (one earned) on four hits over five innings. He struck out four batters and only issued one walk. He carried a shutout into the sixth inning before running into trouble. He surrendered a lead-off single to Randy Arozarena, and was lifted from the contest by manager Dusty Baker after Brandon Lowe reached on a throwing error by Altuve -- his third throwing error of the postseason -- on a potential double-play ball. A tandem of Astros relievers -- Enoli Paredes and Brooks Raley -- immediately poured gasoline on the fire, allowing six of the ensuing nine batters they faced to reach base safely. When the dust settled, the Rays had plated five runs in the disastrous frame.
Yarbrough allowed two runs over five innings, with all of the damage coming on a pair of solo homers, before the Rays bullpen took over to protect a three-run lead in the sixth inning. Peter Fairbanks, John Curtiss, Ryan Thompson, Aaron Loup and Diego Castillo combined to record the final 12 outs of the low-scoring affair. He wasn’t the Rays’ primary catalyst in this one, but Arozarena continued his torrid playoff run, going 3-for-4 with a walk and a run scored. He also became the fifth player in major-league history to record four games with at least three hits in the same postseason. The 25-year-old burgeoning star is hitting an extra-terrestrial .462 (18-for-39) with eight extra-base hits across 10 games this October.
What’s Next: With the Astros on the brink of elimination, veteran right-hander Zack Greinke will take the hill for a do-or-die Game 4 of the ALCS on Wednesday. The runaway freight train Rays will counter with hard-throwing righty Tyler Glasnow. It also appears that they avoided a major injury with center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who made a pair of highlight-reel worthy defensive plays on Tuesday night, before exiting the contest after being hit by a pitch in the sixth inning. He made a leaping grab at the wall in center field to take an extra-base hit away from Alex Bregman in the opening frame, and also made a brilliant diving catch in the right-center field gap, robbing Carlos Correa of a run-scoring knock in the third inning. X-rays turned up negative and the 30-year-old defensive wizard is considered day-to-day with a wrist contusion.
Major League Baseball Quick Hits: Yankees general partner Hal Steinbrenner said during an appearance on The Michael Kay Show on Tuesday that Aaron Boone will return as the team’s manager next season … Jason Beck of MLB.com reported Tuesday that the Tigers have interviewed Dodgers first base coach George Lombard for their managerial vacancy … Giants first baseman Brandon Belt underwent surgery this week to remove a bone spur in his right heel.