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Giants’ bullpen has an all-time meltdown, Cubs move on to the NLCS

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The Giants’ problematic bullpen reared its ugly head once again in Game 4 of the NLDS at AT&T Park on Tuesday evening. During the regular season that bullpen blew 30 saves, most in baseball and the most for any playoff team since saves became an official stat in 1969. That bullpen nearly cost the Giants Game 3. It cost them Game 4. But let’s start from the top.

The Giants opened the scoring in the bottom of the first, plating a run on a Buster Posey sacrifice fly off of Cubs starter John Lackey. The Cubs tied it at once apiece in the third inning when David Ross swatted a solo home run to left field off of Giants starter Matt Moore.

In the fourth inning, the Giants staged a one-out rally as Conor Gillaspie and Joe Panik singled and Gregor Blanco walked to load the bases for Moore. Moore, an American League pitcher until joining the Giants this summer, has taken 44 career plate appearances and has just three hits (all singles) to show for it. Nevertheless, the Giants’ lefty grounded a single to right field, plating a run to break the 1-1 tie. Denard Span then hit what appeared to be an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play ball, but Lackey slipped over the first base bag and missed the out, allowing another run to score.

The Cubs fought back for a run in the top of the fifth on a Ross sacrifice fly. In the bottom half, the Giants scored two more. With one out, Hunter Pence singled up the middle and Brandon Crawford doubled to deep right-center on a play that was reviewed. Lefty reliever Travis Wood relieved Lackey, but postseason hero Conor Gillaspie came through with an RBI single to center and Panik followed up with a sacrifice fly to make it 5-2.

Moore cruised through eight innings. He gave up just the two runs on two hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts on 120 pitches. It’s really a shame what happened next, considering how well he pitched.

Derek Law, with all of one career save to his name, took over in the ninth. He allowed a leadoff single to Kris Bryant and was immediately replaced by lefty Javier Lopez. Lopez walked Anthony Rizzo to bring the tying run to the plate with no outs in Ben Zobrist. Lopez out, Sergio Romo in. Zobrist ripped a double down the left field line, plating Bryant. Romo exited and lefty Will Smith came in. Smith gave up a two-run, game-tying single up the middle to Willson Contreras. 5-5. Jason Heyward tried to bunt Contreras over to second base, but Contreras was forced out at second. Shortstop Brandon Crawford, though, made a wild throw to first base, allowing Heyward to advance to second base. Can you guess what happened next? That’s right, another pitching change. Hunter Strickland came in and immediately gave up a go-ahead RBI single up the middle to Javier Baez, making it a 6-5 game. At long last, Strickland ended the inning by inducing a 4-6-3 double play out of Ross.

Aroldis Chapman toed the slab for the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth, fresh off of his abysmal showing in Game 3. This time was different. Chapman struck out the side: Gorkys Hernandez, Denard Span, and Brandon Belt.

The Cubs move onto the NLCS. They’ll play the winner of Thursday’s Game 5 between the Dodgers and Nationals.

Keuchel apologizes for 2017 Astros’ sign-stealing scandal

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CHICAGO (AP) Dallas Keuchel has become the first member of the 2017 Houston Astros to offer a public apology for the team’s sign-stealing scheme during their run to the World Series championship.

Speaking Friday at the fan convention for the Chicago White Sox, who signed the left-hander to a $55.5 million, three-year contract in December, Keuchel said he felt what happened was blown out of proportion, but he was sorry.

“I’m not going to go into specific detail, but during the course of the playoffs in `17, everybody was using multiple signs,” Keuchel said, “I mean, for factual purposes, when there’s nobody on base, when in the history of major league baseball has there been multiple signs?

“It’s just what the state of baseball was at that point and time,” the former AL Cy Young Award winner said. “Was it against the rules? Yes it was, and I personally am sorry for what’s come about, the whole situation.”

An investigation by Major League Baseball found the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

The process started in 2017, according to baseball’s investigation, and continued through the 2018 season. Houston won the franchise’s first championship three years ago, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series, and made it to the AL Championship Series in 2018.

“To the extent of the whole situation back then, I can tell you that not every game there was signs being stolen,” Keuchel said. “Some guys did a really good job, and sometimes we did as a group have signs but we still couldn’t hit the pitcher. So it wasn’t like every game we had everything going on.

“So at that point that’s when the whole system, it really works, a little bit, but at the same time, there was a human element where some guys were better than our hitters.”

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended and then fired in the aftermath of MLB’s investigation, and the fallout likely will continue into the season. Managers Alex Cora of the Red Sox and Carlos Beltran of the Mets also lost their jobs over their role in the scheme, and Astros stars Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve faced heavy criticism for their first public comments after the investigation.

Oakland right-hander Mike Fiers also could be headed for an icy reception in some corners of the sport. MLB began its probe after Fiers, who played for the Astros in 2017, told The Athletic about the team’s scheme to steal signs.

Asked about Fiers, Keuchel called it a “tough subject” because of baseball’s tight-knit community in the locker room.

“It sucks to the extent of the clubhouse rule was broken and that’s where I’ll go with that,” Keuchel said. “I don’t really have much else to say about Mike.”

Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap

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