Surging Atlanta Braves hold off LA Dodgers rally to stake 2-0 lead in NLCS

Surging Atlanta Braves hold off LA Dodgers rally to stake 2-0 lead in NLCS
Joey Wendle hit a go-ahead, two-run single two batters after another critical error by José Altuve, and the Tampa Bay Rays rallied for a 5-2 win against the Houston Astros on Tuesday night that moved them within one victory of the second World Series appearance in franchise history.

Tampa Bay took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series at Petco Park. Towering righty Tyler Glasnow, who grew up just north of Los Angeles, will try to deliver the Rays their first pennant in 12 seasons on Wednesday night when he opposes Zack Greinke.

Tampa Bay reached the World Series in 2008 before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies.

The innovative Rays, managed by former big league catcher Kevin Cash, had one of baseball’s lowest payrolls during the pandemic-shortened season and still finished with the AL’s best record at 40-20. They often have a different player come up big every night, whether it’s a batter or reliever– or sometimes both. They’ve also played spectacular defense.

The Astros got into the postseason with a 29-31 record before going 5-1 to reach the ALCS. But they’ve looked nothing like the team that won the AL pennant two of the last three seasons and they remain villains in many peoples’ eyes for their sign-stealing scandal three years ago en route to a World Series title.

After Diego Castillo pitched the ninth for his second save, stranding two baserunners, he clapped his hands and the Rays celebrated with their usual handshake line.

The Astros fell apart in the sixth, when the Rays sent 11 batters to the plate and scored five runs on four hits, two hit batters and Altuve’s error at second base. One of the runs was unearned.

Losing pitcher José Urquidy held Tampa Bay to two singles through five scoreless innings before Randy Arozarena singled leading off the sixth. Brandon Lowe hit a grounder to Altuve, who went for a routine forceout but short-hopped the throw and it skipped past shortstop Carlos Correa and into left field.

Enoli Paredes replaced Urquidy, and Yandy Diaz singled to load the bases. Wendle lined a single off third baseman Alex Bregman’s glove to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.

Manuel Margot, whose three-run homer in Game 2 followed the first of Altuve’s two errors, laid down Tampa Bay’s first sacrifice bunt of the season. Paredes hit Kevin Kiermaier with a pitch to load the bases and then hit Willy Adames with a pitch to bring in another run.

Pinch-hitter Hunter Renfroe, who like Margot began his career with the San Diego Padres, flared a double into right to bring in two more runs. Renfroe and Margot were traded to the Rays in separate deals last offseason. The Padres reached the playoffs for the first time in 14 years but were swept in the NL Division Series by the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough pitched into the sixth for the win, holding the Astros to two runs and three hits while striking out five and walking two.

Yarbrough allowed Altuve’s homer in the first inning, his second of the series. Michael Brantley’s homer to left leading off the sixth chased Yarbrough.

Altuve has 17 career postseason home run, tying teammate George Springer for most in franchise history.

Two batters after Altuve’s shot, Bregman missed a home run by a matter of inches as Kiermaier made a leaping catch of his drive near the top of the fence in center.

Altuve also homered in the first inning of the opener, a 2-1 Rays win.

Atlanta Braves 8, LA Dodgers 7

Ozzie Albies homered into the Braves bullpen in the ninth inning for the second straight night, and Mark Melancon once again grabbed the ball on the fly.

Atlanta had a five-run lead at the time. By the time the reliever to the mound, the lead was down to one. Melancon held on once again.

Freddie Freeman also homered for the second night in a row, and the streaking Braves beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-7 Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the National League Championship Series.

Atlanta became just the fourth team in major league history to begin a postseason 7-0 on a night made more remarkable by Melancon’s bullpen grab.

“That’s more home runs than I’ve caught my entire life, let alone one season,” Melancon said. “Hopefully tomorrow night is three in a row.”

Atlanta led 7-0 in the seventh but the lead had dwindled to 8-6 when Melancon replaced Josh Tomlin with two outs in the bottom of the ninth after Corey Seager’s RBI double and Max Muncy’s two-run homer.

Albies extended the game with a fielding error on Will Smith’s grounder to second before, and reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger hit an RBI triple. Melancon induced AJ Pollock to ground out to third, ending the four-hour, 12-minute game.

“I didn’t feel good with a big lead because these guys are too powerful, and that’s a good ballgame to win. They all are now,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot there at the end. Melancon did a great job coming in.”

Rookie Ian Anderson extended his postseason scoreless streak in an abbreviated start as the Braves moved within two wins of their first World Series appearance since 1999. All previous 14 teams to win the first two games of a best-of-seven NLCS went on to claim the pennant.

“They’re not going to give up. We have to treat tomorrow like the first game of the series and come out strong,” Melancon said. “There’s no reason for either club to take their foot off the gas. … Nobody has won anything yet.”

Freeman put the NL East champion Braves ahead to stay with a two-run homer in the fourth off rookie Tony Gonsolin, who filled in after three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw was scratched because of back spasms. Freeman added an RBI single as part of a four-run outburst an inning later.

Game 3 is Wednesday night, when 24-year-old playoff veteran Julio Urías starts for the Dodgers, seeking to win their third pennant in four seasons. Kyle Wright, another rookie right-hander, is on the mound the Braves, who have outscored opponents 37-12 in the playoffs.

“This team’s got a lot of fight. We’ve done it all year,” Seager said. “We were one swing, one anything away from tying that ballgame and going into extras. This is a long series. We’re looking up to the challenge.”

Ronald Acuña Jr
Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr celebrates after sliding safely past the tag of Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner during the fifth inning of Tuesday’s Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. Photograph: Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports

Freeman was hit on his right elbow by Alex Wood in the eighth and was shaken up but stayed in the game.

“Stung him pretty good and he lost feeling,” Snitker said. “But I think after he got through that inning and came back in, he got all of his strength back. He should be OK.”

Anderson allowed one hit and struck out five, but walked five while throwing 85 pitches in four innings. The 22-year-old right-hander didn’t come out for the fifth after Braves batted around in the top of the frame and built a 6-0 lead while tying a LCS record with four walks in the inning.

“We had a good game plan, and in the playoffs you just have to keep guys from scoring and we were able to do that,” Anderson said. “As long as we keep winning ballgames here. … It’s good to be up 2-0, and we get back to work tomorrow.”

Los Angeles, which had the best record in the pandemic-shortened season, trailed by seven until Seager’s three-run homer to greet AJ Minter in the seventh.

“Us showing some life offensively was very good to see,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

Only seven weeks after his big league debut with the Braves, Anderson has pitched 15 and two thirds scoreless innings and is only the second pitcher in major league history to start his postseason career not allowing a run in three consecutive starts of at least four innings. The other was Hall of Fame right-hander Christy Mathewson, who threw three shutouts in the 1905 World Series for the New York Giants.

Tyler Matzek, the second of seven Atlanta pitchers, worked two scoreless innings for the win.

When Kershaw was scratched in favor of a likely start later in the series, it set up the second matchup of rookie starting pitchers in a LCS.

Gonsolin’s postseason debut came 17 days after his prior game. The right-hander struck out seven and allowed only three hits, but gave up five runs and walked three in four and one third innings.

Freeman hit a ball more than 400 feet into the right-field seats, similar to his solo shot in Game 1, after Ronald Acuna Jr walked leading off the fourth.

“He’s one of the most consistent guys we have,” Albies said of Freeman. “The way I describe him is he’s MVP. He plays like he’s the MVP every day.”

Gonsolin was done when Acuna walked again in the fifth, right after an RBI double by rookie Cristian Pache, in the lineup after Adam Duvall was removed from Atlanta’s NLCS roster because of a left oblique injury sustained in the series opener.

Pedro Baez then walked two of his four batters, including Travis d’Arnaud with the bases loaded before Albies’ sacrifice fly on which Bellinger made an impressive leaping catch on the run in center.

“I don’t think the emotions lagged. I thought that early on we had some opportunities to get a lead and we just couldn’t come up with the hits,” Roberts said. “We’re scratching and clawing. They’ve still got to beat us a couple more times.”

XL subscribe to our newsletter banner

Get the latest news and advice on COVID-19, direct from the experts in your inbox. Join hundreds of thousands who trust experts by subscribing to our newsletter.

Send your news and stories to us news@climaxradio.co.uk or newstories@climaxnewsroom.com and WhatsApp: +447747873668.

Before you go...

Democratic norms are being stress-tested all over the world, and the past few years have thrown up all kinds of questions we didn't know needed clarifying – how long is too long for a parliamentary prorogation? How far should politicians be allowed to intervene in court cases? To monitor these issues as closely as we have in the past we need your support, so please consider donating to The Climax News Room.