MLB

MLB playoffs 2021: Bellinger gets Dodgers off life support, fast-finishing Astros level ALCS against Red Sox

By Sports Desk October 19, 2021

Cody Bellinger saved the Los Angeles Dodgers with their season on life support as he crushed a game-tying three-run homer in a 6-5 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS).

World Series champions the Dodgers were facing a 3-0 deficit in the NLCS, with the Braves leading 5-2 in the eighth inning before Bellinger's intervention at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday.

With Will Smith and A.J. Pollock on base, Dodgers star Bellinger crushed a Luke Jackson fastball into the right-field bleachers.

Three batters later, Mookie Betts laced a go-ahead double with Chris Taylor touching down, before Kenley Jansen closed out the come-from-behind win.

Jansen moved to outright second most MLB postseason saves with 19.

Only the 2004 Boston Red Sox have ever erased a 3-0 deficit to win a postseason series, so the Dodgers significantly revived their hopes of reaching another MLB showpiece.

The Dodgers had opened a 2-0 lead in the first inning after Corey Seager's two-run homer, but the Braves produced a four-run fourth inning, before Adam Duvall drove in Ozzie Albies in the fifth inning for his second RBI of the game to build a 5-2 advantage.

The Braves held that lead until Bellinger's intervention in the eighth inning, with the Dodgers staying in the NLCS at 2-1.

Meanwhile, the Houston Astros levelled the American League Championship Series (ALCS) after a seven-run ninth inning guided them to a 9-2 rout of the Red Sox in Game 4 at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox had led 2-1 from the first inning after Xander Bogaerts' two-run inning, before Jose Altuve's game-tying home run in the eighth, which marked his 21st playoff home run, behind only Manny Ramirez (29) and Bernie Williams (22) overall.

With two out, Jason Castro hit a go-ahead double in the ninth inning, setting off a rush of runs – including Michael Brantley's three-run double. The Astros' seven-run ninth inning tied the most ever in the ninth inning of a postseason game.

 

Braves at Dodgers

The Dodgers will look to level the NLCS when they host the Braves on Wednesday, with Julio Urias confirmed to start on the mound for the storied Los Angeles franchise in Game 4. Elsewhere, the Red Sox and Astros will meet in Game 5 of the ALCS.

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    The drivers' and constructors' championships both heating up as Formula One makes its seasonal return to Europe seems fitting. 

    After legs in the Middle East, Australia and North America, Red Bull are comprehensively in the fight against Ferrari heading into this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

    With consecutive race wins at the Emilia Romagna GP and Miami GP following DNFs in Bahrain and Australia, Max Verstappen has closed the gap to standings leader Charles Leclerc to 19 points.

    After coming perilously close to such an error at Imola, a single mistake or DNF for Leclerc and a full points haul for Verstappen could see momentum in the drivers' championship completely shift.

    Barcelona is a happy hunting ground for Verstappen, who claimed victory there in 2016 in only his first drive for Red Bull.

    It could continue if the reigning world champion secures pole position, having converted 14 career poles into 10 race victories, the best rate of any driver in F1 history.

    Meanwhile, with Sergio Perez also contributing with solid driving and good race pace on Sunday, Red Bull have cut the gap in the constructors' standings to only six points.

    Only in Monaco have the team collected more points than in Spain, with 332 compared to 312, but that could change this weekend.

    With a fifth consecutive top-four finish, Perez could equal his best such run of results, recorded between Turkey and Qatar last season.

    Ferrari set for upgrades

    The gravity of Red Bull's resurgence could arguably be crystallised in the likelihood Ferrari will have upgrades installed for this weekend after only tinkering and researching on race weekends to this point.

    Leclerc will be looking to lead from the front, with all four of his race wins in F1 coming from pole position.

    Carlos Sainz will also be hoping for a strong finish at his home grand prix, where he has accumulated the most points (40) in his career alongside Monaco.

    Can Mercedes challenge?

    While they might not be a championship contender in either the drivers' or constructors' standings, Mercedes have at least shown improved performance to potentially challenge for podiums and race wins.

    The Silver Arrows come into this contest having taken the past nine pole positions in Barcelona, and they will likely need to make it another to challenge on Sunday.

    Lewis Hamilton is still waiting to surpass Michael Schumacher for the most consecutive seasons with a race win.

    CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

    Drivers

    1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 104
    2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 85
    3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 66
    4. George Russell (Mercedes) 59 
    5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 53

    Constructors

    1. Ferrari 157
    2. Red Bull 151
    3. Mercedes 95
    4. McLaren 46
    5. Alfa Romeo 31

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    In a pre-match news conference lacking much talk of the opposition, there was one question that stood out in that regard ahead of Rangers' Europa League final clash with Eintracht Frankfurt.

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    "Obviously I respect how he's been playing, he's a top player," Tavernier said. "But, I've just got to bring the best version of myself when the game starts and try to cause him all the problems, try to make him deal with me for the majority of the game. That's all I can really do."

    Tavernier's response didn't offer any particularly great insight, but his mentality of wanting to cause Kostic as many problems was at least another identifier of how their duel could be such a key battle.

    Of course, it's worth pointing out that Tavernier, a right-back, remarkably heads into Wednesday's game as the Europa League's top scorer on seven goals, and realistically – or, unrealistically – only a hat-trick from Eintracht's Daichi Kamada can prevent the Englishman from at least ending the season with a share of the competition's golden boot.

    Further to that, he netted 19 times over the course of the 2020-21 season and could yet match that figure this term – he also has an impressive assists haul of 17.

    If it needs reiterating, he's a huge contributor for Rangers in the final third.

    So, given he's technically a right-back, there's obviously an element of Tavernier needing to be solid defensively on Wednesday, but some might suggest it's even more essential he's as sharp as ever going forward as that would not only give Rangers a credible threat on the right, but it would potentially keep Kostic occupied in a deeper position.

    Granted, Eintracht's set-up with a back three should always ensure they have an extra man to cover for Kostic's runs forward, while the two attacking midfielders supporting Rafael Borre up top often occupy narrow, deeper berths in order to maximise the space out wide for their biggest threat.

    Yet there's always the possibility of an overload in behind Kostic if the conditions are right, such is his attacking influence.

    After all, the frequency at which Kostic delivers into the box is frankly astonishing. This season, he has been the executor of 519 crosses and corners, 140 more than any other player in the top five leagues – Trent Alexander-Arnold is second with 379.

    Kostic's 78 successful crosses from open play is also a season-high. Of course, you would expect him to lead the way given he's attempted so many more than anyone else, but his 26.8 per cent accuracy (crosses/corners) is right in line with the average (among players with at least 100 attempted). That in itself is impressive given his greater frequency.

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    A cursory glance at his map of open-play chances created proves that point.

    But Rangers must also be aware of the danger posed on the opposite flank.

    Ansgar Knauff has been one of the stars of Eintracht's journey to the final, with the 20-year-old becoming something of a revelation in the past few months.

    As recently as mid-January he was turning out for Borussia Dortmund's second team in the third tier. Then he joined Eintracht on loan and has since scored important Europa League goals against Barcelona and West Ham.

    His impact on the road to Seville has been significant, with his brilliant athleticism, bravery and confidence on the ball making him a real asset on the right-hand side.

    Before Knauff's arrival, Eintracht were rather lopsided, with their other options on the right far from convincing. Sure, Kostic remains their main outlet, but Knauff's emergence has provided them with another – albeit stylistically different – threat on the other side, giving them greater balance.

    Across all competitions since his Eintracht debut in early February, only Kostic (5.6) and Jesper Lindstrom (2.6) have amassed better xA records than Knauff, who is also fifth to those two, Borre and Kamada in terms of xA and xG (expected goals) combined.

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    But their width and desire to attack from the flanks is fundamental to how they play – while it may be easier said than done, limiting their effectiveness out wide would go a long way to ending Rangers' 50-year European trophy drought.

  • Eovaldi's unwanted history as Astros blast five homers in an inning, Judge continues hitting form Eovaldi's unwanted history as Astros blast five homers in an inning, Judge continues hitting form

    Boston Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi made unwanted history after becoming the third pitcher in major league history to allow five home runs in an inning as the Houston Astros won 13-4 on Tuesday.

    Eovaldi allowed homers to Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley, Jeremy Pena, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez in the second inning as the Astros raced to a 9-1 lead.

    The 32-year-old Red Sox right-hander lasted only one and two-third innings, allowing eight hits and six earned runs with no strikeouts.

    It was the first time in Astros franchise history that they have had a five-homer inning.

    "They did an outstanding job hitting mistakes," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.

    "We didn't get any swings and misses. Obviously, it's surprising. Now, we just have to move onto the next one."

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    Rookie Morel blasts first at-bat

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    The prospect added an exclamation point to the big win when he was sent in for a pinch-hit with his side 6-0 up in the eighth inning, delivering a blast over left field from Chase De Jong.

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