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Mike Tyson, Roy Jones promise a fight in “exhibition” return

Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. are headed to the boxing ring next month. Here are the highlights:

  • These 50-something former champions still say they’re taking this showdown far more seriously than any exhibition.
  • “Not a real fight? We got Mike Tyson versus Roy Jones,” Tyson said Thursday in a press conference. “I’m coming to fight, and I hope he’s coming to fight, and that’s all you need to know.”
  • Promoters of the pay-per-view spectacle announced that Los Angeles’ Staples Center will be the site of the 54-year-old Tyson’s return to boxing on Nov. 28, which will be an eight-round main event against the 51-year-old Jones.
  • Tyson’s last official bout was in June 2005.
  • “Who goes in the ring with the great, legendary Mike Tyson and thinks it’s an exhibition?” Jones said. “Twelve-ounce gloves? No headgear? Really? This is an exhibition? Come on, bruh. Be real.”

 

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Dozen MLB players have options turned down, go free

This upcoming MLB season will be unlike any other. A dozen players were told their contract options had been declined, among them St. Louis Cardinals Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong. Here are the highlights:

  • The 30-year-old Wong will receive a $1 million buyout. Wong made his big league debut in 2013 and spent his first eight seasons with St. Louis. Wong hit. 265 with a homer and 16 RBIs in 53 games during the pandemic-shortened season.
  • “STL will always have a special place in my heart and I will never forget all the amazing people who impacted me along the way! Much love,” Wong said Wednesday.
  • Teams are cutting costs following the shortened regular season. With no fans in attendance — due to the novel coronavirus — many teams have eliminated front-office staff and scouts to cut expenses.
  • Baseball’s labor contract expires after the 2021 season, putting 2022 at risk of a work stoppage.
  • Arizona pitchers Mike Leake ($5 million instead of $18 million) and Hector Rondón ($500,000 instead of $4 million).
  • Washington right-hander Anibal Sanchez ($2 million buyout instead of $12 million salary).
  • Colorado first baseman Daniel Murphy ($6 million instead of $12 million).
  • Seattle second baseman Dee Strange-Gordon ($1 million instead of $14 million).
  • New York Mets catchers Wilson Ramos ($1.5 million instead of $10 million).
  • About 50 more players would be eligible for free agency if their options are declined by Sunday.
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Fitting finale: Dodgers win title, Turner tests positive

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — No large dogpile, no champagne and a mask on nearly every face — the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrated their first World Series title since 1988 in a manner no one could have imagined prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

They started the party without Justin Turner, too, after their red-headed star received word of a positive COVID-19 test in the middle of their clinching victory.

Turner was removed from Los Angeles’ 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 on Tuesday night after registering Major League Baseball’s first positive test in 59 days. He wasn’t on the field initially as the Dodgers enjoyed the spoils of a title earned during a most unusual season.

He returned to the diamond about an hour after the game, hugging longtime teammate Clayton Kershaw and sitting front-and-center for a team photo next to manager Dave Roberts with his mask pulled down under his bushy beard.

“Thanks to everyone reaching out!” Turner said on Twitter. “I feel great, no symptoms at all. Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine. Can’t believe I couldn’t be out there to celebrate with my guys! So proud of this team & unbelievably happy for the City of LA.”

Major League Baseball insulated postseason teams in neutral-site bubbles after traveling them across the country during a shortened 60-game season. Turner was the first player since the playoffs began to be flagged for the coronavirus.

MLB received Turner’s Monday sample from the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Utah in the bottom of the second inning, when lab president Dr. Daniel Eichner called deputy commissioner Dan Halem, who was in New York, a person familiar with the call said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details were not released.

Eichner told Halem the result was inconclusive. MLB receives many inconclusive results, so Halem told Eichner to run Tuesday’s pregame sample from Turner. That result came back positive in the sixth inning, the person said.

Halem called Chris Young, MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations, who was in Manfred’s box at Globe Life Field, then called Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. He notified the dugout or clubhouse, and Turner was removed from the game after the seventh inning.

“It was obviously a really unfortunate endpoint of this incredible series and definitely affected some of the joy of winning just because of what JT has meant to us,” Friedman said.

When asked about what happened after the game, Friedman said Turner wanted to take a picture with the trophy. Friedman stated several times that those around Turner had previously been in close contact and said the team would take another round of tests before determining when to leave Texas.

“Now the subsequent tests we’re going to take are really important,” Friedman said.

The 35-year-old Turner has been a staple in the Dodgers’ lineup for seven of their eight consecutive NL West titles. A late-blooming slugger who helped reshape the game by succeeding with an upper-cut swing, Turner is LA’s career leader with 12 postseason home runs, including a pair in this Series, in which he hit .364 and also played stellar defense.

“It’s gut-wrenching,” World Series MVP Corey Seager said. “If I could switch places with him right now, I would. That’s just not right.”

“We’re not excluding him from anything,” teammate Mookie Betts said.

Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed Turner’s positive test moments after presenting the World Series trophy to Los Angeles — a jarring reminder of all that’s been different in this season where the perennially favored Dodgers finally broke through.

The end of a frustrating championship drought for LA — and perhaps just the start for Betts and the Dodgers, whose seventh World Series title was their sixth since leaving Brooklyn for the West Coast in 1958.

“I had a crazy feeling that came to fruition,” Roberts said. “It’s just a special group of players, organization, all that we’ve kind of overcome.”

Betts bolted from third for the go-ahead run on Seager’s grounder in the sixth, even with the infield playing in, then had a punctuating homer leading off the eighth.

“It was absolutely phenomenal. This team was incredible,” said Seager, also the NLCS MVP who set franchise records with his eight homers and 20 RBIs this postseason. “We were ready to go as soon as the bell was called. Once it did, we kept rolling.”

Kershaw was warming in the bullpen when Julio Urías struck out Willy Adames to end it and ran alongside teammates to celebrate in the infield, later joined by family who had been in the bubble with them in North Texas.

Players were handed face masks as they gathered, although many of their embraces came mask-free even after Turner’s positive test.

The Dodgers had played 5,014 regular-season games and were in their 114th postseason game since Orel Hershiser struck out Oakland’s Tony Phillips for the final out of the World Series in 1988, the same year Kershaw — the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner who won Games 1 and 5 of this Series — was born in nearby Dallas.

Los Angeles had come up short in the World Series twice in the previous three years. Betts was on the other side two years ago and homered in the clinching Game 5 for the Boston Red Sox, who before this season traded the 2018 AL MVP to the Dodgers. They later gave him a $365 million, 12-year deal that goes until he turns 40 in 2032.

Betts’ 3.2-second sprint home was just enough to beat the throw by first baseman Ji-Man Choi, pushing Los Angeles ahead 2-1 moments after Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled ace left-hander Blake Snell despite a dominant performance over 5 1/3 innings.

“It was kind of like a sigh of relief,” Betts said. “It was the Cy Young Snell that pitched tonight.”

Snell struck out nine — including the first time all season that Betts, Seager and Turner each struck out in their first two at-bats. But the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner didn’t see the top three batters for the Dodgers again.

“The only motive was the lineup the Dodgers feature is as potent as any team in the league,” Cash said. “Mookie coming around for the third time through, I value that. I totally respect and understand the questions that come with it. They’re not easy decisions.”

Randy Arozarena, the powerful Tampa Bay rookie, extended his postseason record with his 10th homer in the first off rookie right-hander Tony Gonsolin, the first of seven Dodgers pitchers. The Rays never got another runner past second base as LA’s bullpen gave reliever-reliant Tampa Bay a taste of its own medicine while allowing only two hits and no walks over 7 1/3 innings.

About 2 1/2 weeks after the Lakers won the NBA title while finishing their season in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, the Dodgers gave Los Angeles another championship.

The MLB season didn’t start until late July and was abbreviated for the shortest regular season since 1878. The expanded postseason, with 16 teams making it instead of 10, ended when Urías got the last two outs on called third strikes, with catcher Austin Barnes stuffing the last pitch in his back pocket. The Rays had 16 Ks and the Dodgers 11, the most combined strikeouts in a nine-inning World Series game.

Chants of “M-V-P!, M-V-P!” broke out when Betts hit his double in the sixth off reliever Nick Anderson, who allowed runs in seven consecutive relief appearances, the longest streak in MLB postseason history.

Those chants got even louder — even with the a limited crowd of 11,437 — when Betts went deep on an 0-2 pitch by hard-throwing right-hander Pete Fairbanks.

There were plenty of fans in Dodgers blue at the new $1.2 billion home of the Texas Rangers, the stadium with the retractable roof where they played 16 games over three weeks. And the roof was closed for the final one, with misty conditions and a game-time temperature of 39 degrees outside.

Los Angeles was home team for the final game of the season, like in the 2017 World Series when the Houston Astros won Game 7 at Dodger Stadium, and two years ago against the Red Sox.

“This year has been crazy, but no matter what, we’ll look back on this and we’re World Series champs. To get to say that and get to be part of that, it’s so special no matter what,” Kershaw said. “The only thing that may have made it better would be to be at Dodger Stadium.”

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Nick Saban, Alabama AD Greg Byrne test positive for COVID-19

Alabama coach Nick Saban and athletic director Greg Byrne have tested positive for COVID-19, three days before the second-ranked Crimson Tide is set to face No. 3 Georgia in a clash of Southeastern Conference and national powers.

Both said their tests Wednesday morning came back positive, and Saban said in a statement that he “immediately left work and isolated at home.”

Saban, who monitored practice Wednesday from home, said he didn’t have any symptoms as of early evening. But the second-ranked Crimson Tide will almost certainly be without their iconic 68-year-old coach on the sideline when they play Georgia.

Saban said he informed the team via a Zoom call at 2 p.m. Wednesday, about an hour after he learned of the test results, and that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will oversee game preparations within the football building while he works from home.

Saban said Sarkisian, a former head coach at Washington and USC, will still call the offensive plays. Saban has led Alabama to five national titles since taking over the program in 2007, and also won one at LSU.

Saban wasn’t sure how game day will go when it comes to communication with his staff, but is confident he can still lead practices and run meetings from home via Zoom calls. He communicated with a team manager when he saw a mistake in practice and wanted a play repeated.

He plans to go through his usual Thursday routine, which includes watching the offense and defense practice, work on two-point plays, and will preside over meetings all from home.

“I didn’t leave the country or anything,” Saban said. “I’m just right down the street. And we have this technology, so it’s really unique.

“Now, I don’t have experience at that. But we’re going to do the best we can to keep everything as normal as possible.”

The Tide played at Mississippi last weekend, and Rebels coach Lane Kiffin said Wednesday his team had some positive tests. Saban said Alabama hasn’t “had any indication” of an outbreak within the team.

Saban said he and staffers — from coaches to secretaries — had done a good job of wearing masks around each other while in the football building. Asked about his No. 1 concern, Saban mentioned getting his players ready for the game, not his health.

“It’s a big game for them,” he said. “Our goal as coaches is always to get them in the best position they can be in to be able to have success, and we need to try to continue to do that. That would be the greatest concern that I have.

“I haven’t blocked anybody or tackled anybody, caught any passes, thrown any passes in a game in a long, long time, so it’s still going to be up to how the players are able to execute and it’s up to us to try to get them in the best position to do that.”

The news out of Tuscaloosa was a nother body blow for the SEC, which had postponed two games this week already: No. 10 Florida against defending national champion LSU and Missouri-Vanderbilt.

Alabama’s head trainer Jeff Allen and medical director Jimmy Robinson said in a joint statement that Saban and Byrne were the only initial positive tests.

“All individuals who are considered high risk contacts have been notified and will follow quarantine guidelines,” the statement said. “We will follow the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force Protocol for testing asymptomatic positives.”

Byrne said he would “remain at home and follow all guidelines.”

“We’ve been diligent about mask wearing and social distancing from the start and want to continue to encourage you all to take the necessary precautions to help stop the spread of this virus for yourself and those around you,” the 48-year-old AD said.

Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, one of five former Saban assistants now leading SEC programs, said “it has been a tough day.”

“It’s the reality,” Pruitt said. “I don’t think there’s probably any family across our country that has not been affected during this pandemic.”

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11-spot: Dodgers huge 1st in 15-3 win over Braves in NLCS

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers were already having a grand time before Max Muncy’s big slam capped the highest-scoring inning in a major league playoff game.

That new ballpark in his home state of Texas where the Dodgers hope to keep playing right through the World Series suddenly doesn’t seem too big anymore, and they are right back in the National League Championship Series after a 15-3 rout of the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.

Muncy’s slam off Grant Dayton capped an 11-run first inning when Los Angeles benefitted from a game-starting replay challenge, hit three home runs and had nine consecutive batters reach base after two outs. The Dodgers set franchise postseason records for runs and home runs with five, cutting their NLCS deficit to 2 games to 1.

“It’s pretty cool. Not too many things that are cooler than that,” Muncy said. “But the biggest thing to me is our team got a W and got us back on track.”

Joc Pederson hit a three-run homer off starter Kyle Wright to start his four-hit night, and Edwin Rios went deep on next pitch. Corey Seager had a pair of RBI hits in the opening burst, then added a solo homer in the third as the Dodgers built a 15-0 lead — the first team with that many runs in the first three innings of a postseason game.

Winner Julio Urías, made his first postseason start and improved to 3-0 in these playoffs, striking out five while allowing one run and three hits over five innings. He walked the first two batters but no more.

Atlanta’s miserable start was eerily similar to the Braves’ flop in Game 5 of last year’s Division Series against St. Louis, when they gave up a 10-run first inning at home in a season-ending start by Mike Foltynewicz.

Manager Dave Roberts said Clayton Kershaw will start Game 4 for the Dodgers, two nights after the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner from Dallas was scratched because of back spasms. Bryse Wilson makes his postseason debut as the third rookie right-handed starter for Atlanta in this series in what will be his first appearance since the final day of the regular season on Sept. 27.

“We still are in a good spot with four games left,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Like I say, for the whole team, you just turn the page and get ready to go tomorrow.”

The Dodgers had left the tying run at third base in a four-run bottom of the ninth during an 8-7 loss on Tuesday night. They were the visiting team in Game 3 and sent 14 batters to the plate for seven hits, three walks and a hit batter over 32 minutes in the the 29,786th half-inning in postseason history.

“It was a carryover,” reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger insisted.

“That was fun to be a part of,” Pederson said. “I think some of the momentum from last night, the last inning definitely carried over and got us feeling a little bit more comfortable at the plate.”

Those 15 runs over two times up came after the Braves had allowed only nine runs in their previous six games plus eight innings, a stretch that included four shutouts en route to a 7-0 postseason start.

Bellinger walked and scored in the first, led off the second with a homer and added an RBI single in the third. His long ball came right after his running, leaping catch at the center field wall to rob Ozzie Albies with two on to end the Atlanta first.

“It’s not ideal how we started the series, but we feel good about ourselves,” Bellinger said.

Wright gave up seven runs while facing only nine batters. He had had thrown six scoreless innings in the Game 3 NL Division Series clincher over Miami last Thursday.

Mookie Betts had an infield single on the first pitch of the game, though he was initially called out before a replay challenge overturned the call by umpire Dan Iassogna. Seager drove in Betts with a double on the next pitch before groundouts by Justin Turner and Muncy.

“To get that infield hit, and then the next pitch, you see two pitches and you’ve already got a run, that was quite the change,” Roberts said.

Pederson that overturn “got us going, and then from there you saw what happened.”

Nine consecutive batters reached with two outs. Will Smith had an RBI double to make it 2-0, when he just beat a throw to the bag to avoid being the third out before Bellinger’s walk and the homers by Pederson and Rios. After No. 9 batter Chris Taylor drew a free pass, Dayton walked Betts, gave up the the RBI single to Seager and hit Turner on the foot before Muncy’s 435-foot slam to right-center.

“I just realized that we got all those runs with two outs. Just really good at-bats,” Roberts said. “We hit some homers, took some walks. Just really a well-played inning. I do think last night’s ninth bled over into tonight.”

When Braves No. 9 hitter Cristian Pache finally got to bat leading off the third, the rookie hit his first big league homer — in the regular season or playoffs. All but one Dodgers starter had already batted three times.

Ozzie Albies, who homered in the ninth inning in each of the first two games for Atlanta, this time had to settle in the final frame for a double and scoring the final run on Joahan Camargo’s two-out single.

“At the end of the day it only counts as one game, right? Everybody in the clubhouse knows that,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “Tomorrow we’ll come back and put our best foot forward. … There are things to build on.”

JANSEN IN RELIEF

Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ primary closer since 2012 and career leader with 312 saves, pitched a 1-2-3 sixth. It was a week after he needed 30 pitches to get two outs and gave up two runs without being able to finish the 6-5 victory in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Padres.

Roberts, who bypassed Jansen when he went to the bullpen to start the ninth in a 1-1 tie in Game 1 of this series, has avoided being specific about the closer’s role. The 33-year-old Jansen’s velocity had been noticeably down and his control inconsistent.

Jansen threw seven of his 10 pitches for strikes, all but one of them between 88-92 mph. He was averaging 93-94 mph earlier this season.

“Kenley’s still our guy,” Seager said. “You trust him to go out there and get outs. We expect nothing different.”

STREAKING SEAGER

Including his final two at-bats in Game 2 and his first three in Game 3, Seager had a span of producing an RBI in five consecutive plate appearances. That ties Carlos Beltran with the 2004 Houston Astros for the longest such streak in postseason history.

DOUBLE 7s

Wright and Dayton were the second set of teammates to both allow at least seven runs in a postseason game after Cleveland starter Bartolo Colon (seven runs) and Steve Reed (eight runs) in a 23-7 loss to the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 of the 1999 AL Division Series.

DEEP IN TEXAS

The Dodgers, who led the majors with 118 homers in the pandemic-shortened 60-game regular season, had only one homer in their three-game NL Division Series sweep of the Padres last week at the Texas Rangers’ new $1.2 billion ballpark with the retractable roof also open. They have eight through three games of the NLCS, where the World Series will be played.

LOT OF BIG NUMBERS

The 15 runs matched the most in an NLCS game — the Braves beat the St. Louis Cardinals 15-0 in Game 7 of the 1996 NLCS. … Only the Chicago Cubs, with six in Game 3 of the 2015 NLDS, hit more homers in any postseason game. … The Dodgers’ eight extra-base hits matched the franchise record for a postseason game, and their 18 total bases in the first were an MLB record for an inning. … Only three other teams have had five different players homer in a playoff game. … Atlanta was the only team in the majors with an 11-run inning during the regular season.

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Springer, Altuve homer to keep Astros alive in ALCS

SAN DIEGO (AP) — José Altuve and the Houston Astros are eager to match the 2004 Boston Red Sox in the history books.

Beating the Tampa Bay Rays three more times to reach the World Series won’t be easy, but the Astros believe they can do it.

George Springer broke a tie with a two-run homer, Altuve also went deep and hit an RBI double, and Zack Greinke escaped a bases-loaded jam as Houston stayed alive in the AL Championship Series with a 4-3 victory Wednesday night in Game 4.

“We are very motivated,” Altuve said. “We know the team we have and yes, we want to be the second team coming back from 0-3.”

Big league clubs leading 3-0 in a best-of-seven postseason series are 37-1. The only one to rally from an 0-3 deficit was the 2004 Red Sox, who beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS and went on to win their first World Series in 86 seasons.

Greinke pitched six effective innings for the Astros, who held a meeting before the game. Houston manager Dusty Baker said he had no idea what was brought up, but he also addressed the team.

“We’ve got some real leaders on this team, some dominant personalities who listen more than they talk,” Baker said.

With Altuve atoning for his poor defense in this series, the Astros finally got their offense going after being pushed to the brink of a sweep. Seeking their third pennant in four seasons, they trail 3-1 going into Game 5 on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m just happy that we won the game and we’re on to tomorrow,” Springer said.

The Rays remain one win from advancing to the World Series for the second time in franchise history.

“The team feels good,” rookie slugger Randy Arozarena said. “We’re going to stay positive. We came in here knowing we were going to face a solid team. They’re probably feeling the same way.”

Greinke, bothered by a sore arm in the Division Series against Oakland, made only one big mistake when he allowed a two-run homer to Arozarena that tied the game at 2 in the fourth.

Given a 4-2 lead by Springer’s homer in the fifth, Greinke’s biggest pitch came when he struck out Mike Brosseau on a 3-2 changeup to end the sixth with the bases loaded.

After Greinke allowed consecutive singles by Manuel Margot and Austin Meadows with one out, Baker came out for a chat and decided to let the veteran right-hander continue. Arozarena struck out on a check-swing and Ji-Man Choi singled to load the bases before Greinke fanned Brosseau.

On Friday night, Brosseau hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning off Aroldis Chapman of the New York Yankees that carried the Rays to a 2-1 victory in the Game 5 clincher of the ALDS.

Baker said he thought about putting in Ryan Pressly, but catcher Martin Maldonado said, “He can get this guy.”

“I guess I don’t change my mind, but I hadn’t had my mind really, really made up until I got out there and I saw the look in Zack’s eyes and Maldy was adamant about he can get this guy,” Baker said. “I said, ‘OK then you’ve got it then. This is the ballgame here.’”

Greinke said the meeting was “very intense,” and praised the 71-year-old Baker. “He reads people really good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him make a wrong decision when he trusts what he sees. He sees the right thing almost 100% of the time. And not everyone has that skill.”

Greinke held the Rays to two runs and five hits for his first postseason win since 2015. He struck out seven and walked one.

Tampa Bay’s Willy Adames hit an RBI double off the bottom of the left-center wall and advanced to third on a wild pitch in the ninth before Pressly got rookie Yoshi Tsutsugo on a liner to right for the save.

“We’ve got to get the bats going, no doubt about it,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve been carried here by our pitching and defense, which is how we’re built, but we sure would like to get some (hits).”

Rays towering right-hander Tyler Glasnow also went six innings, allowing four runs and eight hits while striking out five and walking two.

Altuve hit a homer in the first and an RBI double in the third for a 2-0 lead. And when he needed to make an accurate throw to second for a key forceout in the ninth, the star second baseman was right on target.

His offense helped make up for his three errors that helped the Rays win Games 2 and 3 to move to the cusp of their first World Series since 2008.

Altuve homered for the second straight game and third time this series, all in the first inning. He and Springer are tied for the most homers in Astros postseason history, 18.

With two outs in the third, Altuve doubled into the right-field corner to bring in Maldonado.

“One of the most impressive things about José is how he can clear his head and contribute in all aspects of his game, and to see him go out there and still wanting the ball hit to him and still swinging the bat is a testament to him,” Springer said.

Watching Altuve’s errors was “tough,” Springer said. “But I know who he is. I know the head he has on his shoulders. He’s our leader and he always has been.”

Arozarena homered onto the lower balcony on the Western Metal Supply Co. brick warehouse in the left-field corner with one out in the fourth to tie the game at 2. An inning later, Springer one-upped him when he hit a two-run shot onto the upper balcony of Petco Park’s main landmark to regain the lead for the Astros.

“I knew it was a homer. I was able to hit a high fastball there. It’s a tight line, so I’m happy that it stayed fair,” Springer said.

It was the third home run of the postseason for Springer, the MVP of the 2017 World Series.

It was the fifth of these playoffs for Arozarena, who homered in each of the first three games against the Yankees and then connected in the ALCS opener.

THE VILLAINS

The Astros remain villains in many people’s eyes for their sign-stealing scandal three years ago. On Wednesday night, someone with a megaphone on a balcony on a nearby building heckled members of the 2017 team by name: “Carlos Correa. You are a cheater. Shame on you. Josh Reddick. You are a cheater. Shame on you,” and so on.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: Gold Glove CF Kevin Kiermaier was out of the lineup with a bruised left hand after being hit with a pitch in Tampa Bay’s five-run sixth inning Tuesday night. Cash said Kiermaier would be available to hit if necessary.

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Anderson sharp, Markakis alert, Braves blank Miami, lead 2-0

HOUSTON (AP) — Rookie Ian Anderson pitched like an October veteran. Old pro Nick Markakis threw the best strike of the game. And just like that, the Atlanta Braves are on the verge of something they haven’t done since the days of Chipper, the Big Three and Bobby Cox.

Anderson blanked Miami into the sixth inning, Markakis made a nifty play in right field to help preserve the lead late, and the Braves threw another playoff shutout in a 2-0 victory Wednesday for a 2-0 lead in the NL Division Series.

The Braves have pitched three shutouts in four games during this year’s playoffs. They’re just the third team in MLB history to toss three shutouts in the first four games of a postseason, joining the 1966 Baltimore Orioles and the 1905 New York Giants.

Travis d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson each homered for the second straight day, putting the Braves one win away from a sweep in the best-of-five matchup. Game 3 is Thursday in Houston.

“It’s hard to bunch hits together, pitching is too good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Power, I think is something that plays in the postseason and was witnessed today.”

Atlanta hasn’t reached the NL Championship Series since 2001 when Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz played under Cox.

The Braves have lost in the division series eight times since then, including in the last two seasons — a fact star slugger Freddie Freeman said put a chip on their shoulders entering this round.

Anderson scattered three hits and struck out eight over 5 2/3 innings. The lanky right-hander who made his major league debut in late August added to his impressive outing last week in the wild-card series when he fanned nine in six scoreless frames against Cincinnati.

“It doesn’t seem like the moment ever matters to him,” Snitker said. “He just keeps pitching and trusting his stuff.”

Added d’Arnaud, his catcher: “He’s just always been like that. It’s something that should be noticed and put out there.”

Despite his calm demeanor, the 22-year-old Anderson admitted to some early-game jitters.

“I definitely had more nerves today,” he said. “I don’t know if was the different site and seeing all the playoff stuff around the stadium or what … but I was able to calm down and get in the groove of the game.”

The 36-year-old Markakis contributed after Anderson departed.

Corey Dickerson reached on an error by Swanson at shortstop to start the eighth, setting up Markakis’ heads-up play.

Jon Berti followed by slicing a high fly down the line that Markakis alertly plucked on one hop and, with Dickerson holding up to see if the ball would be caught, threw to Swanson for a forceout at second base in a close play.

“He’s a veteran outfielder and he’s one of the best in the business at what he does,” Swanson said. “And he really made a perfect play.”

Miami manager Don Mattingly didn’t fault Dickerson for being thrown out because he said Markakis could’ve dived to catch it.

“Corey’s in a tough spot there, and that ball just kind of bounced right up to (Markakis),” he said. “That’s just a tough read in a tough situation.”

Will Smith retired the next two batters and Mark Melancon, Atlanta’s fifth pitcher of the game, closed the combined three-hitter for a save.

On a day when Atlanta got only four hits, Swanson and d’Arnaud provided the offense. Both players hit solo shots a day after the two hit multi-run homers in a huge seventh inning for the Braves in their Game 1 win.

Players from both teams behaved themselves a day after tempers flared in the opener when Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. was nailed by a 98 mph fastball. Acuña had a quiet afternoon, going 0 for 4 and striking out all four times.

Swanson’s homer off Pablo Lopez put the Braves up 1-0 with two outs in the second inning.

There was one out in the fourth when d’Arnaud launched his soaring home run to left field, where it bounced off a metal sign high on the wall making a loud bang. Cameras panned to Anderson in the dugout, and the pitcher smiled broadly as he watched the ball sail away.

D’Arnaud’s homer made him the first catcher for the Braves to hit multiple home runs in one postseason since Brian McCann also had two in 2005. He’s made quite a comeback this season after bouncing around between three teams in a tough 2019.

The Marlins, who made the playoffs for the first time since 2003, bounded their way into this round with high energy and plenty of smiles. They had little reason to grin on Wednesday when they couldn’t scratch a single run across, going 0-4 with runners in scoring position.

It’s put them cusp of losing the first playoff series in franchise history after entering this round 7-0 all-time in the postseason.

They had a chance to cut into the lead in the sixth inning when Berti singled with one out before Darren O’Day took over for Anderson with two outs and plunked Brian Anderson. The veteran reliever than walked Garrett Cooper to load the bases, but the Marlins came away empty when Matt Joyce grounded out to end the inning.

Lopez didn’t pitch badly, allowing just three hits in and striking out seven in five innings. But he was done in by the home runs in his postseason debut after not pitching since Sept. 24.

“Pablo was really good,” Mattingly said. “With a lot of guys, and these guys have a lot of good hitters, you miss your spots and sometimes you can get away with it, and sometimes you don’t.”

UP NEXT

Atlanta’s Kyle Wright will make his postseason debut when he starts in Game 3 against rookie Sixto Sanchez. Wright hasn’t pitched since Sept. 25 when he allowed two runs in a career-high 6 2/3 innings against the Red Sox. Sanchez started Game 2 of the wild-card round, striking out six in five scoreless innings.

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Column: NFL season precariously close to tipping point

No one really expected the NFL to make it through an entire season unscathed. The insidious nature of the coronavirus dictated that there would eventually be a crisis for a league trying desperately to play without a bubble.

Still, for a few weeks it looked like the NFL’s gamble would pay off. Teams were playing games, players were staying safe, and the biggest issue seemed to be how many fans should be allowed inside stadiums to watch.

Suddenly, that’s all changed. The Tennessee Titans have been decimated by the virus, Cam Newton has added a mask to his fashion accessories and players around the league are warily on the lookout for dangers that can’t be seen.

Now the NFL’s day of reckoning is coming. It’s not a stretch to say the remainder of the season hangs in the balance over the next few weeks.

A league accustomed to dominating any crisis in the past is finding out what those in the White House should already know: You can’t bully COVID-19.

“We’re fighting an uphill battle,” Buffalo coach Sean McDermott acknowledged while waiting for word on whether his team will go to Tennessee for a scheduled Sunday game. “I think we know that there’s a challenge because of how easily this thing spreads.’’

That challenge became evident when several Titans tested positive last week — and the positives kept coming. By Wednesday the total was up to 22, including 11 players, and there seemed to be little chance Tennessee would be hosting the Bills on Sunday as scheduled.

The Patriots also canceled practice in the wake of Newton’s positive test and another for Stephon Gilmore, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Raiders also reported a positive test in Las Vegas.

And around the league Wednesday, the talk was about health, not football. In Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes was asked to explain why he and Gilmore shared a bro hug after the Chiefs beat the Patriots.

“Obviously knowing that I went up to him after the game and gave him a high-five, like I have all my career and not thinking about it — it was a mental lapse,” Mahomes said.

Unfortunately, those kinds of lapses have been common in the first weeks of the season. Players have interacted with other teams, gone maskless to an event in Las Vegas, and not always followed the strict protocol put in place in hopes of getting the season in.

And even after being fined $100,000 for not wearing his mask on the sidelines, Raiders coach Jon Gruden kept taking it down again in Sunday’s loss at home to Buffalo.

The NFL is now threatening violators with everything it has left in the punishment bag — including suspensions and the loss of draft picks. But the cases are beginning to add up, and the logistics to keep playing the season are getting tougher.

“Everybody’s confidence level is probably a little less than a few weeks ago. Two weeks ago everybody was riding high,” said Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. “It’s amazing to see what happened in Tennessee so quickly.”

Indeed, the Titans were on a roll to begin the season, winning their first three games. But Sunday’s game against the Steelers was rescheduled and so, likely, will be the game with the Bills.

The Patriots, meanwhile, were already facing a short week after having their game with the Chiefs moved to Monday. But is it fair to ask them to play at home Sunday against Denver after having to cancel practice and being without Newton and Gilmore?

It’s not, of course, and too many situations like that will threaten to make a mockery of the season.

Testing numbers released by the NFL are impressive with some 35,000 tests a week for players and other team personnel. But while the number of positives is low, the trend is upward.

“It takes one guy to go to the grocery store and it’s as simple as that sometimes,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said. “You don’t ever suspect anybody to have it in the facility. But you’ve got to hope that guys are wearing their masks, the contact tracers are working.’’

That’s the hope, and through four weeks of the season it looked like that might be enough. Now, though, the virus is not only in play but crossing the 50-yard-line.

Things could get so bad that there’s a possibility, NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills acknowledged Wednesday, the season could be paused or even suspended.

The NFL will continue to fight on, at least for the moment. The league will play as many games as it can this weekend and hope it can play next.

As always, though, the virus will have the last say.

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Bellinger robs Padres as Dodgers hold on for 2-0 NLDS lead

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Cody Bellinger would take the homer-robbing catch over the home run he hit if he had to pick from the two. The Los Angeles Dodgers needed both from their MVP center fielder.

Bellinger nearly went to a knee to hit his long home run, and later made a spectacular, leaping catch at the center-field wall to take away a go-ahead shot from Fernando Tatis Jr. as the Dodgers barely held off the San Diego Padres 6-5 Wednesday night.

Los Angeles took a 2-0 lead in the NL Division Series when Joe Kelly finally got the last out with the bases loaded in a tension-filled ninth inning.

“It’s going to take a while to wind down from that one,” said Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP. “That’s postseason baseball right there.”

Kelly retired Eric Hosmer on a routine grounder to earn the save after Dodgers All-Star closer Kenley Jansen wobbled in the ninth. Los Angeles can sweep the best-of-five set from its NL West rival Thursday night.

The Padres were down one with a runner on and two outs in the seventh when Tatis, the 21-year-old budding superstar, hit a towering drive to center. Bellinger ran nearly 100 feet while watching the ball, then jumped and extended his gloved right hand above the 8-foot wall to make the grab.

“I just kind of turned around as fast as I could, got to the fence and saw that it was probable, so I decided to try to time up the jump, and it’s how it worked out,” Bellinger said. “I didn’t know if it was a homer or not, but I knew I caught it.”

Brusdar Graterol, the second Dodgers reliever after starter Clayton Kershaw, slung his glove and cap away and thrust both arms into the air to celebrate. Graterol also appeared to wave goodbye and blow a kiss at Padres star Manny Machado, who shouted curses back from afar in a heated verbal exchange that included other Dodgers as well.

Bellinger said it was only the second homer he has robbed in his career — the first in the playoffs.

“Certainly turned out being the difference in the game,” Padres rookie manager Jayce Tingler said. “Tatis squared it up pretty good. For him to go up and rob one there, there’s not much to say.”

Game 3 is Thursday night, and the Dodgers can advance to the NL Championship Series for the fourth time in five seasons. They went to the World Series in 2017 and 2018 before losing in a five-game Division Series to the Washington Nationals last October.

Corey Seager put the NL West champions ahead to stay with his two-run double in the third and scored on the first of Max Muncy’s two RBI singles in the game. Leading off the next inning, Bellinger went after a low pitch and drove it 433 feet to center to make it 4-1.

Kershaw followed up his gem in the clinching game of the first round against Milwaukee with six strikeouts and no walks over six solid innings to get the win. The lefty allowed three runs, including back-to-back solo homers by Machado and Hosmer in the sixth, in his first start near his Texas home in a 13-season career.

After issuing full-count walks with two outs to Tatis and Machado that loaded the bases, Kelly retired Hosmer on a groundout for his first save this postseason. Jansen had allowed two runs in the ninth, on a pinch-hit RBI double by Mitch Moreland before he scored on Trent Grisham’s single.

“Never a doubt — we had it in our hands. That’s how Joe Kelly rolls. Joe likes to make it interesting for us,” Kershaw said.

Zach Davies allowed four runs over five innings, the longest outing by a Padres pitcher in their five games this postseason. The right-hander struck out three without a walk but took the loss.

That came after Mike Clevinger was removed from the Padres’ active roster, meaning he is out until at least the World Series — if San Diego can recover to make it that far, and his elbow feels better.

Three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Kershaw grew up, went to high school and still lives about 25 miles from the Texas Rangers’ new stadium. The Dodgers have played four regular-season series in Arlington since his big league debut in 2008, but none of those matched up with his turn in the rotation.

Kershaw could pitch there more this October, since the NL Championship and World Series will also be played in the $1.2 billion ballpark with a retractable roof that has been open for the NLDS.

In Game 2 of the best-of-three series against Milwaukee last Thursday, Kershaw struck out 13 over eight scoreless innings. Kershaw has a 2.43 career ERA in the regular season, but entered these playoffs after the abbreviated 60-game regular season with a 4.43 ERA in the postseason.

The Padres took a 1-0 lead in the second when Tommy Pham blooped a single just over the infield, and scored when Wil Myers lined a double into the right-center gap.

Seager’s go-ahead double landed just fair down the right-field line, then ricocheted off the screen fronting the field-level club where Dodgers family members sat. The ball shot sideways away from right fielder Myers, allowing catcher Austin Barnes to score from first.

When the Dodgers went to bat after Bellinger’s catch, Justin Turner had a sacrifice fly and Muncy his second RBI single to make it 6-3.

NOT AS HARD

Jansen was averaging 93-94 mph earlier this season, but rarely got above 90 mph on his 30 pitches (seven fastballs and 23 cutters) in this one. There were 11 pitches of at least 90 mph, only three of them above 92 mph.

Asked about Jansen’s role in the ninth inning going forward, manager Dave Roberts said he’s going to keep thinking about it.

“I thought there were some good throws in there. There was a dropped third strike with Grisham and he ended up getting a base hit,” Roberts said. “I’m going to think through it. It was just a lot for (Jansen), 30 pitches to get two outs. I know that he’s disappointed as well. I’ll keep thinking through it.”

HOMER NOTES

The Padres became the first team in 20 games this postseason to lose when outhomering their opponent. … Kershaw became the first pitcher to allow back-to-back home runs three times in a postseason career, according to Elias Sports.

UP NEXT

The Padres plan to start lefty Adrian Morejon in Game 3. Roberts said he wouldn’t announce a starter until Thursday.

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Vrabel says Titans hope NFL allows them to return Wednesday

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Coach Mike Vrabel says the Tennessee Titans stand by how they’ve followed the NFL’s protocols for the coronavirus pandemic and hope the league will allow the team back inside the building Wednesday.

The NFL’s first team to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak has had a couple of what Vrabel called “really good days” with testing, and the coach said they’re hoping for more good news early Wednesday.

“And then we’ll kind of see where we’re at with the league and hopeful to return and get back in the building,” Vrabel said.

One positive test could derail that timeline.

If allowed back inside the team’s headquarters Wednesday, that would keep the Titans (3-0) on target to host Buffalo (4-0) on Sunday in a matchup of two of the NFL’s six remaining undefeated teams. Vrabel says he’s working through a variety of schedules to be ready for when they can get back.

The NFL and its players union had people in Nashville meeting with the Titans to review how the team handled the outbreak and checking protocols. The Titans, and any other team with an outbreak or exposed to a team with an outbreak, now have new protocols to follow including all meetings held virtually and everyone must wear face coverings and gloves at practice.

Vrabel said the Titans followed the protocols that were in place and that both he and general manager Jon Robinson put a lot of thought into doing just that.

“We’re going to continue to do everything that we can to make sure as we enter back in this building, that things are safe and the players are comfortable and that their health and well-being is at the forefront,” Vrabel said.

The Titans’ outbreak reached 20 cases on Sunday, the team’s sixth straight day of at least one positive, with 18 returned since Sept. 29. The players testing positive include defensive captain DaQuan Jones, defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, wide receiver Adam Humphries, rookie cornerback Kristian Fulton and long snapper Beau Brinkley.

Vrabel said those players have to follow a protocol to be cleared to return to play, keeping them out of Sunday’s game with the Bills. But Vrabel is hopeful they’ll get most of the personnel affected back, and any coaches still not cleared to return won’t have a role in the game.

The Titans, who’ve won all three games by a combined six points and a made field goal inside the final two minutes of each victory, will need a long snapper. Vrabel said he and Robinson have been working through that. The NFL has extended the time teams need to bring in players for tryouts.

“I am pretty certain that they’ll allow us to have somebody in here that can snap for us,” Vrabel said. “We understand that that’s a critically important spot. Still working through some of that stuff with the league.”

The NFL and the players’ union agreed to expanded practice squads this season, and Vrabel said they’ll have enough players to make up for those who won’t be able to play.

Replacing Jones and Simmons in the middle of the defensive line won’t be easy, and Vrabel said defensive backs will have to help fill in for receivers once they practice with Adam Humphries and Cameron Batson both on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Tennessee already has had its game against Pittsburgh moved from Oct. 4 to Oct. 25 because of this outbreak, turning the missed date into an unexpected bye.

Vrabel dismissed any talk of the Titans having a competitive disadvantage.

“The only competitive disadvantage in my mind is not playing very well, and so that will all be determined on Sunday,” Vrabel said.

The Bills certainly aren’t worried about not knowing if Sunday’s game will happen as scheduled.

“I’m 4-0, man,” Buffalo safety Jordan Hoyer said. “ I’m not even thinking about that.”

The Titans’ outbreak also affected the Baltimore Ravens, who now will have a bye Week 7 instead of playing Pittsburgh. That game now will be Nov. 1.

The NFL also had to move New England’s game at Kansas City from Sunday to Monday night after Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19, as did a Chiefs practice squad player.

The NFL and the players union agreed Oct. 2 to continue daily testing, and they both agreed to ramp up health and safety procedures in the wake of the Titans’ outbreak. That includes a longer process to try out free agents and a league-wide video monitoring system.

Commissioner Roger Goodell s ent a memo to all 32 teams Monday noting the league has disciplined violators of NFL protocols and that penalties including potential forfeits of games for violations forcing schedule changes.