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Red Sox, Yankees to face off on turf for 1st time

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NEW YORK — The traditional rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will take a radical twist when they meet in London next month: They will play on artificial turf for the first time in their rivalry, covering more than 2,200 games.

Major League Baseball has access to Olympic Stadium for 21 days before the games on June 29 and 30, the sport’s first regular-season contests in Europe, and just five days after to clear out. The league concluded there was not enough time to install real grass.

Starting June 6, gravel will be placed over the covering protecting West Ham’s grass soccer pitch and the running track that is a legacy from the 2012 Olympics. The artificial turf baseball field, similar to modern surfaces used by a few big league clubs, will be installed atop that.

“It’s the first Yankees-Red Sox game out of the country, so why not a lot of firsts?” New York pitcher CC Sabathia said. “I think it will be fine.”

Instead, 141,913 square feet of FieldTurf Vertex will be transported by truck starting June 4 from the company’s plant in Auchel, France, a little over 150 miles (240 kilometers) to a storage facility outside London, according to Murray Cook, the sport’s field consultant.

Clay for the pitcher’s mound and home plate area comes from DuraEdge in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Turface Athletics near Chicago provides the soil conditioner, while mound tamps, infield drags and nail drags are from Beacon Athletics in Middleton, Wisconsin. The U.S. materials, including 345 tons of dirt in 18 40-foot containers, left Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, during the third week of April and arrived on May 18 at Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) from London. Fence padding was manufactured at Covermaster outside Toronto and shipped from Montreal.

“We looked really hard at doing a natural grass system,” Cook said. “We’re going with a synthetic system and it helps us a couple ways. It’s a little more sustainable, because we’re going back next year. If we went with a natural grass system, we’d have to bulldoze it all up, throw it away and then buy it again, build it all up, throw it away again.”

Only three of the 30 major league teams play on artificial surfaces — Toronto, Tampa Bay and Arizona. Rogers Centre in Toronto and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, have never had grass. Arizona switched this season from grass to turf, as will Texas when its new ballpark opens next spring.

Olympic Stadium, like the regular ballparks, will have full dirt infields rather than the square dirt patches popular during artificial turf’s height — there was a high of 10 synthetic fields in the major leagues from 1977-78 and again from 1982-94.

“I’m assuming it’s like Toronto’s or Tampa’s, so it shouldn’t be an issue,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

Toronto has played on AstroTurf 3D Xtreme since 2016 and Tampa Bay on Shaw Sports Turf since 2017. Arizona switched from grass to Shaw Sports B1K this year, and Texas will use Shaw Sports Turf when it moves into new Globe Life Field next year.

“If we had never played on turf, it would be different, but we’ve played on turf,” Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts said.

New York and Boston have played 2,196 times, with four more games at Yankee Stadium for May 30 to June 2. New York holds a 1,191-991 edge with 14 ties, plus a 12-11 advantage in postseason matchups.

Boston is the home team for both games in London, but the Yankees and Red Sox will both wear their white home uniforms. When the Yankees last played overseas in an opening-two game series at the Tokyo Dome in 2004, New York wore home pinstripes and the Devil Rays road grays, even though Tampa Bay was the home team and batted last.

Foul poles, a batter’s eye, a backstop and fencing will be erected, along with two dugouts — Red Sox on the first base side and the Yankees on third. Temporary clubhouses will be built on the warm-up track under the stands — the soccer locker rooms are too small — along with batting cages. Because holes cannot be made in the running track, weights will secure the fences, similar to what was installed when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Diamondbacks played in 2014 at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia.

Cook helped convert The Oval, a London cricket ground opened in 1845, for games between Boston and New York Mets minor leaguers in October 1993 — the first of two was rained out.

Olympic Stadium also will be the site of major league games in 2020 — a series between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals is the leading candidate.

“This way we’ve got a synthetic turf system that’s got two games on this year, two games on it next year and then the commissioner can do what he wants to do with the system, whether he wants to have another event somewhere, sell it or donate it or whatever they want to do,” Cook said.

Field dimensions will be 330 feet down each foul line, but just 385 feet to center with a 16-foot wall.

“We’ve done all the home run trajectory studies,” Cook said. “We get comparable distances.”

Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi figured the best way for Boston pitchers to keep the Yankees from hitting home runs.

“Just got to keep the ball on the ground, I guess,” he said.

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The Braves — baseball’s hottest team — can’t be counted out in the playoffs

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The narrative all season in the National League has essentially been the Dodgers and everybody else. It’s hard to fight back against that statement as the Dodgers own the largest run differential in the majors — only the Astros are close and no NL team is within 100 runs of their margin.

Consider the Atlanta Braves, however, a team that may be starting to peak at the right time. The Braves went into Citi Field this weekend to face a red-hot Mets team that plays very well at home and had just swept the red-hot Indians. The Braves swept the series to run their winning streak to eight games, and the three wins were each impressive in their own way:

Friday: Atlanta won 2-1 in 14 innings, outlasting Jacob deGrom as Mike Foltynewicz allowed two hits in seven innings and the bullpen tossed seven scoreless.

Saturday: After Atlanta jumped out to a 4-0 lead, the Mets rallied and took the lead on Pete Alonso‘s three-run blast in the fifth, but the Braves rallied with two runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth to win 9-5.

Sunday: Josh Donaldson hit two home runs and Dallas Keuchel tossed seven scoreless innings — three double plays helped — in another 2-1 victory.

The Braves have won or tied nine consecutive series, including winning five of six games from the Mets and taking two of three from the Dodgers, Twins, Nationals and Phillies. They’ve been beating good teams to maintain their six-game lead over the Nationals in the NL East — and that’s important.

The weird thing about the Braves is that while their bullpen has drawn a lot of criticism all season, they’ve actually exceeded their Pythagorean record: The Braves are 80-52 compared to an expected record based on run differential of 74-58. That six-win difference is the biggest positive spread in the majors. Often when a team exceeds its expected record it’s due to a super clutch bullpen that helps a team win close games. Indeed, the Braves are 25-13 in one-run games and 11-5 in extra innings, but the bullpen has generally been average over the course of the season, ranking 12th in the majors in win probability added.

The hope, of course, is the bullpen is improving. Until the Mets scored a run off Mark Melancon in the ninth inning on Sunday, the pen had thrown 25 consecutive scoreless innings. While Melancon, Chris Martin and Shane Greene struggled initially after coming over at the trade deadline, all three have settled in and pitched better of late:

Melancon: Four saves and a win in his past five outings.

Martin: Five straight scoreless outings with just two hits allowed.

Greene: Six straight scoreless outings with three hits allowed, nine K’s and no walks.

Then consider the two main holdovers:

Luke Jackson: One run in 11 innings in August with 15 K’s and four walks.

Sean Newcomb: The hard-throwing lefty had a 1-2-3 eighth on Sunday and has a 3.16 ERA in relief.

That’s five pretty good relievers and only Jackson was in the Atlanta bullpen at the start of the season. Given that the Dodgers have their own concerns in relief — Kenley Jansen has six blown saves and eight home runs allowed in 49⅔ innings — one can reasonably project the Braves to have the better bullpen in the postseason. (As always, small sample size production will trump all projections.)

Another reason to like the Braves now more than two months ago is that Donaldson has quietly given them a third big bat alongside Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. After a slow start (perhaps rusty after injury problems in 2018), Donaldson is up to 32 home runs and hitting .265/.379/.538. Since the middle of June, he’s hitting .294/.409/.658. He’s been bashing like an MVP candidate for more than two months now, the Braves’ answer to Cody Bellinger.

Then there’s Keuchel, who had his best start with the Braves on Sunday. He’s 5-5 with a 3.78 ERA and the top four of Mike Soroka, Julio Teheran, Max Fried and Keuchel give Atlanta four above-average starters. A big reason the Braves’ run differential is mediocre is for much of the season the back of the rotation was horrible — Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson have a combined 6.33 ERA in 39 starts. Those guys won’t be starting in October (although Foltynewicz has a chance to pitch himself back into the Braves’ postseason plans).

The major takeaway: I think the Braves are better than their plus-78 run differential suggests. They’ll get Dansby Swanson back soon and Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte, Brian McCann and Austin Riley are also all on the IL, so this win streak is a credit to the team’s depth off the bench.

Hard to believe, but the Braves haven’t won a playoff series since the 2001 NL Division Series. Since then, they’ve lost seven straight division series and a wild-card game. This may be the team to finally break that streak.

Nationals sweep Cubs: The other big sweep this weekend was the Nats going to Wrigley and winning 9-3, 7-2 and 7-5 in 11 innings on Sunday. The Cubs were 44-19 at home entering the series.

Sunday’s game was fun as Kyle Schwarber tied the game with a two-run homer in the eighth off Fernando Rodney, Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel worked out of a two-on jam in the ninth and then the Nationals finally scored twice in the 11th off Tyler Chatwood, with Howie Kendrick and Trea Turner starting the rally with a single and double. Anthony Rendon drove in the second run of the inning with his fourth hit of the game.

Possible MVP? “I’ll make a case for him right now, yeah,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “MVP, Gold Glove. My man, Anthony Rendon.”

Rendon probably has some ground to make up, but a late surge could put him in the running:

Rendon: .329/.407/.617, 29 HRs, 104 RBIs, 94 runs, 5.2/5.6 WAR

Christian Yelich: .329/.421/.678, 41 HRs, 89 RBIs, 91 runs, 6.0/6.5 WAR

Bellinger: .312/.409/.655, 42 HRs, 100 RBIs, 101 runs, 7.9/6.8 WAR

Rendon has hit .348/.444/.652 with runners in scoring position, but get this: Entering Sunday he was hitting .408/.452/.855 with nine home runs in 76 at-bats in high-leverage situations — the biggest, most clutch moments of games. Only thing is Yelich also has been great in the clutch (Rendon ranks third in OPS in medium- and high-leverage moments, but Yelich ranks fourth).

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Anthony Rendon crushes a ball for a solo home run in the top of the 4th inning to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead over the Cubs.

Anyway, Rendon is having another terrific season. Maybe he’s only a strong third in the MVP race (and Braves supporters will bring up Freeman and Acuna), but don’t ignore Rendon’s clutch numbers the rest of the season.

Indians lose Ramirez, then lose a tough game: Jose Ramirez fractured his right hamate bone on a swing in Saturday’s win over the Royals and will undergo surgery on Monday. The timetable to return from such a procedure varies, but Joey Gallo had a similar surgery on July 23 and is expected to be out until mid-September. Ramirez will likely be lost for the rest of the regular season and even if he does make a miraculous comeback, hitters often take longer to regain their power after these injuries.

It’s a devastating injury for the club as Cleveland had rediscovered its mojo in part because Ramirez had bounced back from a dreadful start. As late as June 16, his OPS remained under .600. Since then he’d hit .313/.359/.654 with a 16 home runs and 51 RBIs in 56 games. Rookie Yu-Cheng Chang, with four career plate appearances, started at third on Sunday.

In that game, the Indians tied the Royals with four runs in the bottom of the ninth — Francisco Lindor homered off Ian Kennedy and with two outs Franmil Reyes blasted a towering, game-tying three-run homer. It looked like Cleveland would find a miracle win and sweep the Royals, but Ryan O’Hearn homered in the top of the 10th and the Royals won 9-8.

“There’s two ways to look at it,” Terry Francona told reporters in Cleveland. “You can feel sorry for yourself, which probably doesn’t end well. Or you can choose to fight back and feel like this is our time to shine. And I would choose No. 2. I’m aware that it got more difficult. We lost a great player.”

The Indians have been resilient all season, fighting through injuries to the starting rotation and an 11½-game deficit back in June to get back in the AL Central and wild-card races. Now they’re back to 3½ games behind the Twins with 12 of their next 16 games on the road.

Quick weekend thoughts: Good to see Felix Hernandez put up a respectable effort in front of the Seattle fans on Saturday (two runs on two home runs in 5⅔ innings against the Blue Jays). I don’t know how much he has left, but it would be nice if his final starts in a Mariners uniform aren’t embarrassingly awful. … Stunning stat of the year: Mariners catchers are hitting .302 with 35 home runs. … Somebody who has been awful is Trevor Bauer, who gave up eight runs in three innings to the Pirates on Sunday. After giving up nine runs two starts ago, he has a 7.62 ERA with the Reds and his season ERA is now 4.34. For all the hype given Bauer’s analytical approach to pitching, he’s had an ERA under 4.00 just once in his career. … One of the Twins sluggers who has flown under the radar is Miguel Sano, who has 26 home runs in 292 at-bats. The strikeout rate remains insane (35%), but he’s mashing home runs and has played well enough at third base. … It seems like we’ve skipped over Michael Brantley in this space this season, but he’s riding an 18-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .458/.519/.750. For all the attention the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu has received for his MVP-type season (non-Mike Trout division), Brantley has had the same type of season to little acclaim.

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Judge delivers on HR promise to coach’s dad

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Aaron Judge is a man of his word.

The New York Yankees outfielder, while catching up with Yankees bullpen coach Jason Brown’s father John on the field prior to Sunday’s series finale at Dodger Stadium, told the elder Brown, “I’ll hit one for you tonight,” as he walked away.

Judge delivered on that promise in his second at-bat, crushing a 1-1 curveball from Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw to deep center field in the top of the third inning.

“I’ve seen [John Brown] all over the place and I missed seeing him when we played in Anaheim this year, so I went over there and just said hello to him and said I’d get one for him, and I was able to do that today,” Judge told ESPN after the Yankees’ 5-1 win. “Wind was blowing out, though, so that helped.”

It was Judge’s 16th home run of the season, and it gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Judge had also homered in the first two games against the Dodgers this weekend.



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Yankees’ Judge delivers on HR promise to fan

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Aaron Judge is a man of his word.

The New York Yankees outfielder, while meeting an older fan on the field prior to Sunday’s series finale at Dodger Stadium, told the man, “I’ll hit one for you tonight,” as he walked away.

Judge delivered on that promise in his second at-bat, crushing a 1-1 curveball from Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw to deep center field in the top of the third inning.

It was Judge’s 16th home run of the season, and it gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Judge had also homered in the first two games against the Dodgers this weekend.

The Yankees would go on to win Sunday’s game 5-1 and take the best-of-three series.



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