A tale of two No. 3 hitters

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When the showdown against the Yankees began, it looked like Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth were the Phillies poised to make postseason history. Howard matched a record by driving in runs in eight straight games to begin the postseason. Werth, meanwhile, hit five homers in nine games against the Rockies and Dodgers.
In the World Series, though, the Phillies’ best player has taken over. Chase Utley had his second two-homer game against the Yankees on Monday and drove in four runs to lead the Phillies to an 8-6 victory. He has five homers in all, tying Reggie Jackson (1977) for the World Series record.
Utley is now batting .314 with six homers, 11 walks and 14 runs scored in 14 postseason games. He’s been limited to 10 RBI, mostly because neither Jimmy Rollins nor Shane Victorino has done a very good job of getting on base. However, he might well be the best choice for World Series MVP even if the Phillies go on to lose in New York.
Mark Teixeira, on the other hand, has only been drawing accolades for his defense. He struck out as the tying run to end Monday’s loss, dropping him to 2-for-19 for the World Series. He’s batting .175 with two homers, seven RBI and a 16/6 K/BB ratio in 57 at-bats for the postseason. Saving him from criticism is that both of his homers have been big: he delivered a walkoff shot to end Game 2 of the ALDS against the Twins and he tied Game 2 of the World Series with a solo shot off Pedro Martinez. He’s struggled throughout, though.
Still, no one is really going to point the finger at Teixeira for this one. A.J. Burnett, working on short rest, gave up six runs in two-plus innings. Phil Coke, brought in to face the lefty-heavy portion of the Philadelphia lineup after largely being avoided of late, gave up solo homers to Utley and Raul Ibanez while recording just two outs. Those are the two players manager Joe Girardi will be asked about over the next 24 hours.
Getting to start on normal rest, Cliff Lee was merely OK for the Phillies. He didn’t show up with his best stuff, but he limited a depleted lineup to two runs and four hits over seven innings before allowing the first three batters to reach in the eighth. He was knocked out of the game by a two-run double from Alex Rodriguez that should have been caught by Raul Ibanez. Fortunately, Chan Ho Park finished the eighth without much trouble. Ryan Madson had big issues in the ninth, but he escaped largely thanks to a double-play ball from Derek Jeter.
The World Series will shift back to New York now. Neither manager has officially announced a Game 6 starter, though the assumption is that Martinez will face Andy Pettitte, who would work on three days’ rest. It is noteworthy that the Phillies again bypassed J.A. Happ in relief tonight, opening up the possibility that he could start Game 6 if the Phillies don’t want to go with Cole Hamels in Game 7.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.