First Pitch: Phils show Sox just how bad things could be


First Pitch: Phils show Sox just how bad things could be

SEATTLE - They have been without two lineup regulars, side-by-side in the field, since the start of the year, and then lost their most established starter to the disabled list.

They had hoped they could hold on, hold out, until the injured players returned. By midseason, they thought, the return of the injured regulars would serve as a second-half booster shot, the equivalent of adding two All-Stars around the trade deadline.

They sputtered for a while, but all along, the suspicion was they would hang around, figure it out somehow and remain on the periphery of a crowded division race, close enough so when they got healthy, they could make their move.

Now, it's time to acknowledge that this will not happen. So much for Plan B. So much for waiting for the calvary to arrive.

It's too late. They can't make progress in the standings and if help arrives, it will be too late for 2012.

The Red Sox?


Try the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies lost again Sunday, dropping nine games under .500 and 11 12 games out of first place. They're lodged in last place in the National League East.

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley could return next week and play like it was 2008 all over again -- Howard recovered from his torn Achilles, Utley having overcome his now-chronic knee issues -- and it wouldn't matter.

The Phillies seem to be slowly acknowledging this basic fact. On Friday, they traded Jim Thome to Baltimore. Sunday, they shipped reliever Chad Qualls to the Yankees. And, in the surest sign yet that the Phils are readying the white flag, they are said to be open to offers on free-agent-to-be Cole Hamels.

All of which serves as a reminder that all is not lost for the Red Sox.

True, they are still without Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury -- for these purposes, Boston's equivalent of Howard and Utley -- but both are getting closer to returning.

Crawford is due in Boston Monday for a checkup, and is then scheduled to go somewhere other that Fort Myers to continue his rehab assignment. It's possible he could rejoin the lineup in Tampa Bay when the Sox open the second half of the season. Ellsbury should also be back later this month.

There are issues, still, to be sure. Over the weekend, the Red Sox needed extra innings to get a split against the lowly Mariners.

The pitching was superb for Boston, even if it did come against a lineup that has battled to hit .200 at Safeco Field this season. In the four games, the Red Sox allowed a grand total of five runs. The scores in the series looked like a Stanley Cup playoff series in which both teams were using the trap: 1-0; 5-0, 3-2; and 2-1.

But Boston's own offense wasn't much better, raising questions about the lineup's consistency. The Sox were a pitiful 3-for-27 with runners in scoring position in the four games. Of the nine runs the Sox scored, six were the result of homers, including all five runs in Friday's shutout victory.

The same offense that had arrived in Seattle averaging 5.29 runs per game this season was averaging just 1.75 runs through the first 36 innings.

Help is on the way, however, in the persons of Crawford, Ellsbury and, soon after, Andrew Bailey. At a time when Felix Doubront seems to be faltering, Franklin Morales and Aaron Cook have peaked, providing rotation depth.

As the fourth month of play gets underway and the exact halfway point in the schedule arrives Tuesday night, the Red Sox are a half-game out of both second place in their division and the second wild-card spot.

And unlike in Philadelphia, it is not too late.

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.