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MLB Playoffs Daily: Gerrit Cole in a Yankees-Rays winner-take-all game? Sign us up

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Thanks to the New York Yankees, we’ve got a game Friday — and not just any game. It’s a winner-take-all, do-or-die, there’s-no-tomorrow game. Featuring the free agent who signed the biggest contract ever by a pitcher, with the team in the biggest market, to start in the biggest games. Like this one.

Gerrit Cole, pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, faces the Tampa Bay Rays, the No. 1 seed in the American League, with a spot in the AL Championship Series against the Houston Astros on the line. The drama, the intrigue, the star power. Here’s what you need to know.

Key links: Power Rankings | Predictions | Schedule, bracket | Playoff Baseball Classic

What’s on tap

All times Eastern; all series best-of-five played at neutral sites

Game 5: No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays (Tyler Glasnow) vs. No. 5 New York Yankees (Gerrit Cole), 7:10 p.m. in San Diego

OK, Gerrit Cole, it’s time to earn your money. If these were the George Steinbrenner days, The Boss would have been in the clubhouse after Game 4 and gone up to Cole and told him, “You better be ready.” It’s Yankees-Rays in Game 5 of the ALDS and Cole’s first opportunity to earn his first true Yankee pinstripes.

“When the lights turn on, it doesn’t matter if it’s three, four, five, six, seven days [of] rest, you gotta do your job,” Cole said.

Cole will be pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in his career and that will be the big storyline heading into the game. It’s a legitimate issue to discuss, but it shouldn’t have a big effect on Cole’s performance. He’s a big strong guy who threw just 97 pitches in his Game 1 start, which he had made on five days’ rest. This will also be familiar territory for both Cole and the Rays. He faced Tampa Bay last year in Game 5 of the ALDS while with the Astros (albeit on four days’ rest) and gave up two hits and one run over eight innings. The Rays did get to him for three runs in Game 1 on Monday, however, including home runs from Randy Arozarena and personal Cole killer Ji-Man Choi, who is 10-for-19 with four home runs and three doubles off Cole in his career.

In a perfect world for Aaron Boone, it’s probably Cole, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman. Britton and Chapman both pitched in Game 4, throwing 22 and 23 pitches respectively, but they should be ready to go more than three outs again. Chad Green has pitched two days in a row but would be the third option out of the pen. If someone besides Cole and those three relievers is in the game, something has gone wrong for the Yankees.

The Rays are also rolling the dice, starting Tyler Glasnow on two days’ rest, after he threw five innings and 93 pitches in Game 2. In fact, it’s a rematch of that Game 5 from last year, when Glasnow lasted only 2⅔ innings after the Astros scored four runs in the first (when they apparently realized Glasnow was tipping his fastball and jumped all over him). No Blake Snell? It does raise the question why Snell started Game 1 instead of Glasnow in the first place since the Rays have handled him very carefully all season after last year’s injury issues. Kevin Cash could simply be reacting to Snell giving up three home runs in the first game.

The Rays have a deeper bullpen, but Cash has primarily relied on three right-handers late in games: Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks, who haven’t pitched since Game 2, and Diego Castillo, who also didn’t pitch in Game 4. Cash might be looking for three or four innings from Glasnow, then up to two innings apiece from those three. Snell is another option.

All that should add up to an interesting chess match. In the end, of course, it’s up to the players and nobody faces a bigger spotlight than Cole. Boone knew having Cole for Game 5 was always a possibility, even if the decision wasn’t really made until before Thursday’s game. “When he walked in today and got off the bus and walked past my office, he just said, ‘Hey,’ and he said just give me the ball. He is ready to go and I know [he’s] looking forward to it.”

Said Cole: “I think everybody is feeling like it’s going to be a special game, a big game for us and you know it’s not going to take one guy to win it. You know, I think anytime you are in a lineup in a do-or-die game your teammates have faith in you, your manager has faith in you. As a player that’s always a good feeling and you always want to be out there in the big moment. Either team would have liked to have won this series before Game 5, but, hey, we’re here and I think it’s part of the path to get to where we ultimately want to get.” — David Schoenfield

Updated odds

Projections courtesy of ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle.

Yankees-Rays (Tied 2-2): Rays 55.2% to advance

Running World Series odds

NL: Dodgers 53.7%, Braves 15.1%.
AL: Rays 14.1%, Yankees 8.9%, Astros 8.2%.


Hot take of the day

Ride Gerrit Cole. That’s my hot take.

Go down with your best guy, maybe the best pitcher on the planet, even if he wasn’t quite the best pitcher in the regular season.

It feels as if managers have gotten a little too cute at times this postseason. The White Sox mismanaged a Game 3 bullpen game against the A’s. Boone’s Deivi Garcia/J.A. Happ gambit in Game 2 didn’t pay off. The Dodgers-Padres game Thursday night was just weird, with Dave Roberts pulling Dustin May — who looked unhittable — after one inning, and the Padres starting rookie Adrian Morejon, who had given up seven home runs in 19⅓ innings and predictably gave up three runs in two innings.

There was understandable rationale behind all those decisions — believe me, the managers, coaches and front-office folks spend a lot of time discussing these moves — but there’s no reason to get cute with Cole. Give him his 100 or 110 pitches and hopefully he gets the ball late enough for Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman.

Hope he doesn’t give up some home runs. Hope your offense hits some. And don’t forget to breathe. Winner take all, baby. — Schoenfield


Stat of the day

The Astros slashed .322/.388/.594 as a team in their division series win over A’s. Only three players during the regular season had a slash line that high in each category: Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna. So in other words, their entire team hit like Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman or Marcell Ozuna for the four-game series.


About last night …

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1:43

Will Smith sets a Dodgers record and becomes the first catcher in major league history with five hits in a postseason game, helping L.A. to eliminate the Padres.

The Dodgers took all the drama out of their series with the Padres, putting a 5-spot on the board in the third inning and coasting to a 12-3 win. The biggest upset in the uprising: There were no extra-base hits. The inning went walk, wild pitch, infield hit and error, single, ground out, strikeout, intentional walk, single, stolen base, single, fly out. Given all the power on display from the Dodgers and everyone else this postseason, they were the quietest five runs of the playoffs. But it got the job done. … Next up for L.A. are the Braves, who behind Kyle Wright finished off the Marlins with their fourth shutout in five games this postseason. The Braves and Dodgers are the only two teams without a loss in the playoffs. … In the American League, the Astros continued to rake, clearing out the A’s with an 11-6 Game 4 rout. … That leaves the Yankees and Rays, with New York forcing a winner-take-all Game 5 after a 5-1 win. Jordan Montgomery escaped four innings, giving up only one run, then the Yankees’ bullpen slammed the door.


Social media post of the day


Best moment of the MLB playoffs to date

The stage was set for another Fernando Tatis Jr. moment, but Cody Bellinger snatched it away. Bellinger’s home run robbery, plucking what would have been a go-ahead shot by Tatis in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the NLDS, kept the Padres at bay — barely — and will take its place in Dodgers lore, particularly if L.A. wins it all.


The running MLB playoffs MVP

The Astros’ offensive juggernaut has been at high gear, and the leader of the pack is Carlos Correa, who hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the division series clincher against the A’s. Through six games, the numbers are staggering: 10-for-20, four home runs, 12 RBIs, a 1.715 OPS. Correa’s 12 RBIs are tied for the second-most ever in a team’s first six postseason games, and his 11 RBIs against Oakland are tied for the most by a shortstop in any series in postseason history (matching Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra, 1998 LDS vs. Cleveland).

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Sources: Thomas in jeopardy of missing Week 8

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New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, after suffering a hamstring injury during practice this past week, underwent an MRI that revealed a Grade 1 strain that is expected to sideline him one to two weeks, league sources told ESPN.

Thomas already has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, and there’s a real chance he will not be able to play next week against the Chicago Bears either, according to sources.

Thomas is likely to be considered questionable for next week, as he tries to recover from his hamstring injury as well as the high ankle sprain that he suffered in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This means the Saints could be without their top two wide receivers for each of the next two weeks, with Emmanuel Sanders already having tested positive for the coronavirus and being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Sunday’s contest will be the fifth consecutive game that Thomas has missed after he suffered the high ankle sprain and was benched for team disciplinary reasons in Week 5 after a practice altercation with teammate C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

Thomas appeared likely to return from the ankle injury before that incident in Week 5, and he was definitely expected back after the Week 6 bye. But the hamstring injury was a new ailment that showed up for the first time on Wednesday’s injury report.

The Saints feel fortunate to have detected Sanders’ coronavirus case when they did. His COVID-19 test Wednesday came back negative, and when he wasn’t feeling well Thursday but practiced, the Saints conducted another test that came back positive. They immediately put into effect contract tracing, with the hopes of containing the spread of the virus.

Saints coach Sean Payton said Friday that the organization also tested about 20 other people who might have been near Sanders, and all of them tested negative. But Payton said reserve cornerback Ken Crawley will be added to the reserve/COVID-19 list as a precaution because of their close contact.

ESPN’s Mike Triplett contributed to this report.

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Source: AB’s deal with Bucs maxes out at $2.5M

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Wide receiver Antonio Brown can make up to $2.5 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Sunday.

Brown’s deal, which is he expected to sign Monday, includes $1 million in base salary and roster bonuses, the source said. He can earn $750,000 if the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl and has three $250,000 incentives for receptions, yards and touchdowns.

Sources told Schefter on Friday that Brown had reached an agreement on a one-year deal with the Buccaneers. He still has to pass COVID-19 protocols before he can join the team but is likely to make his Buccaneers debut in Week 9 against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 8 — after he completes an eight-game suspension for multiple violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

The deal reunites Brown with quarterback Tom Brady and could help a team that has been banged up at the wide receiver position. Mike Evans has been playing on an injured ankle since Week 4 and hasn’t been able to practice consistently, Chris Godwin just returned from a hamstring injury, and deep threat Scotty Miller has been limited by a groin/hip injury.

Brady had been pushing for the Buccaneers to sign Brown since the summer. Brady took Brown under his wing during the wide receiver’s brief tenure in New England last season — on and off the field.

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‘If I give my word, I have to follow it’: Dominant Khabib tearfully says goodbye to MMA

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The tears flowed immediately. Khabib Nurmagomedov had just let go of the triangle choke he used to render Justin Gaethje unconscious, and all that was left for the UFC lightweight champion was a different release, one of a painfully personal nature. As medical staff moved in to attend to Gaethje against the cage, Nurmagomedov stepped to the center of the Octagon and dropped to his knees.

This would not simply be his usual postfight prayer. Nurmagomedov remained balled up on the canvas, his back heaving, hands covering his face. He was weeping.

Emotions that had been pent up for months spilled out of him. Nurmagomedov had shown none of it publicly in the leadup to this fight, wearing the stoic face for which he had become known during his undefeated mixed martial arts career. But there was no need for that anymore. His father and primary coach, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, died in July from a heart condition complicated by COVID-19, and Khabib was finally allowing himself the opportunity to mourn publicly. There would be no more fighting for Nurmagomedov after Saturday in Abu Dhabi.

That became clear even before his UFC 254 main event victory was announced. As the official result was being read by Bruce Buffer — a technical submission by triangle choke at 1 minute, 34 seconds of Round 2 — and UFC president Dana White waited to wrap the shiny title belt around his champion once more, Nurmagomedov was already trying to peel away the red tape that secured his fighting gloves.

Those who regularly watch combat sports knew what was coming, and what it meant. When a fighter takes off his or her gloves and lays them at the center of the cage, that symbolizes the end of a career.

Nurmagomedov, speaking softly as his coaches and cornermen stood transfixed behind him, confirmed that he was walking away from a 29-0 career that will be remembered as the most dominant run in MMA history. The 32-year-old from Dagestan spoke of his late father. He spoke of his mother, and a promise he made to her.

“Today, I want to say this was my last fight,” Nurmagomedov said. “No way I’m going to come here without my father. After what happened with my father, when the UFC called me about Justin, I talked with my mother, three days, she don’t want I go fight without father. But I promised her this is going to be my last fight. And if I give my word, I have to follow it.”

On Saturday night in the United Arab Emirates, there was a lot stacked against Nurmagomedov. If ever there was a fight that was going to end differently from the usual Nurmagomedov beatdown, this was it. For years, he had mowed down lightweights, one after another, fighting much the same fight every single time — a relentless, smothering, takedown-based attack — and even though everyone knew what was coming, no one could do a damn thing to stop him.

Most difficult of all, Nurmagomedov would be feeling the loss of his father, which hung over his entire training camp. Everything was further complicated when the coronavirus pandemic forced Nurmagomedov to train away from his American Kickboxing Academy team in California, and on top of all that, his team revealed that Nurmagomedov had suffered a broken foot and, according to a report from Yahoo Sports, a bout of the mumps in the leadup to the fight.

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Dana White tells the media that Khabib Nurmagomedov broke his foot three weeks ago and never told anyone.

And then there was the matter of his opposition. Gaethje couldn’t have had more momentum coming into this fight, and brought explosive punching and kicking power along with NCAA Division I All-American wrestling prowess — a combination that Nurmagomedov had never dealt with before in an opponent.

Nurmagomedov, it turned out, didn’t settle for producing just another in a long line of smothering performances. This time he stood and traded punches and kicks with Gaethje, boldly playing right into the game of his most dangerous opponent. And when he finally took the fight to the canvas, with 40 seconds to go in Round 1, Nurmagomedov immediately went for an armbar submission. He didn’t soften up Gaethje with ground-and-pound, as he had done to every other opponent he had faced in the UFC. He just went for it — like an athlete or artist might be wont to do the final time he is plying his trade.

Gaethje survived to the horn that time, but when Nurmagomedov got the fight back to the ground early in the second round, he quickly secured the tight triangle. It was a spectacular go-for-it moment. Referee Jason Herzog jumped in to call the fight when Gaethje lost consciousness.

Gaethje was out only briefly. He was the first one to reach Nurmagomedov at the center of the Octagon. As Nurmagomedov wept, the man he had just choked out knelt beside him and hugged the champ.

It was a wild swing of emotions for all involved, fighters and fans alike. Before Nurmagomedov started peeling away his gloves, the immediate thought was that this was his biggest win to date, and the gateway for him to build an even greater legacy as one of MMA’s all-time greats.

His primary competition would no longer be in the lightweight division. It was time to acknowledge that Nurmagomedov’s most consequential measuring sticks would be a welterweight, a middleweight and a light heavyweight.

Georges St-Pierre. Anderson Silva. Jon Jones.

Those are the names you hear most often in a discussion of who’s the greatest MMA fighter of all time. Nurmagomedov was building his case for his spot on that short list with a full head of steam. Then, without warning, his gloves were off and sitting in the middle of the cage.

With his career now over, it will be debated where Nurmagomedov stands among those all-time greats. This win over Gaethje was just his third title defense. Jones successfully defended his UFC belt 11 times. Silva did it 10 times in a row during a record 2,457-day reign. GSP defended nine times in a row and won a championship in a second division.

Of course, none of those all-time greats can match the number that leaps off the Nurmagomedov résumé. It’s a big, bold zero. Everybody loses in MMA — except for 29-0 Khabib.

Nurmagomedov’s aura made him a singular star. He was relentlessly stoic to the end — until he no longer saw a need to contain his emotions. And his personal style matched his no-nonsense fighting approach. He mauled every single opponent put in front of him, and he did so in much the same way every time. Plan B? If there was one in the Nurmagomedov playbook, we never saw it enacted. Not one of his 29 foes foiled Plan A and forced him to turn the page. That’s something none of the other all-time greats could say — not Jones, not Silva, not GSP.

And while no one would label Nurmagomedov as a man with a flair for the dramatic, he did save his signature win for the career swan song. Nurmagomedov will be remembered for the brilliance that picked up steam in his final three fights. His 2018 beatdown of Conor McGregor, a former champ, was the biggest spectacle in UFC history, and Nurmagomedov followed that up with last year’s submission of Dustin Poirier. The Poirier win, much like this victory, was eye-opening, in that “The Diamond” had been on a roll and was thought to be well-versed enough in grappling to pose a threat.

But the fight turned out to be just another smashing performance by Nurmagomedov in a long line of them.

Nurmagomedov’s thorough beatdowns of McGregor and Poirier did the unthinkable and dropped the great Jon Jones out of the No. 1 spot in ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings. Saturday’s win over Gaethje seemed to be the next step, a play for the long term. It was not the same old, same old in its execution. Nurmagomedov showed the most urgent pursuit of a finish that he ever has, without sacrificing the dominant position game that made him what he was.

He was showing us something new with that level of aggression, something to get even more excited about. And then it was all over, in an instant.

No way I’m going to come here without my father.

Those words came as a surprise in the moment, but anyone who ever saw Khabib stand pridefully next to his dad, or heard him speak about the man who raised him and nurtured a champion, surely understood. It was a miracle that the champ was able to perform as brilliantly as he did on Saturday. And now that Abdulmanap is gone, there is no fight left in Khabib.

Nurmagomedov has done all he needs to do inside the Octagon. Is he the greatest ever? That is a debate for some other day. For now, Khabib Nurmagomedov must be recognized, in awe, for unprecedented dominance as a fighter, and for the nearly universal respect and admiration he earned from others in the game.

As for the fans, Khabib always left us wanting more. We’ll have to settle for memories. They are glorious ones.

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