Home runs spark 5-2 win over Cubs, Dodgers take a 1-0 lead in NLCS

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The Dodgers worked their way to a 1-0 advantage in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday, powering through another short start from Clayton Kershaw with a handful of homers and a shutdown performance from the bullpen. Jose Quintana went five strong for the Cubs, allowing two runs on a pair of hits and walks, but Chicago’s relievers cracked under pressure, handing Los Angeles the lead with home runs from Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig and a controversial play at the plate.

At the outset of the game, it looked like both sides were in for a pitcher’s duel, albeit a short-lived one. Kershaw needed 23 pitches to get through the first inning, but worked out of a jam to strand two baserunners and was able to make it through three scoreless innings before Albert Almora Jr.’s two-run homer in the fourth. Quintana was more dominant, setting down 11 of the first 12 batters to preserve Chicago’s one-run lead through four frames.

In the fifth, the Dodgers caught up with him. Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes drew back-to-back walks, which prompted a visit to the mound moments before Yasiel Puig ripped a one-out RBI double into center field. Charlie Culberson followed the double with a sac fly to tie the game.

With the score knotted 2-2 in the sixth and Kershaw closing in on 90 pitches, Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts pulled the left-hander for fellow lefty Tony Cingrani. The five-inning performance stands as Kershaw’s shortest postseason start since Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS. Cingrani, meanwhile, pitched to just one batter, inducing a groundout before he was pulled for Kenta Maeda.

The Dodgers kept things interesting for Hector Rondon, who replaced Quintana in the sixth and promptly gave up a 401-foot, go-ahead home run to Chris Taylor. Rondon was immediately removed from the mound, but the damage had already been done. In the seventh, Yasiel Puig led off with another home run, this one a 378-footer courtesy of Mike Montgomery.

The real drama, however, came later. Culberson doubled into left field, followed by a base hit from Taylor. With one out and John Lackey on the mound, Justin Turner lined a single into left to score Culberson, who was blocked at the plate by Cubs’ catcher Willson Contreras. The initial ruling determined Culberson was out at home, but a challenge revealed that Contreras had violated the home-plate collision rule by blocking the runner’s path to home plate without first having possession of the ball.

Despite protests from an irate Joe Maddon, the ruling was overturned in the Dodgers’ favor, boosting them to a three-run lead with two innings left to play. The Cubs couldn’t get another runner on base against Tony Watson and Kenley Jansen, the latter of whom struck out the side on 13 pitches to cap the Dodgers’ win in the ninth.

Game 2 is set for Sunday evening, when Rich Hill (12-8, 3.32 ERA) will face off against Jon Lester (13-8, 4.33 ERA) at 7:30 PM ET. From there, the series will move to Chicago for Games 3 (Yu Darvish vs. Kyle Hendricks) and 4 (Alex Wood vs. Jake Arrieta).

Shohei Ohtani agrees to $30 million deal for 2023 with Angels

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shohei Ohtani agreed to a $30 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels for the 2023 season in the two-way superstar’s final year of arbitration eligibility before free agency.

The Angels announced the deal, avoiding a potentially complicated arbitration case with the 2021 AL MVP.

Ohtani’s deal is fully guaranteed, with no other provisions. The contract is the largest ever given to an arbitration-eligible player, surpassing the $27 million given to Mookie Betts by the Boston Red Sox in January 2020, a month before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ohtani is having another incredible season at the plate and on the mound for the Angels, regularly accomplishing feats that haven’t occurred in the major leagues since Babe Ruth’s heyday. He is a strong contender for the AL MVP award again alongside the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, who has tied the AL home run record and is closing in on the batting Triple Crown.

Ohtani is batting .276 with 34 homers, 94 RBIs and a .888 OPS as the Halos’ designated hitter. He is 15-8 with a 2.35 ERA and 213 strikeouts as their ace on the mound, and opponents are batting only .207 against him.

The 28-year-old Ohtani still will be a free agent after the 2023 season, and his future could be tied to the immediate fortunes of the Angels, who will complete their seventh consecutive losing season next week. The Angels didn’t trade Ohtani at the deadline despite being out of the playoff race again, and Ohtani is wildly popular among the club’s fans.

Ohtani repeatedly has said winning will be an important factor in choosing his home beyond 2023, and Angels owner Arte Moreno is currently exploring a sale of the team.

Moreno’s leadership has been widely criticized during the Angels’ mostly miserable run of play since 2009, and a fresh start with deep-pocketed new owners could be the best chance to persuade Ohtani to stay with the franchise he joined in 2018 from Japan. Ohtani immediately won the AL Rookie of the Year award, and he rounded into unique form last season after recovering fully from Tommy John surgery.