‘My city’: Harper 0 for 4 in possibly last home Nats game
By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, September 27
WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 3½ hours before the start of what many expect to be his last game at Nationals Park as a member of the Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper stood at his locker and let his eyes linger on that familiar white jersey with the curly red “W” on the front and his last name on the back.
Then Harper, who can become a free agent at season’s end, put on his full uniform, right down to the stirrups — the only player ready that far ahead of Washington’s 9-3 victory in its home finale against the Miami Marlins, which was stopped Wednesday after seven innings because of rain.
“I knew I wanted to get here and put the ‘uni’ on right away, and just cherish that moment, if it’s going to be the last time or not,” the outfielder said beforehand. “I can’t really stand here and say it’s going to be ‘farewell’ or anything like that, because nobody knows. Nobody knows what this offseason holds.”
The storm arrived, naturally, as Harper stood in the on-deck circle while the last out of the seventh was recorded. That scrapped manager Dave Martinez’s plan to remove Harper from his spot in right field during the top of the ninth, to allow spectators a chance to salute him.
Still, fans did get to greet him with signs, standing ovations and chants of “Let’s go, Harper!” for each at-bat. He went 0 for 4 with a pair of strikeouts.
“Just running out there, I wasn’t really thinking about it being my last game or anything like that,” he said afterward. “My heart lies here.”
If this was, indeed, a “goodbye” to Harper, consider it also a “welcome” to someone the Nationals could count on to replace his outfield production, 21-year-old rookie Victor Robles. He delivered the first four-hit game of his nascent career, including a three-run homer and a two-run double, and stole a base, to boot.
“Harp has been a great help to me,” Robles said through a translator. “So I wish him all the best. Hopefully he’s back. And if he’s not, I wish him all the best. He’s going to be missed if he’s not.”
Harper’s take on his fellow outfielder?
“Watching Robles, what he did today, that was a lot of fun,” Harper said. “Tried to enjoy that the best I could.”
The Nationals — 81-78 and, like the Marlins, missing the playoffs — close the season with a three-game series at Colorado.
“This is my home,” said Harper, the only NL player with 100 RBIs, 100 runs and 100 walks in 2018. “This is my city.”
The Nationals drafted him No. 1 overall at age 17 in 2010, then called him up to the majors at 19. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2012, then a unanimous MVP selection in 2015.
A team that lost 100 games in a season twice before Harper came aboard won four NL East titles with the slugger (although never won a playoff series).
He sparked raucous celebrations at his home stadium when he won the Home Run Derby during All-Star weekend this July.
“It’s like I’m standing here like a 35-year old, but I’m only 25. So it’s the first time going through something like this, of course,” Harper said.
Asked what it would take for him to return to Washington, he replied: “I’ve got to know if I’m in” the team’s plans.
“Everybody knows what could possibly happen,” he added. “I could be out of here or I could be back.”
Needless to say, folks such as Martinez and Harper’s teammates would prefer the latter.
“He wants to be back here. I know that,” the rookie skipper said. “We’ve got three games left. He’s going to wear a Nationals uniform for three more games and hopefully for many, many years after that. So we’ll see.”
Until it’s been determined, Harper’s 2019 destination will be the talk of baseball.
In his first start in the majors, Washington RHP Kyle McGowin left because of a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand after walking the first two batters in the fifth inning. He gave up no runs and just one hit. Wander Suero (4-1) got the win with one inning of scoreless relief. Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen (6-12) went four innings, allowing four earned runs and seven hits.
Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman left after the second inning because his back tightened up.
Marlins: RHP Corey Oswalt (3-3, 6.08) starts Friday’s series opener at the Mets.
Nationals: RHP Joe Ross (0-1, 4.09 ERA) pitches Friday at the Rockies.
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Astros move AL West clinch party from hotel to clubhouse
By IAN HARRISON
Thursday, September 27
TORONTO (AP) — The Houston Astros moved their celebration from the team hotel to the clubhouse.
The Astros marked their second straight AL West title by dousing one another with wine and beer and enjoying cigars after Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
“We’re getting used to this,” infielder Alex Bregman said. “I like it.”
It was the second celebration of the day for the Astros, who clinched the division just after 2 a.m. Wednesday when Oakland lost at Seattle 10-8 in 11 innings.
The Twitter account of the defending World Series champions posted videos of players, coaches and their partners jumping up and down in celebration inside a meeting room at The Ritz-Carlton Toronto.
“It was pretty unique,” ace Justin Verlander said. “There’s been some unique scenarios, but not like that one.”
Back inside the smoky, dripping clubhouse, the Astros enjoyed a party that was, in Verlander’s words, “a little more traditional.”
“I hope we do this three more times,” he said.
Houston opens the AL Division Series at home on Oct. 5 against Central Division champion Cleveland. Before Wednesday’s game, Bregman said he was “super pumped” to repeat as division winners.
“We haven’t had the smoothest of rides, a little adversity along the way, but we’ve pushed through it and we’re playing good baseball at the right time,” he said.
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel was among those who stayed up to watch the A’s play Tuesday night at Safeco Field. Having celebrated late into the night, Keuchel was taking it easy at Wednesday’s postgame party.
“I usually drink a little bit at these but I’m still hurting from last night,” Keuchel said.
Second baseman Jose Altuve said he was proud of his teammates for wrapping up a repeat division title.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” Altuve said. “I think we deserve this, we all deserve this.”
Manager AJ Hinch, who stayed away from the hotel gathering because of a minor illness, decided to get involved in the clubhouse celebrations.
“It probably set me back a couple of days, but it’s worth it,” Hinch said. “There’s one team that can repeat, and that’s us. We need four celebrations and 11 wins. Those are all the points that this team needs to know.”
Hinch spoke to the Astros before Wednesday’s game to congratulate and thank the players, and to remind them of the task ahead.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Hinch said before the game. “To go back-to-back 100 wins, back-to-back division championships, it’s not easy to do what we’re doing, so I do want out guys to relish in it.”
The Astros (100-57) need three wins in their final four games to break the 1998 team record.
“It’s something we would like to accomplish,” Verlander said. “Selfishly, I think we’ve got the best Houston Astros team ever assembled. Having the record to show that would be nice.”
Houston is now turning its attention to the Indians.
“They’re a really good team,” Altuve said. “They’ve got really good hitters like we do. They’ve got good pitching. We’ve got good pitching, too. It’s going to be interesting. I pick my team, obviously, but I think it’s going to be good competition.”
Houston’s success the past two seasons is particularly meaningful to Altuve and Keuchel, who each suffered through multiple 100-loss campaigns in their first years with the team. The Astros lost a combined 324 games from 2011-2013.
“You’ve got to take a second to think about how good it feels,” Keuchel said. “Being a part of two 100-loss seasons back-to-back when I first got called up and then now being part of part two consecutive 100-win seasons is pretty special.”
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Brewers clinch playoff spot, sweep Cards 2-1; Cubs also in
By JOE HARRIS
Thursday, September 27
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Fortunately for the Milwaukee Brewers, they didn’t slip up.
The Brewers clinched their first playoff spot since 2011 by ensuring at least a spot in the NL wild-card game, helped Wednesday night when a rookie St. Louis pinch-runner suddenly fell on his way to the plate in a 2-1 win over the contending Cardinals.
“I saw him go down and luckily we were able to put a tag on him and get him out,” Brewers reliever Josh Hader said. “I’ve never seen that before but it was definitely good on our side.”
The Brewers (92-67) remained a half-game behind the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs. Milwaukee’s win also sealed a postseason berth for the Cubs.
Milwaukee began the day 3 ½ games ahead of Colorado for the top wild-card slot. St. Louis (87-71) entered a half-game behind the Rockies for the final wild-card berth.
The Cardinals missed a big chance to tie it in the eighth inning. Matt Carpenter drew a two-out walk and was lifted for pinch-runner Adolis Garcia. Jose Martinez then hit a slow roller to third baseman Mike Moustakas, who threw wildly to first.
Garcia was waved home, but slipped rounding third base and fell halfway to the plate. He got to his feet and had no chance, easily tagged out after second baseman Hernan Perez made a strong throw.
“The kid’s giving you everything he’s got, it’s just unfortunate he fell,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “It’s one of those things that happened. Clearly, it would’ve tied the game but it wasn’t for lack of effort. Things happen and he was giving everything he had.”
Milwaukee turned that break into a three-game sweep at Busch Stadium. And while the Brewers enjoyed an enthusiastic celebration in their clubhouse, the prospect of catching the Cubs still hung in the air.
“We like our chances, but obviously winning the division would be huge,” outfielder Ryan Braun said. “The wild-card game, no matter how good you are, it is always somewhat of a coin flip. So we have to take care of business. We have to continue to win games and continue to play the way we’ve played to this point and hopefully find a way to win the division.”
Milwaukee advanced to the NL Championship Series in 2011 before being eliminated in six games by the eventual World Series champion Cardinals.
Jhoulys Chacin pitched five strong innings and Travis Shaw hit a pair of RBI singles for Milwaukee.
“When you’ve got games left still and you’ve got something to play for there’s stuff ahead of us, but you do this to enjoy what you’ve accomplished,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We know that we’ve made the playoffs, we have a chance to play in the playoffs and we have three big games left.”
Chacin (15-8), who had lost his last three decisions, gave up one run on just one hit over five innings. He needed a season-low 60 pitches and faced three batters over the minimum.
“We definitely caught a break there, it was a strange play,” Counsell said of the Garcia fall. “We pitched really well tonight. Chacin was brilliant. It was just a really well played game.”
Xavier Cedeno, Corbin Burnes, Hader and Jeremy Jeffress combined for four shutout innings as the Brewers held the Cardinals to a season-low two hits. Jeffress earned his 13th save in 18 chances.
Milwaukee now returns to Miller Park to take on the lowly Detroit Tigers in the three-game series starting Friday to end the regular season. The Cardinals travel to face the Cubs for the three-game set.
Shaw’s single scored Christian Yelich, who walked all five times he came to the plate, and gave the Brewers a 1-0 lead in the third.
Shaw broke a 1-all time with an RBI single off Dakota Hudson in the fifth, again scoring Yelich, to make it 2-1.
“It’s cool,” Shaw said. “I mean anytime you do that it’s cool but especially on a clinching night, it feels pretty good.”
Yelich, who reached on a walk by Chasen Shreve (3-4), became the ninth inherited runner out of 18 that Hudson has allowed to score.
“Hopefully this is the first of many celebrations and rightfully so to celebrate this moment,” Yelich said. “But we’ve got a big weekend ahead so we’re going to enjoy it tonight and get back to work.”
Cardinals starter John Gant stranded runners in each of his first four innings before being lifted with one out in the fifth. It is the fourth time in his last five starts that Gant failed to go more than 4 1/3 innings.
Jedd Gyorko’s sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the fourth made it 1-all.
Cardinals infielder Paul DeJong hung back to watch the Brewers’ on-field celebration.
“They earned it,” DeJong said. “It’s something that I want. It’s something that I’ve done in the minor leagues. I really wanted to be out there doing it with us but we’re going to have to keep pushing and try to pull something out.”
Brewers: Jeffress, who missed the series opener because of neck spasms, pitched for the first time since Friday went 1 1/3 innings.
Brewers: RHP Zach Davies (2-7, 4.65 ERA) begins the three-game series at home Friday night against Detroit and RHP Jordan Zimmermann (7-8, 4.31 ERA). Davies, who is making his first career start against the Tigers, gave up two runs in four innings in a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates last Saturday.
Cardinals: RHP Adam Wainwright (2-3, 4.08 ERA) gets the start in the opener of a three-game series at Chicago and RHP Kyle Hendricks (13-11, 3.49 ERA) on Friday afternoon. Wainwright leads all active pitchers with 15 wins against the Cubs and his 11 career wins at Wrigley Field is third all-time in franchise history behind Bob Gibson (15) and Harry Brecheen (13).
Cubs clinch 4th straight playoff spot, top Pirates 7-6 in 10
By JOHN JACKSON
Thursday, September 27
CHICAGO (AP) — Anthony Rizzo thought he’d caught the foul ball. Many others at Wrigley Field, meanwhile, thought about Steve Bartman.
Despite a play that reminded Cubs fans of what went wrong many years ago, Chicago wound up clinching its fourth straight postseason appearance and holding its narrow lead in the NL Central with a 7-6 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in 10 innings Wednesday night.
No one was in a partying mood inside the Cubs’ clubhouse, however. The champagne will have to wait.
“We’re not taking this for granted,” said Albert Almora Jr., who delivered a game-ending single. “We’re super pumped that we’re in the playoffs, but the job’s not done. We want to take this division and move forward with the best record in the NL.”
The Cubs were assured a playoff slot earlier in the evening when Milwaukee beat St. Louis. The Brewers, who also sealed a postseason berth, are a half-game behind Chicago — one of them will win the division, the other will play in the NL wild-card game next Tuesday.
Almora’s RBI single with two outs came after the Pirates tied it in the ninth, helped when a fan at cost Rizzo a chance to catch a foul pop.
Pittsburgh made it 6-all in the ninth on a two-out, two-run double by Starling Marte. Pinch-hitter Francisco Cervelli keyed the rally with a double, moments he lofted a foul pop along the first base side. Rizzo reached into the stands and around the protective net, but the Chicago first baseman came up empty when a fan stuck his hands up and made the grab.
Rizzo initially figured he’d nabbed the ball, only to see his mitt was empty. Rizzo punched his glove as he returned to his spot, but didn’t criticize the man who beat him to the ball.
“I thought I caught it,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those weird plays.”
No interference was called because fans have a right to ball that reach the seats — Rizzo leaned in, trying to make the play.
In Game 6 of the 2003 NL Championship Series against the Marlins, the Cubs seemed to be on their way to clinching a long-awaited World Series appearance when, holding a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning, left fielder Moises Alou tried to catch a foul ball that reached the stands. Bartman, a Cubs fan, reached out and deflected the ball before it got to Alou’s glove.
The Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning, won the game and then won Game 7 the next day to take the NL pennant.
This time, the Cubs eventually held on.
Ian Happ led off the 10th with a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Terrance Gore. Mike Freeman’s sacrifice moved up Gore, and he took third on a groundout. Almora grounded a single to left on an 0-2 pitch from Richard Rodriguez (4-3).
“When you win a tough game like that, you’ve got to give your guys a lot of credit for sticking around and not folding the tents,” manager Joe Maddon said.
Jason Heyward homered and drove in three runs for the Cubs. Javier Baez singled for his NL-leading 111th RBI as the Cubs won after blowing a five-run lead. Star third baseman Kris Bryant didn’t play because of a bruised left wrist.
Jose Osuna and Corey Dickerson homered for Pittsburgh.
Brandon Kintzler (3-3) got the only batter he faced in the top of the 10th to hit into a double play.
The Cubs led by five and still took a 6-2 lead into the eighth behind solid pitching from Jose Quintana and Jesse Chavez, but the rest of the relievers struggled.
“We stayed hunting,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We continued to play.”
Carl Edwards Jr. started the eighth, but was yanked after walking two of the three batters he faced. After retiring the first batter he faced, Steve Cishek gave up a walk and a two-run single to Elias Diaz to make it 6-4. Following an intentional walk to load the bases, Cishek got Pablo Reyes to ground out to end the threat.
Chicago wasn’t as fortunate in the ninth.
With a runner on first and one out, pinch-hitter Francisco Cervelli doubled off the wall in right. Justin Wilson got Adam Frazier on a popup and appeared on the verge of getting out of it, but Marte hit a liner that hit off first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s glove and rolled down the line for a tying double.
Some of the players believed it was fitting that the game on a clinching night was such a struggle.
“I think this year there’s been more peaks and valleys than last year,” Rizzo said. “It’s not been smooth sailing and we figure out ways to win as a team.”
The Cubs had managed a total of five runs in their last six games against the Pirates, including one run in the first two games of the series. But starter Ivan Nova couldn’t extend Pittsburgh’s pitching dominance. He was roughed up for six runs (five earned) on eight hits in four innings.
Pirates: RHP Edgar Santana (elbow) will undergo Tommy John surgery soon and is expected to miss the entire 2019 season. The 26-year-old Santana is 3-4 with a 3.26 ERA in 69 games this season.
Cubs: 3B Bryant sat out a day after being hit in the wrist by a pitch, but Maddon is optimistic the injury won’t linger. “It’s sore, like you would have anticipated,” Maddon said. “But, he thought, the swelling wasn’t as heavy as we anticipated.”
Cubs ace LHP Jon Lester (17-6, 3.43 ERA) faces RHP Trevor Williams (14-9, 3.04) in the finale of the four-game series Thursday night. Lester is 5-1 with a 1.96 ERA in his last seven starts, while Williams has allowed a total of eight earned runs in his last 12 starts for an ERA of 1.00 during that span.
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