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Dodgers 4, Braves 3
When Juan Uribe was unable to get a bunt down, it was the best thing that happened to Los Angeles.
Uribe hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning after Clayton Kershaw started on short rest for the Dodgers in a victory over Atlanta that sent Los Angeles into the National League championship series Monday night.
"It was a special night to get to do it here in L.A.," said Kershaw, his hair slick from the spray of beer and champagne. "We haven't won anything yet, but it definitely feels good to get to celebrate. You never want to pass those moments up."
Carl Crawford homered his first two times up and the Dodgers won the best-of-five playoff 3-1 to reach their first NLCS since 2009. The NL West champions open the next round Friday against St. Louis or Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals host the wild-card Pirates in a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday.
"We've moved one step closer, and we don't have to get back on a plane tomorrow. It's a good feeling," said Don Mattingly, managing in the playoffs for the first time.
Meanwhile, it was the latest October flop for Atlanta, which hasn't won a postseason series since 2001. During that stretch, the Braves have lost seven straight playoff series and the 2012 NL wild-card game.
Yasiel Puig doubled down the right-field line leading off the eighth against losing pitcher David Carpenter. The rookie charged into second base and pumped his right fist in the air.
Fans were on their feet chanting "Let's go Dodgers!" when Uribe fouled off two bunt attempts. Then he sent a hanging 2-2 breaking ball into the Dodgers' bullpen in left field to put them in front for the second time.
Uribe knew it was gone as soon as he connected. He dropped his bat and threw both arms in the air at home plate.
"This moment today I'll never forget," Uribe said. "I think a lot of people feel like that."
Brian Wilson pitched a scoreless eighth to get the victory. Kenley Jansen struck out all three batters in the ninth for a save, fanning Justin Upton to end it.
That set off a raucous celebration on the field by the Dodgers, who rushed toward the mound in a mob. They tore jerseys off each other in unbridled excitement and doused Uribe with a bright-colored sports drink.
"This team has a lot of fun. We don't think about being the team to beat and all that stuff. We just go out there and play and try to have fun," Crawford said.
Jansen and catcher A.J. Ellis leaped into each other's arms, and a burst of fireworks lit the sky in center field as blue and silver streamers cascaded from an upper level of the stadium.
The Dodgers lined up exchanging hugs in the infield, and co-owners Mark Walter and Magic Johnson grinned watching the revelry among the team they purchased last year.
Kershaw, Puig, Wilson and other players jogged around the warning track exchanging high-fives and hand slaps with delirious fans.
"They were loud," Kershaw said. "They want it just as much as we do."
The Dodgers were criticized for jumping into the ballpark pool in Arizona when they clinched the NL West crown last month. This time, they got to party at home.
"There's a handful of guys that have never gotten to do that before," Kershaw said.
He shared a moment with Dodgers great Sandy Koufax in a clubhouse reeking of beer and champagne that had been sprayed everywhere.
"To get a hug and get a 'good job' from a guy like that, from a guy that's been there, from a guy that's done this before and was the best at it for a long time, is pretty special," Kershaw said.
The Braves took a 3-2 lead in the seventh on pinch-hitter Jose Constanza's RBI single off reliever Ronald Belisario.
Needing a win to avoid elimination, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez never got the ball to lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel.
"You don't want it to ever end the way we ended today. But we had the right guy out there. Carp has been good for us," Gonzalez said. "There is nothing to be ashamed of."
The Dodgers gambled in bringing back Kershaw on three days' rest for the first time in his career. But with a chance to close out the series, they opted for their ace over scheduled starter Ricky Nolasco. The move paid off when the 2011 Cy Young Award winner tossed six solid innings before turning it over to the bullpen.
"This is the postseason," Kershaw said. "You just go. It's a one-month sprint and I'm looking forward to the next couple games."
Kershaw wasted a 2-0 lead, giving up two unearned runs and three hits. He struck out six and walked one on 91 pitches.
With one out in the seventh, Elliot Johnson tripled into the right-field corner, sending Puig sliding into the dirt chasing the ball as it caromed off the wall. Constanza, batting for starting pitcher Freddy Garcia, singled into center to put the NL East champions ahead for the first time.
Garcia allowed two runs and eight hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked two.
The Braves tied it 2-all in the fourth, when the Dodgers' defense faltered.
Chris Johnson's RBI single scored Freddie Freeman, who singled leading off, went to second on first baseman Adrian Gonzalez's throwing error and advanced to third on a wild pitch by Kershaw.
Andrelton Simmons grounded into a fielder's choice to third in what should have been an inning-ending double play, but second baseman Mark Ellis' throw to Adrian Gonzalez went wide and Evan Gattis scored from third.
Crawford's second homer of the game came in the third, landing deep in the lower right-field seats for a 2-0 lead.
Crawford led off the first with a towering home run to the right-field pavilion, smiling broadly as the Dodgers took a 1-0 lead. His three-run shot — and Uribe's two-run drive — were a big part of their 13-6 victory in Game 3 on Sunday.
Athletics 6, Tigers 3
Oakland has beaten Detroit with both pitching and power. And that's left the Tigers on the brink of elimination — and simmering with frustration.
Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith homered for the Athletics, who chased Anibal Sanchez in the fifth inning and defeated the Tigers for a 2-1 AL division series lead.
Moss broke a 3-all tie in the fifth with a solo shot, and Smith's two-run drive later in the inning ended Sanchez's day. It was an impressive offensive show after the teams split two taut, low-scoring games in Oakland.
This one got a little tense in the ninth, too, when A's closer Grant Balfour and Detroit hitter Victor Martinez started shouting at each other after a foul ball, causing benches and bullpens to empty.
"I don't know what happened. Honestly, I know that Balfour is fiery on the mound — he's yelling a lot and spitting everywhere," Moss said. "It's who he is. You know, sometimes it can ruffle the feathers of other teams."
The A's aren't worried about making friends, especially after losing to the Tigers in a five-game division series last year. Oakland can close out this series today and reach the AL championship series for the first time since 2006 — when the Athletics were swept by the Tigers.
Oakland will send rookie Dan Straily to the mound against Detroit's Doug Fister.
"There's no tricks. We've got to win the game tomorrow to try to extend it to Game 5. It's that simple," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We ran into another situation where we didn't put enough runs on the board and an excellent starting pitcher didn't have a very good day."
Sanchez, the American League's ERA leader, allowed six runs — five earned — and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings. Smith has homered off Sanchez more than any other player, having now done it twice in the regular season and twice in the playoffs.
There was activity in the Detroit bullpen before Smith's homer Monday, and he made the Tigers pay for sticking with the struggling Sanchez.
"Sometimes he starts out a little slow, you figure he's going to get it going," Leyland said. "Today he just really didn't get it going. He made a couple of real bad pitches the last inning he was out there to Moss and Smith."
Jarrod Parker gave up three runs in five innings for Oakland, and the Tigers couldn't rally against the bullpen.
Balfour pitched a hitless ninth for the save. Martinez had just hit a foul ball when he started looking back at Balfour, who yelled something at the designated hitter.
Martinez started slowly toward the mound, and players from both teams came running out. The situation eventually calmed and no players were ejected. Plate umpire Gary Darling said warnings were sufficient.
"I said, "Why you staring me down like that?"' Balfour said. "He was staring me down. He knew what he was doing."
Martinez said Balfour threw in a profanity when he yelled toward the plate.
"I'm not a rookie. I'm a veteran, and I'm a leader on my teams. I don't take that," Martinez said while including a few profane words of his own during his explanation. "He can't intimidate me."
Oakland lost the opener in this series before evening it with a 1-0 win in Game 2. That victory came in a pitchers' duel between Oakland's Sonny Gray and Detroit's Justin Verlander, and with Sanchez set to start for the Tigers on Monday, it looked like the A's might need another brilliant performance on the mound from Parker.
But they had Sanchez in trouble almost immediately, scoring a run in the third and two more in the fourth. Although the Tigers finally snapped out of their offensive funk with a three-run fourth, Sanchez couldn't keep the ball in the park.
Moss hit a line drive over the wall in right to make it 4-3, and Smith's high fly carried over the fence in left-center.
"With their whole staff, you're looking for a mistake and hope you capitalize on it," Smith said. "You will miss them sometimes, but fortunately for me, I was able to get the barrel to it."
Coco Crisp had two doubles and a single for the A's.
Sanchez allowed 0.45 homers per nine innings in the regular season, the lowest mark in the AL, and Oakland took him deep three times; he had not allowed more than one homer in a start previously this year.
Oakland threatened in each of the first three innings but needed a break to score the game's first run. After Crisp's single to start the third, Josh Donaldson walked. Jed Lowrie and Moss both struck out, and it looked like Sanchez might get out of the inning when Yoenis Cespedes hit a sharp grounder to Cabrera.
The slugging third baseman couldn't come up with the ball and couldn't keep it in front of him, and the error allowed the A's to take the lead.
Oakland made it 3-0 in the fourth. Reddick led off with his first homer since Sept. 15, and Stephen Vogt followed with a triple and scored on Crisp's one-out sacrifice fly.
Cardinals 2, Pirates 1
Michael Wacha heard the chants. Then again, when 40,000 people clad in black scream your name relentlessly for the better part of three hours, it's kind of hard to miss.
The goal was to rattle the St. Louis rookie, remind him that 22-year-old pitchers aren't built to withstand the pressure of an elimination game.
One problem. Wacha doesn't really do rattled. He doesn't do pressure, either. The louder PNC Park grew, the more unhittable Wacha became.
"I kind of like it," Wacha said. "It kind of gives me adrenaline. I kind of use it in my favor."
And the Pittsburgh Pirates — not to mention anyone else he might face in the postseason — "kind of" need to get used to it.
Wacha took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning and the Cardinals showed off their October poise, edging the Pirates to force a winner-take-all Game 5 in the NL division series.
St. Louis is 7-1 over the last three years with its season on the line.
"I think you take high talent and high character people that are motivated and support each other, and they don't give up," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That's a tough combination."
One the Pirates are still trying to master. Pedro Alvarez hit his third home run of the series, connecting with one out in the eighth for Pittsburgh's only hit in Game 4. It wasn't enough for the Pirates to advance to the NL championship series for the first time in 21 years.
"I guess that's why we play five," star center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "We'll be ready for the fifth one."
The Pirates weren't quite ready for the fourth one, not with the way Wacha was dealing. He walked two and struck out nine before giving way to the bullpen in the eighth.
Matt Holliday's two-run homer off Charlie Morton in the sixth was all the offense required on a day the Cardinals tossed the first one-hitter in the club's lengthy postseason history.
Trevor Rosenthal worked around a two-out walk in the ninth, retiring McCutchen on a popup to shallow center field for his first postseason save.
"It was a good pitch for him," McCutchen said. "I wish it got a little more of the barrel. It would have been a great story."
Instead, a taut series will head back to Busch Stadium.
Game 5 will be Wednesday, with ace Adam Wainwright starting for the NL Central champion Cardinals and rookie Gerrit Cole going for the wild-card Pirates. Both pitchers won last week in the NLDS.
The Cardinals finished with only three hits, and that was enough. Holliday got two of them, including his homer in the sixth after Morton walked big-hitting Carlos Beltran to start the inning.
"You could go back and look at pitches over and over again and second guess yourself," Morton said. "I don't know where that pitch was. It was outer third somewhere, thigh-down and he went out and got it, he's strong."
So was the 6-foot-6 kid on the one, the one barely a year removed from a standout college career at Texas A&M. Wacha didn't permit a runner until walking Russell Martin leading off the sixth.
Wacha nearly no-hit the Washington Nationals in his last start on Sept. 24, surrendering only an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman with two outs in the ninth.
Working so quickly the Pirates never had time to get settled, he breezed through Pittsburgh's revamped lineup like he was in extended spring training. Mixing his fastball and changeup masterfully, Wacha overwhelmed the Pirates from the moment he stepped onto the mound.
Alvarez got the fans at PNC Park roaring with his homer, and Wacha followed by walking Martin on four pitches. Carlos Martinez relieved and Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina made a key play, throwing out pinch-runner Josh Harrison after a botched hit-and-run attempt.
Martinez struck out Jose Tabata to end the eighth, and Rosenthal took over to begin the ninth. Neil Walker drew a two-out walk before McCutchen made the final out.
"That's what it's all about," Rosenthal said. "That's what you dream of, you dream of two outs in the bottom of the ninth, you know ... bases loaded, the best hitter up, and getting out of that spot."