It sure appeared as though Bobby Valentine was more interested in proving a point than winning a ballgame on Tuesday night.
With a 5-4 lead after seven innings, Valentine sent Alfredo Aceves out to earn a two-inning save against the Angels. Aceves got through the eighth unscathed, but he lost the game on an RBI single and a sac fly in the ninth.
Aceves, of course, had just returned from a three-game, team-imposed suspension. He hadn’t pitched since Thursday, when he was left in to give up five runs in one-plus innings in a loss to the same Angels team.
Aceves pitched a one-two-three eighth inning tonight. Leaving him in to start the ninth was certainly defensible, but there should have been someone warming up behind him. Valentine didn’t bother getting anyone up until two men reached with one out. By then, it was too late; Aceves gave up a broken bat RBI single to Mike Trout and a game-ending sac fly to Torii Hunter.
If this were 1982, Valentine’s handling of Aceves may have been pretty typical. But the fact of the matter is that hardly anyone is sent out for two-inning saves these days. Aceves didn’t have one this year. In fact, there’s been exactly one two-inning save in a one- or two-run game all year; the Giants’ Jeremy Affeldt recorded it on June 4.
No, this was Valentine trying to show who’s boss. Aceves thinks he deserves to close, so Valentine made him go prove it by giving him a more difficult assignment than any closer is asked to handle these days. And Aceves probably would have handled it if not a fluke HBP — Erick Aybar reached to start the Angels’ rally because a curveball bounced off his back foot.
The Red Sox made it clear they’re trying to start over when they sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford packing last week. It’s time to finish the job and drop the axe on Valentine as well.
After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.
The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).
Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.
With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.
Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.
With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:
So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).
Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.