The factor that could decide the World Series

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The factor that could decide the World Series

From Comcast SportsNet
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Mike Adams has already fielded plenty of phone calls this week, usually friends or family members wishing the Rangers reliever luck against the Cardinals in the World Series. The boldest of them even try to score tickets to Game 1. Adams admits that he doesn't have much experience handling all the fanfare -- this is his first playoff trip in seven big league seasons. But he certainly knows how to answer the phone. The one in the bullpen has been ringing nonstop. Yes, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are the homer-hitting stars. C.J. Wilson and Chris Carpenter are the staff aces in the spotlight Wednesday night. But it's the guys in the bullpens, the ones who have been called on so often to bail out Texas and St. Louis in their march through the playoffs, who could ultimately decide who wins this World Series. "How many championships do you find where the bullpen is going to be critical to the outcome?" Adams asked, genuinely seeking an answer. "Not many." No kidding. Texas starters are lugging around a 5.62 ERA in the playoffs. Wilson has been hammered in each of his three starts. Yet those guys out in the bullpen have jogged in every time manager Ron Washington has dialed their number and promptly pitched out of trouble. In knocking off the Detroit Tigers to win the AL pennant, Texas became the second team since best-of-seven series were introduced to have relievers earn all four wins. The Cardinals joined the club the very next day when they beat the Milwaukee Brewers to punch their World Series ticket. Tony La Russa called on his bullpen 28 times in the NL championship series, and St. Louis became the first team to win a postseason series without a starter reaching the sixth inning. "That's the thing about Tony, he's not afraid of pitching anybody in any situation," said left-hander Marc Rzepczynski. "When that phone rings, we're all ready." It's no surprise relief pitching has been such a focus this postseason. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels learned the importance of it last year, when he watched his relief corps collapse in the World Series. They were pounded for three runs in the eighth inning of Game 1 against San Francisco, allowed seven runs in the eighth inning in Game 2, and gave up two more runs in the last three innings of Game 4. The Giants bullpen, by comparison, allowed three runs total over five games. So, Daniels traded for Adams and fellow right-hander Koji Uehara just before the July 31 deadline, and added left-hander Michael Gonzalez from Baltimore at the end of August. Uehara has struggled in the postseason, but Adams has been excellent, and all Gonzalez did in the AL championship series against Detroit was allow one run over 7 2-3 innings. He wound up earning two wins, becoming only the fifth reliever to accomplish that in an ALCS. "You know, it was obvious that we had some weakness in the bullpen as the season started and progressed until the trading deadline," Washington said, "and then it got us two pieces to help settle down the bullpen, and put people in position where they always knew where they would pitch when an opportunity presented itself in a ballgame. And from that point on, we began playing the type of game we knew we were capable of playing." If those late acquisitions were the turning point for the Rangers bullpen, the Cardinals' success can be traced to an Aug. 24 team meeting. St. Louis was floundering back then, well out of playoff contention, when it gathered behind closed doors and decided to start playing every game like it was a one-game playoff. That meant using the bullpen as much as necessary, whenever necessary, even at the risk of burning it out. Not even a baseball lifer such as La Russa could imagine how they would respond. The bullpen was responsible for just six losses from Aug. 1 on, five coming in extra innings. St. Louis put together the NL's best record over the final month of the season as it chased down Atlanta in a dramatic wild-card race, with only three losses credited to all its relief pitchers. The Cardinals' starters are averaging about five innings per postseason outing, roughly the same as their Texas counterparts, which means La Russa has been on the phone just as much as Washington. "That's the thing that I'll probably remember the most about this season," La Russa said. "It's the most interesting story on our team, except for the heart we showed coming back, as to how much of a weapon the bullpen has become." Especially considering where it came from. The Cardinals blew the second-most saves in the majors this year, but most of those came with a vastly different set of guys. Nobody seemed able to nail down the ninth inning early in the year, and it took a while for everyone to finally grow comfortable in their roles. That includes Jason Motte, who has grown nicely into the closer job. He has a 1.47 ERA since the All-Star break, and just four of the 32 runners he's inherited this season have scored. "It doesn't matter what inning it is, we go out there and do our job," Motte said. "The last month and a half of the season, we've had to win. And we went out there with the attitude, not to freak out, not to tense out. And it's worked."

White Sox crush four homers to support Jose Quintana in win over Mariners

White Sox crush four homers to support Jose Quintana in win over Mariners

Fireworks Night started early for the White Sox on Saturday night.

The White Sox homered four times to support Jose Quintana in their 9-3 win over the Seattle Mariners at U.S. Cellular Field in front of 27,318 fans. Quintana, who set a career high in season wins last week, notched his 11th victory of the season.

"This year is special for me," Quintana said. "Now we have momentum. (We have to) try to keep (it) going to get more for my team. It’s really good. I’m trying to do my job."

Quintana was on point again right from the get-go. After allowing a double to the first batter of the game, the 27-year-old southpaw retired the next 11 batters.

Quintana pitched 7.2 innings with eight strikeouts and two runs on five hits and a walk. He lowered his ERA to 2.77 on the year.

"He's pretty consistent," said manager Robin Ventura. "I think that's the biggest thing for him. Mentality wise and just focus, just his attitude and everything that goes with him is pretty consistent. You're never going to really tell what's going on with him on the game.

"He's had so many games that were close or tied or even behind that he never changes. I think that's what endears him to a lot of guys. He's consistent."

While Quintana has been consistent all year, the offense hasn't been. But on Saturday, the team gave their starter a healthy dose of run support.

"What was really impressive was the offense tonight was really good for us and for me," Quintana said. "It’s fun when you’re throwing when a lot of runs are scored."

The Mariners opened up the scoring with a sac fly from Robinson Cano in the first. But the White Sox answered back right away.

Melky Cabrera drove in Tim Anderson, who tripled in the previous at-bat, with a sac fly. The next batter, Jose Abreu, crushed his 18th homer of the year to put the White Sox in front. Cabrera was the only White Sox who didn’t record a hit in the game.

The White Sox offense began to heat up in the fourth after a quiet second and third from both sides.

After the first two batters of the inning were retired, the next four White Sox got on. It cleared the path for Tyler Saladino’s RBI single, which put the Sox up 3-1. Saladino finished the night with one homer and three RBI.

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The White Sox added four more in the fifth inning.

The scoring started with an RBI triple from Justin Morneau — the team’s second three-bagger of the night.

Back-to-back homers from Avisail Garcia and Alex Avila made it 7-1. It was the fifth time the White Sox hit two consecutive homers this season.

"I think Q's probably the happiest guy of anybody. He was great," Ventura said. "Any time you swing the bat as well as we did tonight and you get some add ons with the homers, you like seeing that kind of offense and you like seeing balls over the fence.

"Guys had a good night of just being patient and being able to cash in."

The Mariners added a run in the sixth from an RBI single by Guillermo Heredia and a sac-fly Franklin Gutierrez in the ninth.

Avila went 1-for-3 with a solo homer and walk in his first game since July 5.

Garcia, who had five extra base hits in June and July, had three on Friday night.

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

CSN will also carry the live audio call of Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully during Sunday's game as the SportsNet LA audio feed will be featured during the third inning.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester vs. Kenta Maeda

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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Defensive mistakes, red card cost Fire in ugly loss at D.C.

Defensive mistakes, red card cost Fire in ugly loss at D.C.

RFK Stadium hosted one of the stranger games of the Chicago Fire’s season on Saturday.

It also may end up being a killer blow to the Fire’s playoff hopes.

The Fire lost 6-2 to the host D.C. United, falling nine points out of the playoffs with nine matches remaining.

Patrick Mullins had a hat trick and former Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko played a role in three of D.C.’s goals. The six goals were the most the Fire have allowed this season.

Fire midfielder Khaly Thiam received a red card in the 34th minute in a match-changing moment. Thiam fouled Nyarko then argued with the ref and dropped the ball on Nyarko’s face while Nyarko was still on the ground.

Nyarko keyed the opening goal in the 25th minute with a backheel in the box to Marcelo, whose low cross was finished off by Mullins.

Michael de Leeuw answered for the Fire (5-12-8, 23 points) by tucking away a big rebound from goalkeeper Bill Hamid after Matt Polster hit a half-volley at Hamid. The relief was short-lived for the Fire because Thiam was sent off a few minutes later.

Nyarko set up Mullins for a goal in the 40th minute and then Luciano Acosta did the same for Mullins in first half added time to make it 3-1 D.C. (7-8-11, 32 points). Razvan Cocis got the Fire back within one on the final kick of the half with a long shot that took a big deflection, lofting the ball perfectly over Hamid and into the net.

However, Nyarko quickly restored D.C.’s two-goal lead out of halftime with a goal in the 51st minute. Mullins finished off his hat trick in the 76th minute and Nick DeLeon finished the scoring in the 89th.

David Accam, who was favoring and icing his left leg after Wednesday’s draw with LA, did not start the match. He subbed on at halftime. He and David Arshakyan, who made his Fire debut off the bench, will both leave for international duty and miss next weekend’s match against Philadelphia.