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Rockets GM Morey stepping down effective Nov. 1

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Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is stepping down effective Nov. 1, Morey and the team announced Thursday.

In the aftermath of Houston’s elimination from the NBA’s restart in Orlando, Florida, Morey approached owner Tilman Fertitta with the idea of leaving the job, and the sides quietly worked through an exit agreement to conclude his 13 seasons running the franchise’s basketball operations and 14 years overall with the team, sources said.

Morey isn’t ruling out a future return to the NBA on the team side, but he has become increasingly determined to explore what else might interest him professionally, sources said. Morey also saw an opportunity to spend time with two college-age children who are each taking a gap year academically during the coronavirus pandemic.

Morey will remain in an advisory role for a short period to assist in the Rockets’ completion of their head-coaching search, sources said.

“After discussing my thoughts with family and close friends, I’ve decided I’ll be stepping away from the Rockets organization effective November 1st,” Morey said in a statement. “Tilman and I have had many conversations since I returned, and his unwavering support and counsel during our time together has been critical to our success. It has been the most gratifying experience of my professional life to lead the Rockets basketball organization, and I look forward to working with Tilman and the management team on the transition. I am very confident that the future – for the Rockets, and for our incredible fans – is in great hands, and that the Rockets will continue to perform at the highest level.”

The Rockets are planning to promote executive vice president of basketball operations Rafael Stone to general manager, sources said. Stone has played a significant part in the Rockets’ team-building throughout his tenure and will become the 10th current Black executive to hold the general manager title in the NBA.

Houston is also promoting Eli Witus to assistant general manager, sources said.

“On behalf of the entire Rockets organization, I would like to thank Daryl Morey for his hard work and dedication over the past 14 seasons,” Fertitta said in a statement. “Daryl is a brilliant innovator who helped the Rockets become a perennial contender. I have truly enjoyed working with Daryl and couldn’t have asked for a better general manager to have at the start of my ownership. I wish him and his family all the best.”

Under Morey, the Rockets have the league’s longest consecutive playoff appearance streak with eight — advancing in the Western Conference playoffs in each of the past four years.

Nevertheless, his final season on the job became engulfed in scrutiny after a tweet supporting freedom in Hong Kong led to China pulling the NBA off its airwaves and suspending sponsorship agreements with the league.

China returned the NBA to its airwaves for the first time during the NBA Finals.

Commissioner Adam Silver and Fertitta supported Morey, despite China’s calls for his dismissal. Silver estimated that the league’s losses in revenue could cost in the neighborhood of $400 million.

There had been leaguewide uncertainty about Morey’s job security since his tweet affected the NBA’s and Rockets’ business relationships with China, costing Fertitta millions of dollars in sponsorship money. Through it all, Fertitta remained consistently adamant that he was committed to Morey, calling him “the best general manager in the league” in an interview with ESPN on the night of the tweet. Fertitta never seemed to waver in his plan for Morey to continue running the Rockets’ basketball operations.

Despite the economic turmoil of the pandemic, Fertitta has publicly and privately insisted that he is committed to keeping the Rockets a contender in the Western Conference, even if that means elevating the team’s payroll into the luxury tax.

Morey has been the Rockets’ general manager since 2007-08. The team has the league’s second-best regular-season record over his 13 years as general manager and 14 years with the franchise. He signed a five-year contract extension in March 2019.

Under Morey as general manager, the Rockets made 77 trades — the second most in the NBA since May 2007, behind only the Philadelphia 76ers with 78. Among the deals were trades for James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul.

Stone, who played basketball at Williams College and received a law degree from Stanford, has served as the Rockets’ general counsel since 2005. He was promoted to executive vice president of basketball operations in April 2019, shortly before former Rockets executive Gersson Rosas left to become the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ president of basketball operations.

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.

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Dodgers right-hander Gonsolin will start Game 2

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Los Angeles Dodgers will start rookie right-hander Tony Gonsolin in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night, with first pitch set for 8:08 p.m. ET.

Gonsolin, who will oppose Tampa Bay Rays lefty Blake Snell, faced 11 batters and threw 41 pitches in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and might not be able to provide much more than a couple of innings.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said his other two young starters, Julio Urias and Dustin May, will also be available out of the bullpen in Game 2, though Urias and May combined to face 14 batters in Game 7.

Walker Buehler will start Game 3 on Friday; whoever is freshest among Gonsolin, May and Urias will probably take the ball in Game 4 on Saturday. Clayton Kershaw, who pitched six innings of one-run ball in Monday’s 8-3 victory in Game 1, lines up on normal rest for Sunday’s Game 5.

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Dominant Kershaw propels Dodgers in Game 1

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Forget the perception. Burn the narrative.

Clayton Kershaw can pitch just fine in October, thank you very much — and after his performance in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers are within three wins of their first championship in 32 years.

Kershaw carved through the Tampa Bay Rays lineup, retiring 17 of the final 18 batters he faced and leading the Dodgers to an 8-3 victory in Game 1 of the 116th World Series.

Over six innings, Kershaw allowed two hits and one walk while striking out eight. His lone blemish was a Kevin Kiermaier home run that wound up of little consequence as the Dodgers’ offense spent the middle innings tagging Rays pitchers with a complement of longballs and small ball.

A crowd of 11,388 stuffed the concourses at Globe Life Field with Dodger jerseys, cheered the Dodgers’ big moments and unleashed vociferous boos on a check-swing strike call. The prospect of a partisan crowd for the remainder of the neutral-site series gives the Rays another obstacle — as if beating the team that went 43-17 during the regular season wasn’t enough.

When Kershaw is pitching as he did Tuesday, the task becomes even more herculean.

Rays batters swung at 38 of Kershaw’s 78 pitches and whiffed on 19. All eight of his punchouts were of the swinging variety, with the last seven on sliders, and they moved Kershaw into second place on the all-time postseason strikeout list with 201. Should the series get to a fifth game, Kershaw is likely to pass the leader, Houston‘s Justin Verlander.

While in past years Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ instinct has told him to send Kershaw out for the seventh inning, he resisted in Game 1. Even though Kershaw had allowed just two hits, even though Kershaw had generated 19 swings and misses, even though Kershaw had struck out eight, even though Kershaw had thrown only 78 pitches.

Kershaw had pitched into the seventh inning in 13 previous postseason games. He allowed opponents to score in more than half of them — 18 runs altogether.

Naturally, Roberts’ decision was followed by the Rays scoring a pair of seventh-inning runs and chipping away at Los Angeles’ lead, though by that point the Dodgers had flexed their offensive muscles in impressive fashion. Cody Bellinger, who hit the go-ahead home run in the Dodgers’ Game 7 victory over Atlanta in the National League Championship Series, blasted a two-run home run off Tampa Bay starter Tyler Glasnow in the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie. Rather than celebrate with the forearm-bash celebration that dislocated his shoulder in the NLCS win, Bellinger executed a light foot-tap with teammate Max Muncy.

As much as the Dodgers love the home run, their ability to play small ball gave them their biggest inning.

Back-to-back walks by Glasnow to begin the fifth inning were followed by Mookie Betts and Corey Seager executing a double steal. Betts scored on a Muncy fielder’s choice, Seager on a Will Smith single, Muncy on a Chris Taylor single and Smith on a Kiké Hernandez single. And just like that, the Dodgers were ahead 6-1.

They piled on the next inning with a Betts leadoff home run and back-to-back doubles from Justin Turner and Muncy. And the favorites since the beginning of the original season — as well as the shortened one — were a quarter of the way to their first World Series title since 1988.

For months, as the coronavirus pandemic changed the world, the prospect of baseball staging a season, let alone the World Series, looked grim. The league and players fought over salaries. Commissioner Rob Manfred threatened to cancel the season. MLB ultimately imposed on the players a 60-game slate, and within the first two weeks a pair of teams suffered COVID-19 outbreak.

Since then, apart from the odd single case, MLB has operated with remarkable efficacy.

Playoff teams spent the last week of the seasons staying in hotels and, aside from travel to and from the stadium and from city to city if they advanced, haven’t left. No player on an active roster has tested positive since Aug. 28, according to the league.

Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday, with the Rays’ Blake Snell facing a yet-to-be-named pitcher. After an off-day Thursday, Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton will start against Dodgers ace Walker Buehler.

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Follow live: Kershaw, Glasnow face off in Game 1 of World Series

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7th Kiermaier singled to right, Wendle scored, Brosseau to second. 3 8 7th Brosseau singled to right, Margot scored, Wendle to third. 2 8 6th Muncy doubled to deep right center, Turner scored. 1 8 6th Betts homered to right (349 feet). 1 7 5th Hernández singled to left, Smith scored, Taylor to second. 1 6 5th Taylor singled to left center, Muncy scored, Smith to second. 1 5 5th Smith singled to center, Seager scored, Muncy to third. 1 4 5th Muncy grounded into fielder’s choice to first, Betts scored, Seager third. 1 3 5th Kiermaier homered to right (382 feet). 1 2 4th Bellinger homered to right center (378 feet), Muncy scored. 0 2

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