Matt Kemp back in a Dodgers uniform is not a done deal — if a deal can get done

LOS ANGELES – When the Dodgers made their biggest move of the offseason last month, they were essentially playing ‘hot potato’ with the Atlanta Braves, swapping bad contracts with the intention of keeping them moving.

With pitchers and catchers set to report for spring training in just over two weeks, the Dodgers are still holding a $43.5 million spud.

“He’s going to be one of our guys in camp,” Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi said Saturday of Matt Kemp, acquired from the Braves in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir in mid-December. “We’ve got a little bit of an open competition in left field, and he’s going to be part of that competition.”

Well, Kemp wasn’t a part of any of the Dodgers’ Community Tour events this week nor was he invited to Saturday’s FanFest event at Dodger Stadium. Kemp remains on the Dodgers’ roster in name only despite Zaidi’s public assertion that “as of now” he expects to see the former All-Star, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner back in the uniform he was wearing when he won those awards.

“I think we knew it was a possibility,” Zaidi said of not being able to move the 33-year-old Kemp. “We haven’t made any secret of the fact that that trade was primarily financially motivated. But a motivated Matt Kemp can help a lot of teams in baseball, including us. I think it’s our responsibility to keep our options open and let this play out and if he proves to be somebody who can help us on the field that’s what everybody wants.”

The echo of a sales pitch can be heard in Zaidi’s statement.

Some of Kemp’s former offensive skills still remain. He did hit 19 home runs in 115 games for the Braves last season. But he has also been plagued by leg injuries and was woefully out of shape at times with the Braves and San Diego Padres – the two are not unrelated – to the point that he ranked as one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball last season. Zaidi’s efforts over the past month have no doubt been directed primarily at his counterparts in the American League where Kemp could have some utility as a DH.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is one of only seven players still with the team from Kemp’s last season in Los Angeles (2014) and the two have been in touch this winter, taking in a Lakers game together. Jansen said Kemp understands the team didn’t really acquire him because they had a role for him “but he can help us.”

“I understand what the Dodgers are doing, trying to go under the luxury tax to try to reset. It’s totally understandable,” Jansen said Saturday. “To have Matt back — if it’s a situation where he gets to stay here — is exciting. We have confidence in what Andrew (Friedman) and Farhan are going to do. The front office is going to do what they can to put us in a great situation to hopefully win a championship multiple times.

“To have Matt back is awesome. I’m looking forward to seeing him in spring training. But whatever happens, happens. That’s the position that the front office has to take. But I think he can help us tremendously. He’s in great shape. He lost a lot of weight. We all know what Matt Kemp can do.”

What the Dodgers could do with Kemp – and they have tried – is package him with one or more prospects from their rich farm system, enticing another team to take him off their hands that way. Kemp’s decline and a winter market saturated with outfielders (some younger, many better) are making even that difficult for the Dodgers to do, possibly leaving them with a $21.75 million Franklin Gutierrez on their hands – an aging platoon outfielder with limited defensive ability.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he has been in contact with Kemp as recently as a week ago, talking to him about this possibility.

“Obviously he’s in a situation where he’s in flux as far as what the organization expects of him,” said Roberts, the Padres’ bench coach during the 2015 season (Kemp’s only full season in San Diego). “But my thing to him was … be open-minded. It’s a different clubhouse than when he left. There’s a lot of good players. He just assured me all he wants to do is to be on a winner. The opportunity to come back to Los Angeles is something he never dreamed could happen again. So he is thrilled.

“As far as the stuff I can’t control, he can’t control – we just try to focus on what’s happening right now. Right now, he’s a Dodger and I’m excited to have him on the roster.”

Indeed, it is “a different clubhouse” – in no small part because of Kemp’s subtraction from it.

One of the first moves made by Friedman after taking over the Dodgers was to trade Kemp to San Diego, jettisoning one prominent piece of a toxic clubhouse atmosphere. That culture has been thoroughly made over in the three seasons since but Kemp’s reputation remains intact. His bad influence in the Braves’ clubhouse is believed to have been a motivating factor for the Braves behind last month’s deal.

If Kemp somehow does don a Dodger uniform again, both Roberts and Zaidi insist that won’t be an issue.

“No. I think our culture is very strong,” Zaidi said. “He has relationships here and there’s trust and history. So — we’re not worried about that.”

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Whicker: Astros leave Dodgers offense stranded in space

LOS ANGELES — You can send a good-riddance bouquet to Yu Darvish if you wish.

You can build the weirdest Erector set of reasons why Dave Roberts bollixed up the pitching.

In lieu of recognizing that the Dodgers lost the World Series to a better team.

You can wonder all winter why manifest destiny died in the glove of Yuli Gurriel, who took the final throw from Jose Altuve and disbelievingly put his hands on his head as the Houston Astros, who first were named the Colt .45s and played on a snake-infested field with mosquitos the size of backpacks, won the first World Series in their history.

But in the end you have to go back to Dodger trademarks that lost their adhesiveness and fell off, and Dodger habits that they somehow unlearned.

In the tough moments, the big blue offensive machine was taken apart by Houston pitching and never reassembled. With all those pieces on the ground, nothing else mattered.

Game 7 was the most cut-and-dried game of the series. There were no lead changes, no course corrections after Series MVP George Springer creamed a two-run home run off Darvish in the second inning for a 5-0 lead.

Yet Lance McCullers Jr. hit almost as many Dodgers as he did the targets from catcher Brian McCann, and he was gone in the third inning, with plenty of chances for the Dodgers to recover. They didn’t, and their clubhouse reeked of disbelief.

“I thought all day we were going to come in here to win,” catcher Austin Barnes said.

“We left everything we had on that field,” center fielder Chris Taylor said. “I think everyone in here is physically and mentally exhausted. Throughout the playoffs, there was no letup. We’re pretty spent right now. It’s a good time to get away from baseball for a while.”

Their season ended on the first day of November, less than three and a half months from when another one will begin. In boxing they say there is always a style waiting for you, a method to neutralize whatever you do. That seemed impossible after 104 regular-season wins, but the Astros had that secret sauce. It came from pitchers most Dodgers fans couldn’t have picked out of a Starbucks line.

Charlie Morton pitched the final four innings of Game 7 with 99 mph fastballs and great variety and precision. He held the Dodgers to five hits in 10⅓ innings overall, with 11 strikeouts.

Brad Peacock pitched 7⅓ innings against L.A. and gave up four hits.

The Dodgers managed to avoid losing to Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. But Peacock finished them off in Game 3 and Morton in Game 7.

“Morton had that bowling-ball sinker,” Barnes said. “But when they got the five-run lead, sure, they were going to come right at us.”

“He threw me a lot of changeups,” Taylor said of Morton. “Curves and changeups and that heavy sinker, really tough at-bats.”

‘“I think they put the ball in the spots they wanted,” first baseman Cody Bellinger said. “They were aggressive and got ahead of us. We had guys on base, chances to do something, and couldn’t get the hit we needed.”

All season the Dodgers were finicky eaters at the plate. They stayed within the confines of their personal strike zones. They became annoying fouling machines in two-strike situations, and then teed off when pitchers gave in.

The Astros took the game back to where it lives, where pitchers put the burden on hitters. The Dodgers drew three walks per game and saw more pitches than Houston did. But Morton needed only 128 pitches to get his 31 outs in the Series.

“What I learned is that it’s not the regular season, and you have to make adjustments in-game if necessary,” Bellinger said. “And sometimes, different kinds of adjustments.”

Bellinger, who as usual faced more of the media music than any other Dodger, had a strange Series. He wound up striking out 17 times, which is a Series record, and 29 times for the postseason, which is also a record. He started the Series 0 for 13. But then he won Game 4 and did all he could to win Game 5, with a homer and a triple.

Seven games were long enough for Bellinger, as good a defender as either side had, to throw behind Darvish on Alex Bregman’s grounder, giving Houston a 1-0 lead in about three minutes. Bellinger wound up 4 for 28 for the Series and had plenty of company in misery.

Justin Turner, who was far from 100 percent physically, went 4 for 25 with 2 RBIs. Yasiel Puig was 4 for 27. Chris Taylor and Corey Seager were both 6 for 27.

Add it up and the Dodgers hit .205 for the Series and .200 with men in scoring position. More important, their on-base percentage was only .290.

And yet they will have trouble letting go of the very legitimate notion that they should have won the Series in five games.

They had a two-run lead in Game 2 going into the eighth inning before Houston laid waste to the bullpen, and they had three leads in that Mad Max of a Game 5 in Houston before Dave Roberts was reduced to using relievers who should have spent the night in the hammock.

“That’s probably what I’ll look back on, the two games we had a chance to win and didn’t,” Taylor said. “But I’m sure we won a couple of games you could say the same thing about.”

A few Dodgers were giving the “we had a great season” speech without convincing anyone, including themselves. The verge of victory is a more painful resting place than the periphery. Especially when you forget how you got there.

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Bill Miller’s large, imperfect strike zone ultimately favored hitters in World Series Game 5

HOUSTON — Corey Seager nearly slammed his bat through home plate like a sledgehammer.

Logan Forsythe looked shocked.

Two of the most mild-mannered Dodgers on a baseball field weren’t alone in their reaction to called strikes on Sunday.

Home plate umpire Bill Miller’s strike zone was a recurring cause for confusion – not just for the players on the field for Game 5 of the World Series, but for fans viewing through the vantage point of the center-field camera at Minute Maid Park.

Various social media jabs compared the shape of Miller’s strike zone to the shape of Texas or the Nickelodeon Network logo, an orange splat mark.

The Dodgers had reason to be upset. They lost the game 13-12 and struck out 12 times to the Astros’ six.

Even the Astros acknowledged Miller’s strike zone was far from perfect.

“I probably got a call or two that went my way, and a call or two that didn’t go my way,” pitcher Collin McHugh said. “That’s baseball and this is the World Series and nobody gets here by making excuses and nobody’s going to start making excuses.”

McHugh walked three batters in two innings Sunday. He also struck out four batters; three were caught looking at strike there.

To a degree, this was to be expected. According to Inside Edge Stats, Miller had the most called strikeouts of any umpire during the regular season with 151.

Both teams had access to this data, including which pitches they could expect to be called strikes and balls on the border of the standard strike zone. Brian McCann, Houston’s veteran catcher, said the inconsistency of the strike zone didn’t stand out to him after the 5-hour, 17-minute game.

I can’t update this montage of examples fast enough bill miller the home plate ump for game 5 is calling the worst strike zone this is crazy pic.twitter.com/Yor1XJSeaU

— Horrible Stats (@horriblestats) October 30, 2017

“I think for us, and I think on the other side, we know Bill Miller’s strike zone,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said. “So I don’t think that at all affected the outcome of the game.”

Umpire assignments rotate throughout the postseason. The crews are handpicked by Major League Baseball’s operations department. Seniority is a consideration. So is performance.

An umpire whose strike zone lacks consistency, or whose calls routinely get challenged and overturned, is less likely to work a playoff game than a more consistent, accurate umpire – at least, this is how MLB tries to draw up the assignments.

Furthermore, no umpire works two consecutive series – a League Division Series followed by a League Championship Series, or an LCS followed by a World Series, for example. Miller worked the Dodgers’ National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks but he wasn’t behind the plate for any of the three games.

By the ninth inning, it seemed like both teams had adjusted. There were no called strikeouts after the eighth.

“I was watching it down in the bullpen and I felt some calls were going their way early,” said Astros relief pitcher Chris Devenski said, who finished the ninth inning and started the 10th for Houston. “We had some calls go our way. But in that situation, I feel like you can’t really let the umpire affect your performance. You just go out there and play baseball.”

The irony of the situation is that a larger strike zone ought to favor pitchers. Yet in Game 5, the two teams combined for 28 hits, 25 runs and 11 walks – none of which were intentional.

For all the hitters’ frustrations, they seemed to do just fine.

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‘Houston Strong’ indeed: A city put to the test has an Astros team up to the task

HOUSTON — The huge sign beside the highway as you come from the airport into this city says, “Houston Strong.” Those two words apply to the willpower of millions here who strive every day, and will have to continue that effort for months and years, to repair the damage done by flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

Measured on that scale, a baseball team is a smallish thing. Yet, in their way, the Houston Astros exemplify “Houston Strong,” or, at the least, live up to the standard of grit and resilience that has distinguished and dignified this city in its worst times.

On Wednesday in Los Angeles, the Astros came from behind to win the first World Series game in the history of this Houston franchise. Then, on Friday night here at Minute Maid Park, to double the pleasure and move halfway to a baseball title, the Astros did it again, beating the Dodgers 5-3 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven World Series.

After ripping a Dodgers victory from the grip of the great closer Kenley Jansen in Game 2, the Astros bashed another symbol of this Dodgers season — right-hander Yu Darvish, the expensive trade-deadline acquisition who was supposed to be some kind of final title piece, nearly overkill in a rotation that already had Clayton Kershaw. Yet Darvish got only five outs while giving up four loud runs.

Many wondered if there would be aftershocks following the home run bonanza in Game 2. Would the Astros, who won that 11-inning nerve-shredder, carry momentum into the next game?

Houston Manager A.J. Hinch, following the ancient canons of the baseball faith, reaffirmed before Game 3 that “momentum is the next game’s pitcher.”

How right he was. Luckily for his Astros, that pitcher was Darvish. You can be bad. Or you can be awful. Darvish was both.

The 6-foot-5 Dodgers right-hander, one of the most talented pitchers in the sport, got only five outs, surrendered four runs on six hits and fanned no one. In fact, on 49 pitches, he got only one swinging strike. To find a comparably bad World Series start you need to go back 15 years.

Normally, Darvish has 10 different pitches and strikes out tons of hitters. In 2013, he fanned 277 batters. This season, after injuries in recent years have taken a bit of edge off his best stuff, Darvish struck out 209.

But there are nights when for little reason, perhaps a glitch in mechanics, maybe the pressure of a first World Series start, a man takes the mound and discovers that he has nothing on the ball but his naked fingers. From the first two hitters, Darvish could not find the release point for his breaking balls, leaving some head-high and merely spinning.

By the second inning, the Astros were waiting for fastballs. After what appeared to be a brushback pitch inside at the stomach level to Yuli Gurriel, the Astros first baseman retaliated by lashing the next pitch into the left field Crawford boxes for a solo homer.

A kind of Houston feeding frenzy followed as Josh Reddick slapped a shift-beating double down the left field line and Evan Gattis walked. Marvin Gonzalez smashed a ball off the wall in left-center but settled for merely an RBI single when Gattis, one of the world’s slowest mammals, only advanced one base. A Brian McCann single, an Alex Bregman sacrifice fly on a blistered liner to center and a double crashed off the left-center field wall by MVP candidate Jose Altuve left the score at 4-0.

Even with two outs, McCann could not score from first on Altuve’s long double, costing the Astros a fifth run off Darvish. How the Astros led the majors in scoring with Gattis and McCann in the same lineup is a marvel. I don’t want to say that Gattis and McCann are slow, but their shadows get ahead of them and yell for them to hurry up.

“Yu had a hard time landing his slider. From the start he was out of sorts,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “His fastball command was off.”

Though Darvish had helped them to a 4-0 lead, the Astros were far from safe. Their bullpen has been something of a nightmare this October. In Game 2, closer Ken Giles blew a two-run lead in the 10th inning and winner Kevin Devenski gave up a solo homer in the 11th.

In Game 3, for the second time in a week, Hinch found a novel solution. He erased his bullpen entirely. In Game 7 of the ALCS, Lance McCullers Jr., normally a starter, pitched the last four innings in relief for the save.

Hinch had anticipated this, or perhaps feared his own pen so much, that he’d sought out McCullers the night before to explain that, even though he wouldn’t start that Game 7, “you may finish it.”

“I wanted him to go to sleep in a positive frame of mind,” Hinch said.

In Game 3, the script was flipped. This time McCullers started and pitched credibly. But he had periods of wildness, including walking the first three Dodgers of the third inning. By the sixth inning, he was running on empty.

With two men on base, one out and the Astros ahead 5-1, Hinch called for Brad Peacock, who, for parts of the season, was the Astros’ best starting pitcher. Packed Minute Maid Park could almost be heard murmuring, “How are we going to get 11 more outs?”

To the surprise of almost everyone, Peacock allowed the two inherited McCullers runners to score, but got all of the remaining Dodgers outs — an 11-out save, just one out less than McCullers in his shutdown of the Yanks.

“I’m not trying to bring back the three-inning save,” Hinch said, chuckling. “But (Peacock) was cruising. He was in complete control of every at-bat.”

Brad Peacock fires 3.2 no-hit frames to finish Game 3 for @Astros – longest hitless #WorldSeries relief outing since 1964 (Ron Taylor, STL). pic.twitter.com/xchRQdmfJu

— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) October 28, 2017

McCullers got the win. Perhaps this was appropriate, part of the whole scene and mood here, since he did perhaps the best job among the Astros of trying to express how much they have been impacted by the destruction that Hurricane Harvey inflicted on their city. And how much they hope to offer whatever distraction, “Houston Strong” pride or any other good feeling whatsoever through their wild baseball ride.

“Very tough. A lot of guys, their wives were here, their families, kids. … In those difficult days, everyone genuinely just wanted to do what they could to help the city,” McCullers said. “Going to see people, trying to lift their spirits. … We just wanted to get back here and show the city how much we love them.

“It became something we rallied around. We still have pictures hanging in our lockers. People here are hard-working and they went through something that a lot of people can’t understand,” added McCullers, the son of a big leaguer. “A lot of people lost everything. So, for us to be able to play baseball for a couple of hours for those people to have a little bit of joy, to get away from what they were having to go through – we wanted to give that to them.”

And, so they have.

In the AL Division Series they bashed Boston’s Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel in crucial situations in Game 4. In Game 2 of the ALCS, Altuve and Correa rocked the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman. Then, Game 2 of this series lifted the spirits, at least of baseball fans, to the highest point in the franchise’s 56-season history with its first World Series win.

As 43,282 stood and roared for the first World Series win on their home field, they might as well have all been peacocks, spreading their orange plumage in delight. Houston, for a night, was bonded, whole, strong – and just two more wins away from winning a World Series.

“I never experienced anything like that in my life.”- Brad Peacock to @Ken_Rosenthal #WorldSeries https://t.co/KoayBP1gU7

— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 28, 2017

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Video: Dodgers fall to Astros in epic Game 2

The Astros defeated the Dodgers 7-6 to take Game 2 of the World Series.

This game featured multiple comebacks, home runs, blown saves, and more.

Bill Plunkett, J.P. Hoornstra, and Jonathan Khamis break it all down, including interviews with Dodgers players.

Video by Jonathan Khamis, for SCNG.

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Whicker: With a game in their pocket, Dodgers’ bullpen explodes

LOS ANGELES — Justin Verlander called it an instant classic. But it lasted 4 hours and 19 minutes.

Some games defy words. Some games just mock them. When both teams slug six home runs in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings, and when Justin Verlander’s Houston Astros score twice in the 10th and twice in the 11th and still have a tying run at the plate to deal with, this game you’re watching has escaped its moorings.

Maybe a World Series has, too.

Houston won Game 2, 7-6, in 11 innings. By then both closers had been devoured. The Dodgers were trying to make it to shore with Brandon McCarthy, who had pitched six major league innings since July 20. It didn’t take long.

Cameron Maybin singled and George Springer, who had struck out four times in Game 1, capped a three-hit night with the game-winning home run, although Charlie Culberson of the Dodgers homered in the bottom of the 11th and romped around the bases as if he’d tied the score. By then, who was counting?

Atmospherics had a lot to do with this home run derby, and by the time Verlander was raving about his teammates, the audience had forgotten that he had absolutely squelched the Dodgers in the first six innings with only two hits. But the hits were a solo shot by Joc Pederson and a two-run homer by Corey Seager that gave the Dodgers a 3-1 lead after six.

That’s where you begin reconstructing this mess and realize how damaging this could be for the Dodgers.

If you lead Verlander, 3-1, you need to win that game.

If you give the ball to Kenley Jansen with a 3-1 lead in the eighth, you need to win that game.

If you somehow strike for two in the bottom of the 10th, on Yasiel Puig’s home run and an RBI single by Kiké Hernandez, and tie it 5-5 with the crowd at full throttle, you need to win that game.

Primarily because you have won those games so very often, and because a win would put Houston down 0-2, having fired the guns of Verlander and Dallas Keuchel in Los Angeles.

Now it changes completely. Now Keuchel is guaranteed a Game 5 start. If the Dodgers win only once in Houston, there will be a Game 6 back here on Tuesday, and it will feature Verlander again.

The other aftereffect is that the cloak of invincibility has now been removed from the Dodgers’ bullpen and especially Jansen, who had blown one save all season in a game the Dodgers eventually won.

Jansen did not pitch poorly. His 0-and-2 cutter to Marwin Gonzalez started high but then settled down by a few inches, into a more comfortable spot, and it did not get in on Gonzalez’s hands. Gonzalez had 23 home runs and 90 RBI this season with a .907 OPS, sixth in the American League.

“I told him he was going to have a chance to win it,” Verlander said. “It’s easy to lose confidence in this game. The TVs are on before the game and everybody’s talking about the Dodgers’ bullpen and how tough they are. It’s like nobody thinks we can win. I just tried to tell the guys how good they are. I know, I’ve pitched against them.”

Jansen has no trouble working two innings, but he has rarely entered an inning with someone on base. Alex Bregman had just doubled off Brandon Morrow to begin the eighth, and Roberts remembered a tough at-bat Bregman had given Jansen after Game 1.

Bregman wound up scoring on Carlos Correa’s single. That run will be ignored but it broke the bullpen’s reccord streak of 28 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason. It also gave the Astros evidence that Jansen was no unstoppable Cyborg.

“He’s human,” Corey Seager said. “You always think he’s going to get the job done, but he’s our guy. We get into that situation again, that’s the guy we want out there.”

The problem, as Verlander noted, is that the Dodgers emptied their relief bucket somewhat recklessly. It began when Roberts lifted Rich Hill after four terrific innings, with the only run unearned.

“We had a few scoreless innings after that,” Roberts said, “and I wanted Kenta (Maeda) to pitch to the top of the lineup.”

But the Dodgers ran through Maeda and then Tony Watson, for a one-pitch double play, and Ross Striping mysteriously started the seventh and walked Gonzalez. Morrow bailed out the Dodgers and, in truth, they got where they needed to be, although it was by the circle route.

But at this point Hill deserves to be entrusted when he’s pitching well. Seeking the ideal matchup for every out in every inning requires a bigger pitching staff that MLB allows teams to have.

Josh Fields had to clean up after Jansen and it wasn’t pretty. Jose Altuve homered in the 10th and so did Correa, who turned and flipped his bat defiantly. When Yasiel Puig hit his 10th-inning homer before Hernandez’s single re-tied the score, he conspicuously, delicately laid the bat on the ground.

“I think it’s great to get excited and play with that kind of joy, especially for Latino players,” Puig said.

Meanwhile, Houston got nice work from Will Harris and Joe Musgrove in its oft-criticized bullpen and was able to summon Chris Devenski, an All-Star, after the Dodgers drove out closer Ken Giles. Devenski gave up Culberson’s homer but managed to get three outs, a one-small-step-for-man accomplishment in a game like this.

The Astros became the first team in postseason history to hit three home runs in extra innings. The Dodgers lost in extra innings for only the fifth time this season. They also forgot to lock down a victory that was safely inside the door. They will consider themselves fortunate if all they lost was a game.

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Former Cal State Fullerton player Chris Devenski gets the win for Astros on wild night

LOS ANGELES — Chris Devenski came to the World Series with a brief postseason history that was, by his own admission, marked by nerves that caused him to pitch poorly.

Now, he says he’s not only past that, but he’s got a World Series victory to show for it.

“The nerves are gone,” the Houston Astros right-hander said after finishing the Astros’ 7-6, 11-inning victory in Game 2 on Wednesday night. “I was able to overcome them.”

A product of Cerritos High and Cal State Fullerton, Devenski began the World Series with the added element of pitching in front of his Southern California friends and family.

But he came in having allowed four runs in three innings so far in the postseason, enough that some may have lost faith in him.

Not Manager A.J. Hinch, though.

“My confidence hasn’t wavered,” Hinch said before Game 2. “I’ll put him in the game in the most important spots, because of the weapons, the demeanor he has, the confidence that our team has. It’s always nice to come off of a good outing and feel you can build some momentum off that.”

Hinch was referring to the perfect inning Devenski pitched at the end of the Astros’ Game 1 loss. The next time he took the mound was in the 10th inning of Game 2, just after the Dodgers had rallied to tie the score against closer Ken Giles.

Devenski nearly blew it, when his errant pickoff throw to second was headed for center field. Fortunately for him, he was saved from a potentially catastrophic error because the throw hit umpire Laz Diaz.

“I had a changeup grip there,” Devenski said. “It kind of slipped on me.”

Quipped Hinch: “Laz was perfectly positioned, right where we wanted him.”

Devenski collected himself to get out of that inning. After the Astros regained the lead in the 11th, he got through the bottom of the inning, although he allowed a solo homer to Charlie Culberson.

“It’s special,” Devenski said of the outing. “I’ll never forget it.”

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Whicker: Scenes from a wetting: Dodgers rejoice, reflect in Chicago

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Austin Barnes celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Austin Barnes celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Austin Barnes celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Austin Barnes celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig celebrates with his teammates after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and his teammates celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and his teammates celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, left, and his teammates celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, left, and his teammates celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, left, and his teammates celebrate after their series-clinching victory over the Cubs in Game 5 of the NLCS on Thursday night in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, left, and his teammates celebrate after their series-clinching victory over the Cubs in Game 5 of the NLCS on Thursday night in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Justin Turner celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Justin Turner celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Justin Turner celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Justin Turner celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig and Charlie Culberson celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig and Charlie Culberson celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

    The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

    The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Enrique Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Enrique Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Enrique Hernandez celebrates with his teammates celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Enrique Hernandez celebrates with his teammates celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Enrique Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Enrique Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Enrique Hernandez celebrates with his teammates celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Enrique Hernandez celebrates with his teammates celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Austin Barnes, left, and Kenley Jansen celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Los Angeles Dodgers’ Austin Barnes, left, and Kenley Jansen celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

    The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

    The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

    The Los Angeles Dodgers players celebrate after Game 5 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Dodgers won 11-1 to win the series and advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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CHICAGO — This time, Clayton Kershaw’s back was no problem. The Dodgers told him they had it.

This time, the streets in Wrigleyville were clear, and the bus was able to leave without human barricades.

This time, Kiké Hernandez drew the ace of hearts, and took his turn among the rotation of saviors with a home run, a grand slam and another home run.

Why was this the Dodgers’ time?

Forget the 29-year drought that has deprived a generation of L.A. fans of deep Octobers. Why was this different from 2004 and 2006 and every year since 2013?

Andre Ethier, the senior Dodger in terms of service, stood in a warm and wet clubhouse. He wasn’t too indisposed to answer it.

“They rallied around me all year,” Ethier said. “They were winning all the time and I wasn’t playing. They didn’t have to do that. They kept cheering me on.”

Ethier missed most of 2016 with a broken tibia. He missed most of 2017 with a herniated disk. Clubhouse traffic came and went without him, strangers from other teams, guys who didn’t remember the days when he and Matt Kemp propped up the lineup.

Ethier made this roster and homered in Game 3. His World Series ring, provided the Dodgers win it, will be the same size as everyone else’s.

“When the guys running the organization came in, they had a track record,” Ethier said. “They’d won in places like Tampa Bay and Oakland, where they didn’t have all those resources. What we realized was, we didn’t have control over everything. Don’t try to steer the ship. Just be another guy on the ship. Do your job and keep going. They gave us everything we needed. It was up to us.”

The ship was a mighty cruiser Thursday in Game 5, when the Dodgers pounded the Cubs, 11-1, and won their first National League Championship Series since 1988, or just a few days after Wayne Gretzky played his first game for the Kings.

Kershaw set a nasty tone in the first inning and then Chris Taylor led off the first with a nine-pitch walk. When Cody Bellinger drove a ball into the right-field corner, third base coach Chris Woodward took a hard look and then waved Taylor home, where he arrived safely.

“Get an early run in a game like this and it relaxes everybody,” Woodward said. “But I know Chris and I’m not sure I would have sent anybody else.”

When Hernandez grand-slammed Quintana in the third, he and the dugout boiled over. Hernandez is grieving over conditions in Puerto Rico, and he spent last year agonizing over his father’s fight with cancer, which is currently observing a truce.

“I know there’s a real big God up there,” Hernandez said. “My goal right now is to get a real big headache, and then sleep it off on the way home.”

Kershaw, in his first chance to pitch the Dodgers into a World Series, gave the dispirited Cubs three hits in six innings.

“I don’t care about how many runs he had,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “We have asked him to do so much, so many times. Finally this year we had the rotation to where he didn’t have to pitch on short rest anymore. I’m not sure any starting pitcher today has done more for his team.”

“We’ve been here so often,” Kershaw said. “If we win the World Series, maybe I’ll retire. I just hope they (Houston and New York) play two more games and the last one goes about 37 innings.”

General Manager Andrew Friedman, who is from Houston, stood in a corner and put off the champagne baptism as long as he could. He had thought often about the Game 6 loss last year in Wrigley and the indignities therein. Then the Dodgers watched the Cubs get their rings in the first Wrigley Field series of this season.

“Some guys watched it from the dugout,” Friedman said. “What we wanted was to make the first team that comes to Dodger Stadium next year watch us do the same thing. And we still have one step to go.”

It was pointed out that Friedman, in one of his first actions, got Hernandez from Florida, along with Austin Barnes, in an unpopular deal that sent NL stolen base leader Dee Gordon to the Marlins.

“Yeah, I got him (Hernandez) just for nights like this,” he said, laughing, “so he could hit three home runs in Game 5. Or 6. Or whatever this is.”

Dodgers fans lost count long ago. At the moment the magic number is 29 and holding.

Read more about Whicker: Scenes from a wetting: Dodgers rejoice, reflect in Chicago This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed. SaddleBack Valley Shredding Service

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Justin Turner, Chris Taylor repay Dodgers’ patience by sharing NLCS MVP

Los Angeles Dodgers' Justin Turner hits an RBI single during the third inning of Game 5 of the NLCS on Thursday night in Chicago. Turner shared NLCS co-MVP honors with Chris Taylor. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Justin Turner hits an RBI single during the third inning of Game 5 of the NLCS on Thursday night in Chicago. Turner shared NLCS co-MVP honors with Chris Taylor. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

By JIM LITKE

The Associated Press

CHICAGO — Justin Turner and Chris Taylor shared MVP honors in the NL Championship Series, repaying a Dodgers organization willing to roll the dice on players whose big league careers were stalled.

In Turner’s case, it was then-bench coach Tim Wallach who rediscovered him playing in a Cal State Fullerton alumni baseball game four years ago, after his career appeared all but over.

In Taylor’s case, it was the Dodgers’ willingness to gamble that an offseason of grueling workouts would enable the young utilityman to rebuild his swing in a matter of months.

The co-MVPs turned up in the interview room together after the Dodgers eliminated the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs, 11-1, in Game 5. They were champagne-soaked with hats turned backward, a pair of googles still perched on Turner’s head. Fittingly, they doused each other with praise.

“He’s a dynamic player and a table setter,” said Turner, who hit .333 for the series, with two home runs and seven RBI. “When he goes, we usually go as a team.”

“I talk to him as much as I can. He’s one of the reasons I decided to make the changes I did,” said Taylor, who finished at .316 with two homers and three RBI. Both men also walked five times, as many as the entire Cubs roster.

“Guys that have gone out on a ledge and made big changes and had success with it,” Taylor added, “I saw those guys and the success they had, and that’s kind of what encouraged me to go out of my comfort zone.”

Before the Dodgers punched their first World Series ticket since 1988, Manager Dave Roberts said Taylor had been a “fringy, 4-A player” with his old swing – good enough to play comfortably in Triple-A, but too often overmatched in the major leagues.

With a new look at the plate (Mike Trout’s bat waggle, Turner’s leg kick, Nolan Arenado’s weight shift), the 27-year-old was part of the most valuable duo on the field throughout this series.

“To really try to shoot the moon as far as committing to a swing change, he did that,” Robert said. “And it really paid off.”

Turner, meanwhile, had already established himself in three previous playoff appearances as one of the most dangerous hitters in the postseason. Then he served notice in Game 2 that he’d be a similar force against the Cubs.

His walk-off home run in that one was the Dodgers’ first in the postseason since Kirk Gibson in 1988, a feat he remembered watching as a 4-year-old at his grandmother’s house in Southern California.

“One of my first baseball memories,” Turner said.

Now he’s returning the favor for a few youngsters in search of some inspiration.

“People were talking about the J.T. homer,” Roberts said, “and it’s up to us to make that an iconic moment as well.”

Taylor’s highlights included momentum-swinging home runs in both Games 1 and 3. The first came in the sixth inning, when reliever Hector Rondon tried to throw a 97 mph fastball and watched Taylor deposit it over the wall in right-center for a 3-2 lead.

The second came in Game 3, when Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks tried to sneak an 88 mph sinker past him. Taylor drove that one into the seats as well, tying the score, 1-1, and helping LA’s offense get on track in a 6-1 win.

The most inspirational part of Turner’s story stretches much further back.

He broke into the big leagues with Baltimore at the end of the 2009 season, but was designated for reassignment to the minors the following spring. Claimed off waivers by the Mets, Turner lasted three seasons playing all around the infield (he was blocked by All-Star David Wright at third base), but the Mets let him leave as a free agent in 2013.

Later that offseason, Wallach saw Turner playing in a Cal State Fullerton alumni game, and the organization signed him to a minor league deal. His versatility earned him playing time when infielders Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe went down with injuries, and the third baseman has been tough to keep off the lineup card since.

After that breakout year, Turner began establishing his postseason bona fides against his old team, the Mets, in the 2015 NLDS with a .526 average. After tearing through the 2016 NLDS, though Turner stumbled against the Cubs in the NLCS a season ago.

But he more than made up for that this time around.

Read more about Justin Turner, Chris Taylor repay Dodgers’ patience by sharing NLCS MVP This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed

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A year after ending World Series drought, Cubs can’t solve Dodgers

By ANDREW SELIGMAN

The Associated Press

CHICAGO — Kyle Schwarber had the fans roaring, thinking the Chicago Cubs just might be ready to tighten the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers.

Turns out, Schwarber’s first-inning home run was about all they had to cheer.

After knocking out the Dodgers in six games last fall on the way to their first World Series championship since consecutive titles in 1907 and 1908, hopes of another parade are just about dashed.

“Tomorrow is a Game 7. We have three or four Game 7s in a row coming up right now,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Jake Arrieta will try to keep the series going when he opposes Dodgers lefty Alex Wood on Wednesday night. Arrieta can become a free agent this winter, so it might be his final start for Chicago. And unless the Cubs get their hitting and bullpen in order, the season could come to a close.

The Cubs have been in tough spots before, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to beat Cleveland in seven games for the World Series title last year. They also pulled out a wild victory at Washington in Game 5 of the NLDS this month after failing to close out the Nationals at Wrigley Field.

But the Cubs are hitting .160 with four extra-base hits through three games against the Dodgers.

“Of course we expected more,” Maddon said. “It’s somewhat surprising. I don’t want to use the word disappointing.”

Batting second, Schwarber hit an opposite-field drive to left-center for a 1-0 lead in the first. From there, the offense stalled again as Chicago managed just six harmless hits in 6-1/3 innings against winner Yu Darvish, who threw 59 of his 81 pitches for strikes.

Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks gave up four runs (three earned) and six hits, including solo homers to Andre Ethier and Chris Taylor.

The Dodgers led 3-1 with runners on first and second and none out in the sixth when Carl Edwards Jr. relieved Hendricks and walked Austin Barnes with one out. Joc Pederson flied out and Edwards walked Darvish on four pitches. After Taylor struck out to end the rally, boos came ringing from the Wrigley Field stands.

Mike Montgomery gave up two more runs in the eighth. With runners on first and second, pinch-hitter Charlie Culberson struck out, only for the pitch to ricochet off catcher Willson Contreras’ arm for a passed ball that allowed Logan Forsythe to score. With runners at the corners, Kyle Farmer followed with a sacrifice fly.

Darvish answered with key outs when he needed them. He struck out Jon Jay on a called third strike with runners at first and second to end the first. After Addison Russell hit an infield single and advanced to second on a walk to Jason Heyward in the fourth, Darvish struck out Hendricks on a 96 mph fastball to end the threat.

The Dodgers’ deep farm system enabled them to trade three prospects to the Rangers for Darvish shortly before the July 31 trade deadline while retaining their top two prospects — pitcher Walker Buehler and outfielder Alex Verdugo.

The roots of the Dodgers farm system were cultivated by scouting director Logan White, now with the Padres. Among White’s prized draft picks were three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, 2016 NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager (currently out with a back injury), Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger — a strong favorite for the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year award.

One of White’s misses, pitcher Zach Lee, was traded to the Mariners for Taylor in 2016 in one of the most lopsided deals in the last two seasons.

The Cubs can point to the fact they were down 2-1 to the Dodgers in the NLCS last year and trailed the Indians 3-1 in the World Series and still rode in a championship parade down Michigan Avenue. But nothing about this NLCS feels like 2016. This felt more like 2015, when the Mets swept the Cubs.

In all three games this time, the Cubs have scored first.

“It’s weird,’’ Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said. “The team that scores first usually wins and we’re 0 for 3.’’

The dominant Dodgers pitching “speaks for itself,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.

“They shut us down again,’’ he added.

The Cubs have offered their fans little reason to expect a baseball miracle, stifled by the Dodgers bullpen in every game.

“I’ve got the little wristband on, ‘We never quit,’ ’’ Maddon said. “Something we’ve talked about the last three years. Not easy. Obviously. It’s been done before. Theo (Epstein) saw it (with the Red Sox). So we have to figure out a way. There is nothing inspirational I could possibly say that’s going to make a difference. We’ve just got to go out and play our normal game.’’

News services contributed to this story.

 

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