Dodgers aim to dunk Diamondbacks, clinch NL West title

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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Clayton Kershaw doesn’t plan to visit the swimming pool at Chase Field if the Los Angeles Dodgers clinch the National League West on Tuesday night.

The veteran left-hander, who will start against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix, looked back at the famous pool takeover in 2013 with Los Angeles currently the verge of securing its ninth division title in 10 seasons.

The Dodgers created quite a ruckus when they stormed the pool beyond the fence in right-center after clinching the ’13 division crown. Players jumped or dove in, some doing cannonballs, and splashed water and had a grand time celebrating in the Diamondbacks’ pool.

When the Dodgers notched the deciding victory in the NL Division Series over Arizona in 2017, there were mounted police on the warning track to prevent another invasion of the pool.

“Are we jumping in the pool? Probably not if it’s going to cause that much trouble,” Kershaw told the Orange County Register. “Unless they tell us not to do it. If we’re not going to jump in the pool, I don’t care. It’s just funny to me that they care so much.”

The magic number to clinch the division is one for the Dodgers (97-43) entering the Tuesday game.

“It’s always exciting and we never take it for granted,” Los Angeles center fielder Cody Bellinger said on Monday after the Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 6-0. “There’s a lot of hard work and dedication put into that, so if we win, we’re going to enjoy it.”

Bellinger had a key two-run double as Los Angeles officially clinched a postseason berth with the Monday win in the opener of the three-game series. It marked the second straight day the Dodgers left the field thinking they had punched their ticket.

However, instead of clinching with an 11-2 win over the San Diego Padres on Sunday, the Dodgers needed one more win as Major League Baseball acknowledged Monday that it overlooked a three-way tiebreaker scenario that would have left Los Angeles on the outside of the playoff picture.

Kershaw, the last remaining Dodger from the 2013 squad, will be matched up against Arizona right-hander Merrill Kelly (12-5, 2.94 ERA) when Los Angeles attempts to improve to 11-2 this season against the Diamondbacks (66-74).

Kershaw (7-3, 2.62 ERA) will be making his third start since returning from lower-back issues. The 34-year-old veteran allowed a combined three runs and six hits over 11 innings in no-decisions against the New York Mets on Sept. 1 and the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 7.

Kershaw, who hasn’t faced Arizona this season, has an 18-11 record and a 2.81 ERA in 39 career regular-season starts against the Diamondbacks. However, he has struggled in Phoenix, posting a 7-10 mark and a 4.03 ERA in 20 regular-season starts.

Christian Walker (7-for-22, .318) has four homers off Kershaw. Ketel Marte is 9-for-28 (.321) with two blasts.

Kelly is unbeaten in his past 13 starts, recording six victories during the stretch. He has given up two or fewer runs nine times in that span.

Kelly received a no-decision against the Padres in his latest start, on Sept. 6. He allowed just three hits in seven innings, but they were all homers as he gave up four runs.

“Usually, if I’m going seven and (allow just) three hits, that’s usually a pretty good day,” Kelly said of the outing. “But they just didn’t miss the mistakes.”

Kelly has had major issues with the Dodgers in his career, going 0-7 with a 5.85 ERA in 10 starts. This season, he is 0-3 with a 9.69 ERA in three outings vs. Los Angeles.

Mookie Betts (7-for-18, .389) has hit three homers off Kelly, and Bellinger (5-for-18, .278) has two long balls. Justin Turner (9-for-20, .450), Will Smith (7-for-16, .438, one homer) and Max Muncy (9-for-21, .429, one homer) are among the other Dodgers who hit well against Kelly.

Betts extended his career-best homer count to 34 with a three-run blast in the ninth inning on Monday.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

aaron judge
Cole Burston/Getty Images

TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.