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Yanks pull Garcia after 1 inning; Happ surprised

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SAN DIEGO — Veteran lefty J.A. Happ admitted he was surprised with the strategy the New York Yankees employed in announcing that Deivi Garcia would be their American League Division Series Game 2 starter, and then allowing the rookie to pitch only one inning Tuesday night in their 7-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Garcia, who at 21 years old and 140 days became the youngest starter in pinstripe postseason history, threw 27 pitches (16 strikes) and allowed one hit, a solo shot by Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, the second home run in as many games for the Cuban-born rookie.

Arozarena also homered off Gerrit Cole in the first inning of Game 1 of the ALDS, the first home run of his postseason career; his five extra-base hits in the playoffs are already the most by a Rays player since 2008.

After Garcia exited, the Yankees brought in Happ to pitch the second inning. The Rays put five lefties in a row at the top of their Game 2 lineup with the right-hander Garcia starting.

Happ served up a two-run shot to catcher Mike Zunino that gave the Rays a 3-1 lead. Right fielder Manuel Margot extended the lead over the Yankees to 5-1 with a two-run homer in the third.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone, however, said the early hook for Garcia wasn’t a preplanned bait-and-switch tactic against the Rays. Rather, Boone said that it was his intention to have a short leash for Garcia and use Happ afterward.

“Their roster is built to take the platoon advantage. Felt like I was going to go to J.A. pretty early and aggressively if they went with a lefty-heavy lineup, and that was the reason,” Boone said. “It was a little lineup-based, but [Garcia] kind of labored a bit in that first inning. But that was the plan all along; we were going to go short with him all along knowing we would have Deivi available [later on] in the series, if need be.”

As Garcia explained, “I knew it would be a short outing. I did not know how many pitches or how many innings, but I did know the strategy of it being a short outing. And I went about it as a regular outing; preparation was the same.”

Boone said it also was his intention to spread out the pitchers who would give the Yankees the most innings in a best-of-five series with no off days — and against one of the deepest pitching staffs in the majors. Boone has repeatedly praised the Rays for the way they match up relievers late in games, and he said id thought it would be a good strategy to counter their late-inning pitcher-batter matchups.

“You are playing a really unique team that does a good job of building their roster to create platoon advantages,” he said. “So just trying to counter that a little bit and force their hand early in the game. Unfortunately, it did not work tonight.”

During the postgame news conference, an evidently frustrated Happ said he was informed he would be going into the game after a particular batter, but he refused to expand and referred all strategy questions back to the Yankees’ skipper. “I’ll let Aaron talk about that,” was Happ’s go-to answer any time he was asked about his usage Tuesday night.

Happ did say that while he would have preferred to start Game 2, he would not be using the unfamiliar situation of coming in after Garcia as an excuse for his poor performance. Happ gave up four earned runs on six hits over 2 2/3 innings pitched and was tagged with the loss.

“I’ve been here for two years. And if I’ve made an excuse for my performance in the last two years, you know, anybody can speak up?” Happ said. “I just think that hasn’t happened. I just didn’t perform. I’m frustrated that I didn’t. I don’t have an answer for it. And I’m not going to make an excuse now for why that happened.”

He added: “This is important. I want to repeat. When I’m in there, you got 100 percent of me. So I gave it what I had. I wasn’t worried about when I was coming in at the time. I wasn’t. I was trying to focus and trying to execute. [The Yankees] know how I felt about it. But ultimately, I pitch when I pitch. There was no hesitation and no dwelling on what was going on. I was focused and trying to perform. I wish I would have done a better job.”

Was the lefty put in a position to succeed on Game 2 of the ALDS?

“That’s not a question for me to answer,” Happ said. “Again, when I’m out there, I’m trying to do the best I can. That’s what I tried to do tonight.”

Giancarlo Stanton‘s two home runs vs. Rays ace Tyler Glasnow were the few highlights of a Yankees lineup that struck out 18 times, setting a new postseason record for a nine-inning game. Stanton has hit five home runs this postseason, tying Juan Gonzalez (1996) for most homers by a player through his team’s first four playoff games.

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Bucs look more like legit contenders each week

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cleared one major hurdle this season in getting their first signature win against the Green Bay Packers last week, playing one of their best games in the past decade. The next hurdle: how they handle winning on a weekly basis with a growing target on their backs as they’ve emerged as a favorite in the NFC. They handled business against the Las Vegas Raiders, who had an extra week to prepare, with a 45-20 win on the road.

Tom Brady threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns — he now has 559 passing TDs, surpassing Drew Brees (558) for the career TD passes mark. This wasn’t an error-free performance for the Bucs. They started off sluggish as a defense. Their second-half struggles that plagued them earlier in the year resurfaced in the third quarter, before a three-TD scoring explosion in the fourth. The Bucs improve their record to 5-2 to maintain their NFC South lead.

QB breakdown: Brady didn’t need his defense to get things going like he did when the Bucs were down 10-0 last week. Against the Raiders’ single-high safety looks in the first half, he had a ton of success on crossing routes with tight end Rob Gronkowski, producing gains of 26 and 28 yards. After a QB sneak for a TD in the first quarter, Brady hit Gronkowski in the corner of the left end zone on a back-shoulder fade, just like they did last week, to make it 14-10. Then just before halftime with :25 remaining, Brady fired a missile to Scotty Miller for a 33-yard touchdown to make it 21-10.

In total, Brady completed 33 of 45 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns with a fifth on the ground and no interceptions. He was not sacked once, and the Bucs’ red zone numbers were back on track after flopping against the Bears, going 4-of-5 in that department.

Promising trend: Coming off the Bucs’ 11-penalty performance against the Bears in Week 5, Bruce Arians told his players, “You have to get the job done or you won’t be the one doing the job,” inside linebacker Devin White said. It appears they’ve taken it to heart. After delivering a zero-penalty performance for just the second time in franchise history last week against the Green Bay Packers, the Bucs followed that up with just four penalties against the Raiders this week.

A pair of those penalties were costly, though. An offsides penalty on Shaq Barrett negated what would have been a Mike Edwards interception in the third quarter. Then on the very next play, Sean Murphy-Bunting was slapped with a holding call, setting up a 44-yard reception by Nelson Agholor and a 1-yard touchdown strike to Darren Waller to make it a one-score game.

Biggest concern: Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans hasn’t been able to fully practice with an ankle injury he suffered in Week 4 and was targeted three times with just one catch. If he’s that hurt — which it appears he is — there’s no reason to play him against the 1-6 Giants next week when a rematch with New Orleans could decide the NFC South in two weeks. In fact, he was still playing when the Bucs had a two-TD lead, which is baffling.

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Kershaw on lifting L.A. to cusp of WS: ‘Feels good’

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ARLINGTON, Texas — As Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts strolled to the mound with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, a chorus of boos rained down from the crowd at Globe Life Field. Even though this was Game 5 of Major League Baseball’s first neutral-site World Series, Dodgers fans have overrun the stadium, and they let their feelings be known: They did not want Roberts to remove Clayton Kershaw from the game.

Roberts did not abide, and as Kershaw strode off the mound, it was to a sound too often unfamiliar to him in October: cheers. If ever there was a postseason to huzzah the Dodgers’ left-hander, of course, this is it, and his plenty-solid performance in Game 5 laid the foundation for the Dodgers’ 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

The win, on the heels of the Dodgers’ brutal Game 4 loss a day earlier, gave the Dodgers a 3-2 advantage in the series and put them one victory shy of their first championship since 1988. They can lock up a title in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

“It feels pretty good,” Kershaw said of walking off the mound to a standing ovation. “Anytime you can have success in the postseason it just means so much, that is what you work for, that is what you play for this month. I know what the other end of that feels like too. I will definitely take it when I can get it.”

If this was Kershaw’s last appearance in the 2020 postseason — there’s always a potential Game 7 relief appearance looming — there’s a good argument that it’s his finest playoffs yet. His shakiness in Game 5 evened out in the middle innings — he even foiled the first attempted straight steal of home in a World Series game since 1982 — and by the time Roberts yanked him, Kershaw had retired eight batters in a row to gussy up a final line for 5 2/3 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks and 6 strikeouts. In total, he has thrown 30 2/3 innings these playoffs, allowed 23 hits, walked 5 and struck out 37 with a 2.93 ERA and 4 wins.

Though the jeers that greeted Roberts on his way to the mound were even worse as he returned to the dugout, his maneuvering in Game 5 worked far better than his bungling the day prior — even if it placed the Dodgers in one particularly hairy situation. Dustin May, the fireballer who replaced Kershaw, struck out Rays cleanup hitter Manuel Margot on a 101.5-mph fastball to end the sixth and threw another scoreless 1 1/3 innings afterward.

He exited with a runner on first when Rays manager Kevin Cash pinch hit left-handed hitter Ji-Man Choi, which prompted Roberts to go to lefty Victor Gonzalez. Cash immediately pinch hit right-hander Mike Brosseau, who mashes lefties, and he walked. Up stepped Randy Arozarena, the Rays’ best hitter and a right-hander as well.

On the first pitch, Gonzalez induced a flyout. Brandon Lowe floated a ball to center field for the third out. The Dodgers had escaped, and Blake Treinen — not Kenley Jansen, who blew Game 4 — came on in the ninth and recorded the save.

“We stuck with the plan so credit to Doc for that one,” Kershaw said of Roberts. “DMay came in and threw the ball awesome, Victor same way and Blake too. Unbelievable job by those guys tonight which was huge.”

The Dodgers had played nine innings of clean baseball less than 20 hours after their two-error debacle with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning allowed Arozarena to pound home plate for the winning run and Brett Phillips to airplane into the outfield after loosing the single that led to the chaotic series of events evening the series.

Mookie Betts ripped a leadoff double off Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, Corey Seager plated him with a single and Cody Bellinger‘s two-out infield single scored him, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 advantage. Joc Pederson‘s home run in the second extended it to 3-0 — the same lead he had and frittered away in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series.

World Series Game 5s, in fact, had been a bugaboo for Kershaw. The Boston Red Sox tarred him with four runs in four innings of the 2018 World Series, and he was beginning to bend in the third inning Sunday. Kevin Kiermaier singled, Yandy Diaz tripled him in and Arozarena drove him in to cut the lead to 3-2.

“I didn’t have my stuff like I did in Game 1,” Kershaw said. “My slider wasn’t there as good as it was, so fortunate to get through there.”

The key moment came an inning later. Manuel Margot drew a leadoff walk, stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw. Hunter Renfroe walked. With runners on the corners, Joey Wendle popped out and Willy Adames struck out. With Kiermaier at the plate and down 0-1, Margot dashed for home. Kershaw recognized in time and threw to Austin Barnes, who slapped a tag with Margot’s fingertips inches from home plate.

From there, Kershaw cruised, passing Justin Verlander for the most strikeouts all-time in the postseason with 206. Kershaw, circa 2020, is more craftsman than conqueror, and though this wasn’t the coronation he wanted nor the dominant start he desired, it was plenty good — something well worth cheering.

“Kersh, a lot of credit goes to him for what we’ve been able to do in this World Series,” Treinen said. “There’s a tough narrative on him. He’s a phenomenal pitcher on the biggest stage.”

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Cards knock off unbeaten Seahawks in wild OT

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Of all the players to lead the Arizona Cardinals to an overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks, it was one of the most unlikely.

Rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with 1:04 left in overtime on his fourth snap of the game. He didn’t play in the first half.

That led to Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez redeeming himself after missing the game-winning field goal earlier in overtime, making a 48-yard kick with 20 seconds left in the extra period to give Arizona a 37-34 win while handing the Seahawks their first loss of the season.

Arizona improved to 5-2, holding onto second place in the NFC West with the Los Angeles Rams playing Monday night.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury nearly cost the Cardinals the game earlier in overtime, when he iced Gonzalez with 2:47 left on second-and-15. Gonzalez made the initial kick but it didn’t count, then he missed the next one.

Then came Simmons’ pick.

It was just another typical Cardinals-Seahawks game — full of drama, twists and turns.

Both teams combined for 1,091 yards — 572 by Seattle and 519 by Arizona.

Kyler Murray threw for 360 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 34-for-48 passing. He also had 67 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

DeAndre Hopkins had 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. Running back Chase Edmonds, who had two of the biggest plays in overtime, caught all seven of his targets for 87 yards. Larry Fitzgerald had 62 yards while catching all eight of his targets.

The game was moved to Sunday night amid concerns the Bucs-Raiders game might have to be postponed due to a positive coronavirus test on the Raiders and additional players being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list due to contact tracing.

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