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Dodgers ride big seventh inning to defeat Nationals 4-3, advance to NLCS

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The Dodgers scored four times in the seventh inning to erase a 1-0 deficit and claim a 4-3 victory over the Nationals in the fifth and final game of the NLDS on Thursday night.

The Nationals grabbed an early 1-0 lead against Dodgers starter Rich Hill in the second inning. Daniel Murphy led off with a single, then stole second base with one out. Ryan Zimmerman walked, and Danny Espinosa followed up with a single to plate Murphy. But that would be it for the Nationals’ offense until after the Dodgers had their big inning.

Nationals starter Max Scherzer was fantastic in his second start of the NLDS. He brought a perfect game into the fifth inning, but that was ended when Josh Reddick led off the inning with a single to right field. Scherzer started the seventh inning, but surrendered a leadoff home run to Joc Pederson, going to the opposite field. Scherzer’s left aterwards. Six-plus innings, five hits, one earned run, two walks, seven strikeouts on 99 pitches.

Lefty Mark Rzepczynski replaced Scherzer, but walked Yasmani Grandal. Manager Dusty Baker, in what would become a theme, came out to remove his reliever. Right-hander Blake Treinen came in to face Howie Kendrick, who singled to left field, putting runners on first and second base with no outs. Treinen was able to strike out Charlie Culberson on a failed bunt attempt. Lefty Sammy Solis replaced Treinen, facing pinch-hitter Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz snuck a single past the outstretched glove of third baseman Anthony Rendon, scoring pinch-runner Austin Barnes to break the 1-1 tie. Corey Seager flied out, prompting Baker to come out to the mound again. Shawn Kelley replaced Solis and immediately gave up a two-run triple to Justin Turner, making it a 4-1 game. Kelly left with an injury and lefty Oliver Perez came in to face Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez, at long last, ended the inning with a ground out to second baseman Murphy.

The Dodgers were able to patch things together despite getting only 2 2/3 innings from Hill. Hill gave up the lone run on three hits and a pair of walks with six strikeouts on 55 pitches. Joe Blanton got four outs. Julio Urias tossed a scoreless fifth and sixth inning.

Grant Dayton took the hill to start the seventh for the Dodgers but immediately got in hot water. He walked Danny Espinosa on four pitches, then served up a two-run home run to pinch-hitter Chris Heisey, making it a 4-3 game. Dayton then served up a single to Clint Robinson before departing. Closer Kenley Jansen entered and things continued to get tense. After getting Trea Turner to fly out, Bryce Harper singled to left field, setting up a first-and-third situation. Jayson Werth battled Jansen in a seven-pitch at-bat, but ultimately struck out. As Harper was running when Werth struck out, first base was open so the Dodgers intentionally walked Daniel Murphy, bringing up Anthony Rendon. Rendon, much to the chagrin of Nationals fans, struck out to end the threat.

Jansen came back out for the eighth. After issuing a leadoff walk to Stephen Drew, the right-hander was able to see his way out of the rest of the inning unscathed. He got Danny Espinosa to pop up on a bunt attempt, Pedro Severino to fly out to center, and Michael Taylor to strike out. While the Dodgers went down in order in the top of the ninth, Clayton Kershaw — the guy who pitched Game 4 on Tuesday — walked out to the bullpen and began to warm up.

No, Kershaw didn’t start the inning. Jansen remained in the game, on for his third inning of work at 37 pitches. He struck out Trea Turner to bring up Bryce Harper. Jansen walked Harper on four pitches. Nope, no Kershaw. The FS1 camera caught manager Dave Roberts flashing his index finger at Jansen and saying “one more.” Jansen ran the count full on Werth before walking him to put runners on first and second with one out. Kershaw time.

Murphy popped up a 1-0 Kershaw fastball, bringing the Nationals down to their final out. Wilmer Difo pinch-hit for Mark Melancon, but Kershaw got him to fan on a curve in the dirt. Ruiz gathered the ball and tossed the ball to Gonzalez at first base to wrap it up. Kershaw got a win and a save — a save! — in the NLDS.

After Thursday night’s win, the Dodgers move on in the postseason. They’ll open up the NLCS on Saturday in Chicago against the Cubs in an 8:00 PM EDT game.

Justin Verlander laughed at after saying Astros were “technologically and analytically advanced”

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Justin Verlander was at the annual Baseball Writers Association of America banquet last night, on hand to accept the 2019 Cy Young Award. Normally such things are pretty routine events, but nothing is routine with the Houston Astros these days.

During his acceptance speech, Verlander made some comments about the Astros’ “technological and analytical advancements.” The comments were greeted by some laughter in the room as well as some groans. At least one person on hand claimed that other players present were visibly angry.

It’s hard to tell the context of it all without a full video — maybe Verlander meant it as a joke, maybe the reactions were more varied than is being described — but here’s how reporters on hand for it last night are describing it:

If it was a joke it was ill-timed, as not many around the game think the sign-stealing stuff is funny at the moment. Especially in light of the fact that, despite having several opportunities to do so, Astros players have failed to show any accountability for their cheating.

And yes, that includes former Astros Dallas Keuchel, who was praised for “apologizing” at a White Sox fan event on Friday, but whose “apology” was couched in a lot of deflection and excuse-making about how it was just something that was done at the time and about how technology was to blame. Keuchel also tried to minimize it, saying that the Astros didn’t do it all the time. Which is rich given that the most prominent video evidence of their trash can-banging scheme came from a blowout Astros win in a meaningless August game against a losing team. If they were doing it in that situation, please, do not tell me they weren’t doing it when games really mattered.

Anyway, I’d like to think Verlander was just trying to take a stab at a joke here, because Verlander is the wrong guy to be sending to be sending any kind of messages diminishing the cheating given that he has a pretty solid track record of holding other players’ feet to the fire when they get busted.

For example, here he was in 2018 after Robinson Canó got busted for PEDs:

Of course, consistency can be a problem for Verlander when his teammates are on the ones who are on the hook. Here was his response to Tigers infielder Jhonny Peralta being suspended in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal:

“Everybody makes mistakes. He’s my brother. We fight and bleed and sweat together on the baseball field. If my brother makes a mistake, especially if he owns up to it and serves his time, I don’t see how you can hold a grudge or anything like that. “It’s one thing to step up and be a man and own up to his mistake.”

Verlander, it should also be noted, was very outspoken about teams engaging in advanced sign-stealing schemes once upon a time. here he was in 2017, while still with the Tigers, talking about such things in a June 2017 interview with MLive.com.

“We don’t have somebody, but I’m sure teams have a person that can break down signals and codes and they’ll have the signs before you even get out there on the mound.  It’s not about gamesmanship anymore. It used to be, ‘Hey, if you can get my signs, good for you.’ In the past, if a guy on second (base) was able to decipher it on a few pitches, I guess that was kind of part of the game. I think it’s a different level now. It’s not good.”

Which makes me wonder how he felt when he landed on the Astros two months later and realized they had a sophisticated cheating operation underway. If the feelings were mixed, he was able to bury the part of them which had a problem with it, because he’s said jack about it since this all blew up in November. And, of course, has happily accepted the accolades and the hardware he he has received since joining Houston, some of which was no doubt acquired by virtue of a little extra, ill-gotten run support.

Anyway, wake me up when someone — anyone — associated with the Astros shows some genuine accountability about this.