Biden hosts baseball champion Dodgers at White House

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden praised sports’ ability to heal and bring a nation together in a time of crisis as he hosted the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers at the White House on Friday.

The Dodgers, who captured the title by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays last October, were the first team to be honored at the White House since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the first since Biden took office.

“I think what we discovered is that we need sports more than we ever realized,” said Biden, who praised baseball as an important totem of normalcy in “one of the most challenging years” in the nation’s history.

The president saluted the Dodgers as “a lot more than a baseball club, they are a pillar of American culture.” He also praised the team for using its stadium as a mass COVID-19 vaccination site.

The ceremony marked the latest step in the White House’s efforts to return to large in-person events as it seeks to highlight the nation’s emergence from the pandemic. More than 50 members of the team attended the East Room event as well as a number of political heavyweights with California ties, including Vice President Kamala Harris, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Biden kept the mood light, teasing that he didn’t want to dwell on the fact that Harris roots for the Dodgers’ long-standing rival, the San Francisco Giants. He also told stories about his own exploits in a congressional baseball game, saying he hit a ball off the wall that thrilled his sons more than any of his political accomplishments.

Clayton Kershaw, the team’s future Hall of Fame pitcher, presented Biden with what has become the standard gift: a jersey emblazoned on the back with the president’s name and number. Biden, the 46th commander in chief, joked that he was demonstrating that he was “a man of courage” by holding the jersey up because he risked incurring the wrath of First Lady Jill Biden, a rabid Philadelphia Phillies fan.

The jubilant ceremony bore few of the political overtones that became a hallmark of teams’ visits during the presidency of Donald Trump. Some champions, like the Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia Eagles, skipped being honored at the White House. Others, like the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox, only sent limited delegations, with many players opting to stay home.

Pitcher Trevor Bauer, who has a protection order against him for allegedly assaulting a woman during what he says was consensual sex, did not attend the event. He has denied the allegations.

The Dodgers, who are in town for a four-game series with the Washington Nationals, said only members of the 2020 World Series team would attend, and Bauer didn’t sign with the team until this year. Later Friday, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner was placed on seven-day administrative leave by Major League Baseball.

Mookie Betts, the star outfielder for the 2018 champion Red Sox, did not make that team’s trip to the White House. But Betts, now on the Dodgers, did attend Friday.

Trump also became known for serving fast food to the teams that did visit the executive mansion; details on any meals consumed by the Dodgers at the White House were not immediately released.

The 2020 title was the Dodgers’ seventh World Series championship and they are among the favorites again this year, prompting Biden to joke that he may see them again.

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Matt Olson knew the Atlanta Braves were too talented to stay in a season-long slump.

That’s why no one panicked when the New York Mets’ division lead swelled to double digits in May. Now the Braves are on the cusp of another NL East title.

“It’s a clubhouse full of guys who want to win,” Olson said. “That’s all it’s been since the moment I walked in. That’s No. 1 on the program.”

Dansby Swanson and Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Braves beat New York 5-3 on Sunday night, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closes out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

“We’ve felt this confidence since the beginning of the year,” d’Arnaud said. “It just didn’t go our way early in the year, but pulling on the same rope, having each others’ backs, not trying to do too much. We’re just trying to play the game of baseball and have fun with it.”

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

“We still have three games left in the regular season, we’re still going to the postseason, that doesn’t change, but there’s a lot of learning points that we can take from this series moving forward,” Mets slugger Pete Alonso said. “I thought we played well, but the Braves played better. They played excellent baseball this entire weekend.”

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

“Everyone knew we were underperforming when we were flirting around that .500 range,” Olson said. “It was one of those things where it was trusting the talent we have and the guys in the clubhouse. Everybody was solid, head down, do your work, it’ll turn around and you wind up winning.”

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).