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Cubs’ bats wake up, slug past Dodgers 10-2 in NLCS Game 4 to even up series

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After getting shut out in back-to-back games in the NLCS against the Dodgers, the Cubs’ woke up with a vengeance in Game 4 at Dodger Stadim on Wednesday evening. The offense banged out eight runs and 10 hits to take a convincing 10-2 victory to even the NLCS at 2-2.

Dodgers starter Julio Urias was humming through the first three innings, going toe-to-toe with postseason veteran John Lackey. With a scoreless tie through the first third of the game, it looked like it’d be a nailbiter.

The Cubs’ offense, though, awoke from its slumber in the top of the fourth. Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez hit back-to-back singles to open up the frame. Willson Contreras singled to left field to plate Zobrist. Both Baez and Contreras advanced on the bases when Andrew Toles made a poor throw. The struggling Jason Heyward came up and missed on several pitches down the middle, ultimately grounding out weakly to first base, but at least it brought another run in to make it 2-0. Addison Russell, who had been having just as miserable a postseason, followed up with a well-struck two-run home run to center field, doubling the lead to 4-0. Anthony Rizzo tacked on one more leading off the fifth, drilling a solo homer to right-center off of reliever Pedro Baez.

The Dodgers answered in the bottom half of the fifth. Lackey walked Toles and pinch-hitter Andre Ethier, forcing manager Joe Maddon to bring in lefty Mike Montgomery to face pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick, replacing lefty Chase Utley. Kendrick singled to left field, loading the bases. Montgomery was able to strike out Corey Seager, giving him light at the end of the tunnel. Justin Turner then hit a comebacker to Montgomery who, if he had fielded it cleanly, likely would’ve had an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play. Instead, it deflected off of his glove, past Russell at shortstop and into left field. Toles and Ethier both scored, cutting the lead to 5-2. Montgomery saw his way out of the inning from that point, though, getting Adrian Gonzalez and pinch-hitter Enrique Hernandez to ground out.

In the top of the sixth, the Cubs doubled their run output with a five-spot. It started when Russell reached on an infield single. Maddon, questionably, had Montgomery hit for himself rather than a pinch-hitter, but as fate would have it, Montgomery sliced a single to left, putting runners on first and third. Dexter Fowler came up and singled to right, plating Russell. Kris Bryant drew a walk to load the bases. Then, Rizzo came through again with a single to right, plating two. Ben Zobrist hit a light tapper in front of home plate, but it was far enough in front to make a tough play for catcher Yasmani Grandal. Zobrist reached on a call that was overturned, scoring the Cubs’ 10th run and their fifth of the inning. Baez flied out and Contreras grounded out to send the game to the bottom half of the sixth.

Montgomery worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth, getting a strikeout and two ground outs. He gave way to Carl Edwards, Jr. in the seventh, who issued a two-out walk to Seager, then left with left hamstring tightness after being tended to by trainer Ed Halbur. Lefty Travis Wood entered and walked Turner before getting Gonzalez to fly out, sending the game into the eighth.

Pedro Strop took over in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out Carlos Ruiz, got Pederson to fly out to right, and ended the inning with a Grandal ground out.

The ninth was Hector Rondon‘s. The right-hander struck out Toles to start the inning. Yasiel Puig then chopped a single past second baseman Baez, but Rondon bounced back to get Kendrick to fly out to right field and Seager to ground out, finalizing the 10-2 victory. It’s the worst postseason loss the Dodgers have suffered at Dodger Stadium.

With the series tied at two games apiece, the Dodgers and Cubs will meet again for NLCS Game 5 on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium. Jon Lester will start for the Cubs while the Dodgers will counter with Kenta Maeda. The series is guaranteed to return to Wrigley Field for at least Game 6, possibly Game 7.

Astros, Red Sox look ahead in wake of sign-stealing scandal

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Players from two teams at the center of baseball’s sign-stealing scandal faced their fans on Saturday for the first time since the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox ousted their managers amid the fallout from the investigation into Houston’s elaborate scheme.

The Astros and Red Sox held their annual fan fests on Saturday, and instead of discussing preparations for the season, players from both teams were left to answer questions about the cheating that resulted in both teams’ managers being fired.

“It’s a tough situation and as a team we have to stay together and go through this as a team like we’ve been doing, always,” Houston star second baseman José Altuve said. “We have to talk about it at spring training and try not to let things in the past distract us for for next year.”

Houston manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for a year by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs during the Astros’ run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. Team owner Jim Crane then fired both Hinch and Luhnow. Manager Alex Cora left the Red Sox on Tuesday after Manfred’s report identified him as the ringleader of the sign-stealing scheme when he was the bench coach for the Astros in 2017.

Many Red Sox players talked Saturday about how much they liked and valued Cora and hated to see him go.

“I’m heartbroken about it,” Boston designated hitter J.D. Martinez said. “I understood his side of it. He definitely didn’t want to be a distraction. He was one of my favorite, if not my favorite, managers I’ve had.”

The Astros were fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that 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 chances of getting a hit.

MLB is also looking into whether Cora installed a similar system in Boston after arriving the following year, when the Red Sox won the World Series. No conclusions have been reached and there is no timetable; the Astros investigation took two months.

Martinez hopes MLB wraps up the investigation into the Red Sox soon so they can put this behind them.

“I’m excited for the investigation to get over with, so they can see there’s nothing going on here,” he said.

While the Astros were meeting with fans in Houston, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk called for MLB take away their World Series championship, now that it’s been proven that they cheated.

“I mean, I would like to see that obviously. I bet the Dodgers would like to see that,” Grichuk said. “I’ve got a few friends on the Dodgers that are very disappointed that possibly two years in a row they lost due to a team going against the rules.”

Many Boston players are trying not to focus on the investigation or what could be coming for the team, but instead simply trying to prepare like it’s any other season.

“MLB’s going to do what they have to do to look into it,” pitcher Nathan Eovaldi said. “I’m just trying to focus on baseball. I feel like it’s going to pass, and everything’s going to be fine.”

While Altuve didn’t have a problem answering numerous questions about the scandal, Houston third baseman Alex Bregman refused repeated attempts by reporters to get him to address what happened and kept repeating variations of the same phrase.

“The commissioner made his report, made his decision and the Astros made their decision and I have no further comment on it,” Bregman said in some variation again and again.

After being pressed on if he plans to discuss the sign-stealing in the future, Bregman finally gave an answer that didn’t seem as rehearsed.

“I think in the 2020 year our actions will speak louder than our words,” he said.

Altuve and Bregman were the only two stars at Saturday’s fan fest in Houston who were part of the 2017 championship team. Many of the other big names who helped the Astros win their first title, including World Series MVP George Springer, ace Justin Verlander and shortstop Carlos Correa, did not attend the daylong event where fans can interact with players.

Altuve was the AL MVP in 2017, and since the sign-stealing scandal broke, some have questioned whether he deserved the award. In recent days he’s also been accused of wearing an electronic device under his jersey to tip pitches, which he vehemently denies. He was asked how it feels for people to call him a cheater.

“You don’t want anybody to call you that,” he said. “But … I have two options. One is cry and one is go down and play the game and (perform) and help my team. And you know what one I am going to do.”

MLB’s investigation of Houston began after former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who played for Oakland last season, told The Athletic about the team’s scheme to steal signs. Martinez said he has spoken to Fiers and gets why he came forward.

“I understand his side of it, being in that division, going against those guys. It’s an uncomfortable position for him, but I understand why he did what he did,” Martinez told reporters in Springfield, Massachusetts. “He obviously felt like he needed to and I understand it.”

In Houston, as the Astros try to put the scandal behind them and focus on the future, Altuve, who has often been described as the heart and soul of the team, is confident it won’t derail the Astros from another successful season.

“Everything will be fine,” he said. “We’re going to be in the World Series again. People don’t believe it. But we will.”