Chris Sale
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Red Sox pull Chris Sale after four innings

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So much for a meeting of the aces. Boston southpaw Chris Sale went toe-to-toe with Astros lefty Justin Verlander during Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday, but neither pitcher came away looking anything like the perennial Cy Young contenders they are.

It was far worse for Sale, who toiled through four long innings of two-run, five-strikeout, 86-pitch ball in the Championship Series opener. He opened the game with an eight-pitch walk to George Springer, then set the rest of the Astros’ lineup down on nine pitches. In the second inning, nearly every batter drew a full count against the left-hander. Sale issued a seven-pitch walk to Carlos Correa, then worked a 2-2 count against Martin Maldonado before his fifth pitch, a 96-MPH fastball, grazed Maldonado’s hand and awarded him a free base.

With a third walk to Josh Reddick, the Astros had the bases loaded against Sale with two outs and All-Star slugger George Springer up to bat. Springer struck a line drive to left field — the first and only hit Sale would allow all night — and plated a pair of runs to get the Astros on the board. While no sign of injury or excessive fatigue appeared to impede Sale’s mechanics, the 29-year-old’s velocity and command continued to erode over the next two innings. He retired the side on 19 pitches in the third (and another walk, his fourth of the game) and finished off his final inning with another 17, bringing his total just four shy of 90 as he turned over the ball to right-hander Joe Kelly in the fifth.

By the end of Sale’s outing, he’d allowed two runs on one hit, four walks, and five strikeouts. Even more disconcerting: In four innings, just 50 of his 86 pitches landed for strikes. Needless to say, this isn’t the 2.11-ERA, 6.5-fWAR hurler that helped propel Boston to a franchise-best 108-win season in 2018. While Sale didn’t enter Game 1 with the strongest postseason resume, this was an uncharacteristically difficult outing for the AL East ace — and one that cast some serious doubt about the Red Sox’ ability to power through the rest of this series, too.

Bellinger, Puig power Game 7 win to send Dodgers to the World Series

Yasiel Puig
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The Dodgers are headed back to the World Series following a 5-1 win over the Brewers during Game 7 of the NLCS. Cody Bellinger delivered the go-ahead shot after taking Jhoulys Chacín deep in the second inning, and Yasiel Puig‘s three-run blast in the sixth helped bolster the Dodgers’ lead as they wrapped up their second consecutive NL pennant.

The Brewers looked dominant from the get-go. Jhoulys Chacín set down a scoreless first inning while Christian Yelich proved he was capable of harnessing the power that nearly won him the Triple Crown during the regular season. He smashed an 0-1 pitch from rookie right-hander Walker Buehler in the bottom of the first, sending it out to center field to mark his first home run since Game 1 of the NLDS.

It wasn’t long before the cracks began to show, however. Cody Bellinger returned with a two-run shot in the second inning, and another double from Puig signaled the end of Chacín’s outing. He used just six pitches to get through all three outs in the second, then handed the ball to southpaw Josh Hader to start the third. The lefty didn’t disappoint. After sitting out of Game 6, he pitched a flawless three innings to keep the Brewers on the Dodgers’ tail, issuing just one hit, one walk, and four strikeouts until he made his exit in the sixth.

Had the Brewers been able to rely on Hader for a longer outing, they might have chosen to do so. Instead, Xavier Cedeño and Jeremy Jeffress combined for a disastrous outing in the sixth, first with back-to-back singles from Max Muncy and Justin Turner, then with a three-RBI homer from Puig that allowed Los Angeles to pull ahead with a four-run lead.

The Dodgers did their fair share of shutting down the Brewers at the plate, too. In the bottom of the fifth, Milwaukee verged on a tie after Lorenzo Cain drove a two-out, line drive double into left field. Julio Urias replaced Walker as Yelich came back up to the plate, but any thought of a go-ahead homer was quickly shut down as Chris Taylor sprinted to make a jaw-dropping, over-the-shoulder catch at the warning track.

The bats settled down from the sixth inning on — neither the Dodgers nor the Brewers found an opening against Milwaukee’s Corey Knebel and Brandon Woodruff and L.A.’s Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw, respectively. Woodruff struck out the side in the eighth, while Jansen refused to allow a single batter to reach base in 1 1/3 innings of work. Things appeared to shift back in the Dodgers’ favor in the ninth, as Puig and Taylor collected a single and double and Woodruff loaded the bases after intentionally walking Matt Kemp to get to Enrique Hernández. That feeling was short-lived, though, as Woodruff decimated Hernández and Muncy in back-to-back strikeouts to cap the inning.

With a World Series berth on the line, not to mention the club’s 23rd NL pennant, the Dodgers weren’t taking any chances when the bottom of the ninth rolled around. Up 5-1 with three outs remaining, Clayton Kershaw stepped on the mound for the first time since his Game 5 win. He looked just as dominant in relief, retiring Shaw on a groundout, inducing a six-pitch strikeout from Jesús Aguilar, and effectively dashing the Brewers’ World Series hopes as Mike Moustakas struck out swinging for the third and final out of the game.

Game 1 of the World Series is set for Tuesday, October 23 at 8:09 PM EDT, when left-hander Chris Sale will take the mound for the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The Dodgers’ starter has yet to be formally announced. The Red Sox are currently looking for their ninth championship title, while the Dodgers are on the cusp of their seventh.