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Nathan Eovaldi crushed early as Red Sox open big weekend with dispiriting loss to Yankees

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Nathan Eovaldi crushed early as Red Sox open big weekend with dispiriting loss to Yankees

In 10 days, the Red Sox could very well play the Yankees at home in the American League wild-card game. And if it is, there’s a good chance Nathan Eovaldi would square off against Gerrit Cole with a trip to the division series on the line.

If that ends up being the case, the Red Sox will be glad Friday night wasn’t the real thing.

Of course, they have to get there first. After winning seven consecutive games, the Red Sox were offered a hard dose of reality and a reminder that nothing is locked up yet, as they started their most important series of the season with a clunker. The Yankees ambushed Eovaldi early, sending him to his shortest start of the season after he gave up seven earned runs, and the Red Sox put their lucky yellow jerseys back in the closet after a dispiriting, 8-3, loss.

“The good ones, they have bad ones,” Alex Cora said of Eovaldi.

The Red Sox stayed atop the wild card standings as they remained three games up on the Blue Jays, who lost to the Twins, but the gap shrunk to one game over the Yankees with two more against them this weekend in a series that could shape not only who makes the wild-card game on Oct. 5, but who hosts it.

“We’re not there yet,” Cora said. “We know where we’re at right now. We’ve got to show up (Saturday) and put a good game. We cannot get ahead of ourselves talking about playoffs. Right now, we are in a fight with a lot of teams around us and (Saturday) we have to come out here and play a good game.”

Eovaldi had dominated the Yankees in his first five starts this season but had his worst start of the year at one of the most inopportune times. Right away, the right-hander didn’t have it. He gave up three consecutive hits to start the game — quickly taking the life out of a buzzing, sellout Fenway Park crowd — as he evoked a rare mound visit from pitching coach Dave Bush before he even recorded an out.

After not allowing more than two runs in any of his prior five starts, Eovaldi put the Red Sox in a 3-0 hole. He simply couldn’t finish off Yankees hitters despite consistently pitching into favorable counts. Four of the seven hits he allowed came with two strikes, including a three-run homer from Giancarlo Stanton in the third that gave the Yankees a commanding 6-0 lead and sent the Red Sox’ bullpen into motion far earlier than they likely expected.

Eovaldi’s command was the root of his problems. He felt he didn’t have a feel for his splitter, which he said kept slipping out. He wasn’t able to locate the pitch down in the zone, and ultimately abandoned it.

“I felt like I just didn’t do my job tonight going out and attacking batters the way I should have and the way I’m capable of doing,” Eovaldi said. “It’s one of those things, too, when I don’t have a certain pitch working, I can’t shy away from it. I have to keep forcing it and figuring it out.”

It all came to an embarrassing head in that third inning. Eovaldi allowed a single to Joey Gallo and then a two-out walk to Brett Gardner before Alex Cora had finally seen enough, sending his All-Star to the showers.

Hirokazu Sawamura came on in relief and struggled to find the strike zone, but he induced Kyle Higashioka into what should have been an inning-ending out when the catcher lifted a pop fly to the right of the pitcher’s mound. But Kyle Schwarber, making his sixth start at first base with the Red Sox, let it drop behind him as the Yankees scored another run to make it 7-0.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, couldn’t do much against Cole. They didn’t record a hit against the Yankees’ ace until J.D. Martinez’s two-out ground-rule double in the fourth. Rafael Devers breathed life into Fenway when he continued to torch Cole with a three-run homer to the right-field seats, but it was short-lived.

Cole walked three but struck out six over six innings in the victory. The Red Sox tried to rally again when he left in the seventh, putting two on with two out as the Yankees went to left-hander Wandy Peralta. Cora countered with an aggressive move to pinch-hit Bobby Dalbec for Schwarber, but it didn’t work as the rookie struck out to end the threat.

The Red Sox couldn’t manage a comeback over the final innings after Eovaldi’s uncharacteristic effort.

“It’s frustrating,” Eovaldi said. “We knew how important this game is tonight. We know where we stand in the hunt for the wild card and everything and the playoffs. I have to be able to set the tone, especially the first game of the series, and I didn’t do that tonight. That’s extremely frustrating for me. It’s just frustrating.”

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In most parts of the state, prime leaf-peeping weather is just around the corner

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In most parts of the state, prime leaf-peeping weather is just around the corner

It’s leaf-peeping season in New England, one of the most popular times of year, just after the waning days of summer and before the bitter chill of winter.

Some of the best leaf-peeping spots range from the Appalachian Trail in Western Massachusetts to John Paul Park in Dorchester, according to the state Office of Travel and Tourism.

“There’s no need to leave the city to see breathtaking fall foliage,” said Ryan Woods, Commissioner of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. “We put together a list of great neighborhood spots for leaf peeping at Boston.gov/parks. Viewing the changing leaves offers a pandemic-safe, outdoor activity for Bostonians and visitors alike.”

To understand why leaves change color or wither and die, you really have to begin in the spring and summer, when leaves are green because a food-making process is taking place within leaf cells containing the pigment chlorophyll, said William Babcock, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

The chlorophyll absorbs energy from sunlight and uses it to transform carbon dioxide and water into sugars, starch and other carbohydrates.

But in the autumn, the cooler temperatures and the decrease in the duration and intensity of sunlight cause the leaves to stop their food-making process, according to the NWS. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow, orange or other pigments already in the leaf become visible.

Warm, sunny days and cool — but not freezing — nights bring out the most brilliant colors, whereas a few hard frosts can cause leaves to wither and fall without changing color, the weather service said.

The degree of color can also vary from tree to tree. Leaves directly exposed to the sun can turn red, while those on the shady side can be yellow, the NWS said. Leaves tend to have less color when the autumn is mostly cloudy and rainy.

Either way, fall foliage period is a busy time for tourism in Massachusetts.

In 2019, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the state hosted nearly 3.6 million domestic and international visitors during the six weeks from mid-September through October, according to the Office of Travel and Tourism.

That figure represents about 14% of the total visitors for the year.

And those visitors spent just over $3.2 billion and generated just under $200 million in state and local taxes for Massachusetts.

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Employee misclassification, gig economy major sources of lost unemployment insurance in Mass.

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Employee misclassification, gig economy major sources of lost unemployment insurance in Mass.

Almost one-third of audited employers in the Bay State in 2019 were found to have misclassified workers in jobs including construction, home health care and janitorial work — which one expert considered to be a massive undercount, potentially costing the state’s unemployment coffers millions of dollars.

“The capacity for auditing is well under the scope of the problem,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

In Massachusetts, 13% of employers had misclassified at least one employee, Stettner said Friday during a hearing of the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund Study Commission. A disproportionately high number of these workers were in the construction industry — up to 17.9%, he said — costing the state up to $40 million. The issue is particularly concentrated in the residential construction industry.

Misclassification is also heavily concentrated among people of color, as well as those without a physical office, such as home health care workers, janitors and truck drivers, in roles that are often subcontracted out, skirting the employment question altogether, and making these workers ineligible for unemployment insurance.

“This is the result of … what we call a ‘fission economy,’” he said. “In many sectors, the actual money-maker or the marketing controller is high up and they contract out deep into the supply chain. And many of those workers end up being subcontractors and really misclassified as employees.”

To combat this, Stettner recommended upping the enforcement of employee classification through audits. In 2019, the state conducted only 2,500 audits, found 772 (30%) misclassifications, and recouped only $57,220 in lost employer contributions. He also recommended increasing audits not triggered by complaints and focusing them on large companies in industries known for these misclassification practices.

Stettner also took aim at the losses from gig workers, including rideshare drivers, who are currently ensnared in a debate on Beacon Hill about whether they should be considered independent contractors or employees. Both a potential ballot question and bill in play would intentionally carve them out as contractors, while giving them some benefits.

In Massachusetts, he estimated that there could be over 200,000 gig workers in the state for companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart. While there is no estimate available for the amount lost in unemployment trust fund cash in Massachusetts, that figure was estimated to be $400 million over five years.

Although these rideshare companies pay nothing in unemployment taxes, over 300,000 gig workers in Massachusetts received federal pandemic-era unemployment benefits. “These workers can lose their job through no fault of their own,” he said. Given that they’re not employees, “who is going to protect them if they can’t get regular UI?”

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Red Sox remove Garrett Richards from Division Series roster, Matt Barnes to replace him

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Red Sox remove Garrett Richards from Division Series roster, Matt Barnes to replace him

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Garrett Richards only tossed three pitches in Game 1 of the Division Series on Thursday night, but will not be throwing again this series.

Richards was removed from the Red Sox’ Division Series roster prior to Game 2 on Friday night due to a left hamstring strain.

To replace him on the roster, All-Star Matt Barnes was activated off the taxi squad.

Richards had been a nice weapon out of relief since he was moved to the bullpen in mid-August, posting a 3.42 ERA and holding opponents to a .659 OPS in 26-1/3 innings. He was the first pitcher called upon to replace starter Eduardo Rodriguez on Thursday and needed just three pitches to retire Randy Arozarena, who ended up being the star of the game.

But Richards never went back out for another inning and was replaced by Nick Pivetta.

Barnes was a surprise omission from the roster for this series, particularly how well he’s pitched against the Rays over his career. Current Rays hitters have just a .161 average against Barnes. But the flame-throwing right-hander has struggled since the start of August, with a 9.26 ERA and 1.051 OPS against over 11-2/3 innings in that span.

If the Red Sox were to advance to the ALCS, Richards would not be eligible to pitch.

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Red Sox Notebook: J.D. Martinez returns to Game 2 lineup after missing two games with left ankle sprain

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Red Sox Notebook: J.D. Martinez returns to Game 2 lineup after missing two games with left ankle sprain

J.D. Martinez is back.

After missing Tuesday’s Wild Card victory and Thursday’s Game 1 loss with a left ankle sprain, the designated hitter back for the Red Sox for Friday night’s Game 2, batting sixth as the DH. The Red Sox waited as long as possible before deciding whether to start Martinez or not, but it was finally announced about an hour before game time after the team came off the field from batting practice.

Martinez injured his left ankle in the fifth inning of Sunday’s season finale victory over the Nationals when he slipped after stepping on second base on his way to play defense in right field, which Red Sox manager Alex Cora said is something he normally does. He played that inning but was then removed from the game.

Martinez was added to the Red Sox’ ALDS roster with the hope that he would play at some point in the series. He was available as a pinch hitter in Thursday’s loss and wasn’t used. But he was a full-go for Friday night, and it looked like his ankle was just fine. He went for 4-for-5 in the Red Sox’ 14-6 victory, including a tie-breaking three-run homer in the fifth inning.

Is Devers hurt?

One big talking point of Thursday’s loss was the status of Rafael Devers, who appeared to be grimacing and favoring his right wrist/forearm after several swings and misses. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the Red Sox third baseman suffered an arm injury in Tuesday’s Wild Card win, but it’s not clear how.

Cora once again downplayed any discomfort Devers may be experiencing at the plate, saying again that it’s part of the wear and tear of playing a full season.

“Like I said, over 162 games you’re not going to be 100 percent,” Cora said. “He’s posting and that’s the most important thing. I don’t think everybody is 100 percent right now. They go through their day, they get treatment if they need to and they get ready to play the game and that’s where we’re at with everybody.”

Kiké looking for groove again

Kiké Hernandez hadn’t been quite the same at the plate since his return after testing positive for COVID-19.

After finding his groove as Cora’s leadoff man this summer, Hernandez’s two-week COVID stoppage seems to have sapped that momentum. In 22 games to finish the regular season following his return, Hernandez batted just .213 with a .665 OPS. He was 1-for-7 in two postseason games entering Friday. But that’s when it looked like he found something. Hernandez became the 10th player in postseason history to record a five-hit game in Friday’s win, going 5-for-6 with three doubles and a home run.

“It’s about controlling the strike zone,” Cora said. “When he is really good, really hot, he is not expanding in hitter’s counts. We knew that early in the season. We saw that, and sometimes he gets to 2-0, 3-1, and what do we want to do in those counts. Obviously he can do damage, but at the same time it has to be in certain areas. He cannot expand because if they throw a fastball, we’re going on swing at the fastball because it’s a fastball. There’s a lot of “fastballs” in that sentence.

“But just control the aggression. I think that’s the most important thing, and when he does that, that’s when he becomes dangerous.”

Odds & ends

Nathan Eovaldi will start Sunday’s Game 3 at Fenway Park. … Nick Pivetta, who pitched 4 2/3 innings of relief in Thursday’s loss, is still a candidate to start a potential Game 4 on Monday.

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More than 130 countries reach deal on corporate minimum tax

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More than 130 countries reach deal on corporate minimum tax

More than 130 countries have agreed on sweeping changes to how big global companies are taxed, including a 15% minimum corporate rate designed to deter multinationals from stashing profits in low-tax countries.

The deal announced Friday is an attempt to address the ways globalization and digitalization have changed the world economy. It would allow countries to tax some of the earnings of companies located elsewhere that make money through online retailing, web advertising and other activities.

U.S. President Joe Biden has been one of the driving forces behind the agreement as governments around the world seek to boost revenue following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agreement among 136 countries representing 90% of the global economy was announced by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which hosted the talks that led to it. The OECD said that the minimum tax would reap some $150 billion for governments.

“Today’s agreement represents a once-in-a-generation accomplishment for economic diplomacy,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. She said it would end a “race to the bottom” in which countries outbid each other with lower tax rates.

“Rather than competing on our ability to offer low corporate rates,” she said, “America will now compete on the skills of our workers and our capacity to innovate, which is a race we can win.”

The deal faces several hurdles before it can take effect. U.S. approval of related tax legislation proposed by Biden will be key, especially since the U.S. is home to many of the biggest multinational companies. A rejection by Congress would cast uncertainty over the entire project.

The big U.S. tech companies like Google and Amazon have supported the OECD negotiations. One reason is that countries would agree to withdraw individual digital services taxes they have imposed on them in return for the right to tax a part of their earnings under the global scheme.

That means the companies would deal with just the one international tax regime, not a multitude of different ones depending on the country.

“This accord opens the way to a true tax revolution for the 21st century,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said. “Finally the digital giants will pay their just share in taxes in the countries — including France — where they produce.”

On Thursday, Ireland announced that it would join the agreement, ditching a low-tax policy that has led companies like Google and Facebook to base their European operations there.

Although the Irish agreement was a step forward for the deal, developing countries have raised objections and Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have indicated they will not sign up.

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Takeaways from Timberwolves’ second preseason game: Amped up intensity, Russell regresses, Nowell shines

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Takeaways from Timberwolves’ second preseason game: Amped up intensity, Russell regresses, Nowell shines

Preseason is in full swing in the NBA. The exhibition season is often synonymous with a lack of juice, particularly from marquee players as everyone of note simply works to ramp themselves up to regular season game shape and form.

That has yet to be the case with Minnesota.

While the end result isn’t particularly important — the Timberwolves edged Denver 114-112 in overtime on the road to improve to 2-0 in preseason play — the intensity the Wolves continue to bring two games in is a welcomed sight for a team that’s lacked a consistent competitive drive for years.

During Friday’s contest, one of the officials actually told Timberwolves coach Chris Finch that this was the firs game the official had worked that felt as though it featured a regular season intensity.

“So that was good to hear,” Finch said. “That’s probably been the brightest spot of a lot of good things so far is that our team spirit is really high. Guys are playing hard and they’re playing for each other. We’ve got to continue to keep pushing ourselves to get in top top shape. This was a good night for that playing in altitude and playing a really good team.”

Karl-Anthony Towns said Minnesota is treating each of these games as if they’re the real deal.

“We not wasting no days and no games,” he said. “We take this very, very serious. While our execution may not have been there, the intensity, the competitiveness, the fire was there. We gotta be more locked in mentally to what our assignments are.”

One player who didn’t necessarily play with the utmost fire and passion was D’Angelo Russell. It was a stark 180-degree turn for the point guard, who was hyper-engaged in Minnesota’s preseason opener.

But on Friday, Russell played an uninspired 24 minutes in which he settled for bad shots — going 3 for 12 from the field — and lacked much in the way of urgency.

That may have leaked into the starting lineup, which featured Russell, Towns, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels and Jarred Vanderbilt on Friday. That was a change from Monday’s lineup, with Vanderbilt plugged in for Okogie. Finch said prior to the game that Minnesota may go with a different starting lineup in each of its four exhibition contests as the Wolves tinker with different combinations.

The team got off to a slow start Friday, digging itself an early 21-6 hole.

The reserves dug Minnesota out of that deficit, and many other deficits throughout the night. Finch has repeatedly raved about the team’s depth, and that continues to show itself in exhibition games that feature most of the roster in action.

It was Jaylen Nowell who specifically shined Friday. The scoring guard finished with 12 points in 13 minutes. All 12 of those points came in the final 5 minutes, 22 seconds of game action.

“I was feeling extreme confidence no matter if I played two minutes, 30 minutes, I just made sure whenever I get my name called I just stay the same, even keel,” Nowell said. “That’s always been my whole life, so I was just staying confident and to hit those shots, it was great. I kind of expect to hit those type of shots. Those are some of my best shots I like to shoot. So I just made sure to get to my spots and put it up.”

Nowell scored six points in the final 22 seconds of regulation, including a four-point play and a finish at the rim with just three seconds to play to send the game to the extra session.

In overtime, Nowell went on a personal 6-0 run to close the game out, capped by the game-winning jumper with 10 seconds to play. It will be tough for reserves to secure roles in Minnesota’s rotation, but Nowell is making his case.

“His defense has been really good. That’s what we’ve needed him to do,” Finch said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can put the ball in the hoop. He’s elite at that. He keeps playing like that, he’s going to make it into the rotation, and maybe in a more regular manner.”

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The Loop Fantasy Football Update Week 5: Vikings’ Cook as iffy as ever

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The Loop Fantasy Football Update Week 5: Vikings’ Cook as iffy as ever

UPDATE: 12:34 a.m. Saturday
It’s another week, and another must-win game for the Vikings. And another questionable designation for star running back Dalvin Cook.

The consensus No. 2 fantasy running back was limited again at Friday’s practice, and it’s very likely he will not be a 100 percent participant when the Vikings play host to the winless Lions on Sunday.

Cook managed only 34 yards in limited duty last week against Cleveland. Will he see much more action in a game the Vikings should win handily in spite of his limitations?

There’s a fighting chance this will be a Kirk Cousins crazy-go-nuts game. And you might want to leave Cook on your bench if you have stronger options.

Even more doubtful is the consensus No. 1, Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey. He returned to practice this week, but he is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against Philadelphia.

San Francisco will have to go without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle in its must-win game vs. Arizona. Is Trey Lance worth a gamble? He might prove better as a fantasy QB than a real-life QB on Sunday.

Lots of big names ruled out in the past couple of days: Tennessee wideout Julio Jones, Tampa Bay tight end Rob Gronkowski, Atlanta WR Russell Gage and two Giants receivers, Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard.

Players listed as questionable on Saturday morning include Cincinnati RB Joe Mixon, Arizona running back Chase Edmonds, Washington RB Antonio Gibson, Detroit RB D’Andre Swift, Denver WR Courtland Sutton and Miami wideout Devante Parker.

On the positive side, Denver will have Teddy Bridgewater on Sunday in Pittsburgh, as the former Viking passed the concussion protocols.

Meanwhile, big news Friday came out of Seattle, where QB Russell Wilson underwent surgery on his significantly dislocated middle finger. He’ll be out at least the next month, which will prompt an extended middle finger from many fantasy mavens counting on DangerRuss. It should also prompt them to try and find a replacement immediately, instead of waiting for next week’s waiver period.

ORIGINAL POST: 10:03 a.m. Wednesday

The moment came late Sunday afternoon when San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo injured his calf, sending former North Dakota State Bison legend Trey Lance into the fray.

That meant that all five first-round quarterbacks of the Class of 2021 had moved into the No. 1 role with their teams.

Four of the five are expected to start this week, and Lance could make it an uneven five if Jimmy G is unable to go and the 49ers’ torch is passed for at least one week.

What are the fantasy prospects for the five frosh? Depends on whether you’re talking short-term, or the long haul:

Trey Lance (49ers) — Sure, his first two NFL completions went for touchdowns, but Lance hasn’t exactly lit up the stat sheet. He’s 10 for 19 for 162 yards and 3 TDs, and he ran seven times for 41 yards in his relief appearance against Seattle. The Niners desperately need to win at unbeaten Arizona this week, so they will go with Garoppolo if at all possible. Stay tuned.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, right, talks with quarterback Trey Lance (5) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars) — The Clemson dude who never lost a regular season game in high school or college is now 0 for ever as a pro. He’s 29th in passer rating and has seven interceptions and five TD passes in his first four games. But at least he wasn’t caught getting a lap dance in a Columbus bar like his coach.

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Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) scrambles from pressure during an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

Mac Jones (Patriots) — Jones was the last first-rounder back in May, but he has clearly been the No. 1 rookie QB of the fall. While he has only four TD passes, he has completed 70 percent of his passes. And he wasn’t embarrassed in his high-profile matchup in last Sunday night’s Brady Bowl.

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New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) signals from the line during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Zach Wilson (Jets) — What a difference a week makes. After struggling badly in his previous
two games, the former Brigham Young wiz led the Jets to an upset win over Tennessee, with 297 passing yards and two TDs. In fact, it’s not completely crazy to consider picking Wilson up on waivers this week and starting him vs. Atlanta.

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New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson looks to hand off the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Justin Fields (Bears) — The former Buckeye also had a Week 4 revival, albeit vs. the lowly Lions. Fields completed only 11 passes but tallied 209 yards. And that was enough to likely secure another start this week in Las Vegas, unless Andy Dalton becomes suddenly healthy. The world awaits coach Matt Nagy’s next move with bated breath.

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Detroit Lions linebacker Charles Harris, left, strips Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields, right, of the ball during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

SITTING STARS
Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow has been hot, but he will cool off without a sufficient running threat vs. Green Bay. … Philadelphia has pretty much given up on Miles Sanders, and you should too against Carolina. … Same goes for the putrid Miami offense and RB Myles Gaskin vs. the mighty Buccaneers. … Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris will be kept in check by the Broncos. … Chargers RB Austin Ekeler, who starred Monday night, will be less prolific vs. Cleveland on Sunday. … San Francisco tight end George Kittle will continue to struggle vs. the unbeaten Cardinals. … And while you should still start all your Chiefs stars, they will have less-than-glorious stats in their matchup against Buffalo’s No. 1 defense.

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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) escapes pressure in the pocket during an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

MATCHUP GAME
The Kirk Cousins MVP Express, which was derailed last week by Cleveland, gets back on track thanks to Detroit. … Rams QB Matthew Stafford will rebound this week against Seattle’s league-worst defense, and that’s also good for receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. … New Orleans QB Jameis Winston will also look better vs. Washington … It’s OK to put Giants RB Saquon Barkley back in your starting lineup. He’ll continue his revival vs. Dallas … Jacksonville RB James Robinson will run so well against Tennessee that people will forget, for a second or two, the embarrassment that is Urban Meyer. … New England RB Damien Harris, against lowly Houston, will atone for his -4-yard performance against Tampa Bay. … And the Colts should be able to throw well vs. Baltimore, so you can count on WR Michael Pittman.

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Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) scrambles with the ball during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021 in Minneapolis. Cleveland won 14-7. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

INJURY WATCH
Just as Chicago RB David Montgomery was looking like a star, he injures his knee. He’ll be out 4-5 weeks, so former Chief Damien Williams has a great opportunity to shine. …. Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon is said to be week to week with an ankle injury, so fellow Oklahoma alum Samaje Perine moves up to No. 1 there. … Miami WR Will Fuller has a broken finger, but that offense is too broken to use him anyway. … Carolina RB Christian McCaffrey is stiil out, and players sidelined for a while last week include Jaguars WR D.J. Chark and Saints backup RB Tony Jones Jr,, while Tampa Bay TE Rob Gronkowski remains doubtful, … Players listed as questionable include Rams RB Darrell Henderson, Seattle RB Chris Carson. San Fran running back Elijah Mitchell and tight end George Kittle, Tennessee receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, Steelers WR Chase Claypool, Giants wideout Sterling Shepard, Washington TE Logan Thomas and Rams tight end Tyler Higbee,

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Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery grimaces in pain after being injured during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

THE DEEPEST SLEEPERS
While high-ranked tight ends have proved disappointing, from George Kittle to Kyle Pitts to Logan Thomas, two appear to be having breakout seasons. Dallas’ Dalton Schultz has effectively emerged as the Cowboys’ No. 3 receiving threat, with 20 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns. In Buffalo, Dawson Knox has become a TD machine, reaching paydirt on 20 percent of his targets. His four TDs have him tied for second in the league, trailing only Kupp.

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Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz (86) is tackled by Carolina Panthers cornerback Rashaan Melvin (29) after a catch during the first half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

THE THURSDAY PICK
Rams at Seahawks (+2½):
Pick: Rams by 4

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Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford rolls out during the second half in an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

BREAKING NEWS
We’ll be updating our column, based on the latest injuries and innuendo, right up until Sunday’s kickoff. Go to TwinCities.com/theloop.

You can hear Kevin Cusick on Wednesdays on Bob Sansevere’s “BS Show” podcast on iTunes. You can follow Kevin on Twitter — @theloopnow. He can be reached at [email protected]

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High school football: Woodbury rolls over Park

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High school football: Woodbury rolls over Park

In Park’s (3-3) return to Class 6A Friday evening, Woodbury (5-1) dominated all night to win 55-21 after an explosive offensive game in Cottage Grove.

“Our quarterback play was outstanding. (George Bjellos) made the right reads. Most of our run game he has to read, so it’s not just the throws but it’s making sure we run the right play and we’re making the right decision with the ball,” Woodbury head coach Andy Hill said. “We didn’t turn it over. So when you can do that, not turn it over, the defense plays well, you always have a chance.”

Woodbury got off to a fast start, intercepting the ball in the end zone on Park’s opening drive. They then drove 80 yards as senior RJ Altman capped off the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run. The Royals took an early 7-0 lead after converting on  a short fourth down and a long third down.

Park quickly responded, as senior Blake Johnson received a screen pass from senior Evan Berth and took it for a 63-yard touchdown to even the game at 7-7.

The Wolfpack forced the Royals to punt from the end zone on their next possession, and Park took possession on Woodbury’s 26-yard line. Then Johnson ran for a four-yard touchdown, his second touchdown of the night , to give the Wolfpack a 14-7 lead.

But the Wolfpack’s lead quickly faded as the Royals scored four touchdowns in the second quarter to Park’s one.

On their first drive of the second quarter, Woodbury’s sophomore quarterback ]Bjellos rushed twice for 58 yards and finished off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to senior Blake Rohrer. However, they missed the extra point and still trailed the Wolfpack 14-13.

On their next possession, the Royals forced the Wolfpack to punt. Bjellos went right back on the attack as he ran for 21 yards, then threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Rohrer. Woodbury took a 21-14 lead by converting a two-point conversion on a trick play.

Park scored its last touchdown of the evening with four minutes remaining in the first half as Berth  scored on a 1-yard run to equalize the game at 21-21, capping a 76-yard drive.

Woodbury added two more touchdowns just before halftime, as Altman had a 2-yard touchdown run, while senior wide receiver Joey Gerlach caught an 11-yard pass, building a 35-21 lead at the half.

At the half, Bjellos had five completions for 85 yards and three touchdowns, while adding five rushes for 107 yards. Berth had 10 completions for 152 yards and one touchdown for Park.

“He’s an underrated runner,” Hill said of Bjellos. “He plays within himself. He knows the offense. He knows what we’re trying to accomplish out of the formation of a play. He just chooses A or B, and he’s been choosing correctly all year.”

In the second half, Woodbury made keen adjustments, and Park could not find any way to get into the end zone. They turned the ball over on downs twice, punted once and conceded an interception.

Through stern defense and explosive offensive plays, the Royals added three more touchdowns in the second half, including a pick-six early in the fourth quarter.

“They got some good coaches (Woodbury) who took away what we wanted to try and do offensively,” Park head coach Rick Fryklund said. “Defensively, we just didn’t execute to stop basically anything what they wanted to do in that second half.”

For Woodbury, Bjellos finished the game 10 of 17 for 154 yards and four passing touchdowns, while adding  seven rushes for 142 yards and one touchdown. Rohrer had four receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns, while Gerlach caught two passes (16 yards) for two touchdowns. Altman had 139 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.

For Park, Berth finished 13 of 22 for 173 yards and one touchdown, while scoring another touchdown on the ground after rushing four times for 21 yards. Johnson had a huge game for the Wolfpack as he ran for 75 yards on 19 carries, had one running touchdown, and he caught three passes for 85 yards and one touchdown.

 

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SF Giants beat Dodgers in NLDS Game 1 as Webb’s legend grows, offense slugs three homers

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SF Giants beat Dodgers in NLDS Game 1 as Webb’s legend grows, offense slugs three homers

SAN FRANCISCO — The legend of Logan Webb is growing.

After turning in one of the most memorable regular-season performances in Giants history in a division-clinching victory Sunday against the Padres, Webb returned to the mound on Friday at Oracle Park for his postseason debut and delivered one of the best starts in the team’s storied playoff history.

With help from Buster Posey, Kris Bryant and Brandon Crawford who all homered, Webb led the Giants past the rival Dodgers and earned a well-deserved win in a 4-0 victory in Game 1 of the NLDS.

“I don’t think there’s any question the last game of the season for Logan carried over into this one,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We talked a little bit at the last game of the regular season how much confidence he has, but that’s been building for a long time.”

In the first-ever playoff matchup between the Giants and Dodgers in baseball’s modern era, Webb tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings, racked up 10 strikeouts and departed to a thunderous ovation from a crowd of 41,935 at Oracle Park. In a high-stakes showdown, the right-hander from Rocklin became the fourth major league pitcher ever to record double-digit strikeouts without walking a batter in his postseason debut.

“Logan, the star of the night,” Bryant said. “I’m just so impressed with him. His first playoff experience and he was out there pretending like it was a game in the backyard. It was really fun to watch.”

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 8: San Francisco Giants’ starting pitcher Logan Webb reacts after striking out the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger with two outs in the seventh inning of Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., FrIday, Oct. 8, 2021. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

The list of Giants pitchers with comparable playoff performances to Webb is unsurprisingly short as he joined franchise icons Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner in a club of pitchers to record at least 7 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out 10-plus hitters.

“I actually thought it felt a little bit like (Tim) Lincecum’s against the Braves in (2010),” Posey said while recalling Lincecum’s 14-strikeout outing against Atlanta in the NLDS. “Timmy had nine shutout, but Logan had the potential to do that tonight if he stays out there.”

After Tommy La Stella reached base with a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first, Posey crushed one of the farthest opposite-field home runs ever hit by a right-handed batter at the Giants’ waterfront ballpark. With Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler behind in the count 3-0, Posey drove a 96-mile per hour fastball off a brick column behind the right-field arcade seats before the ball bounced into McCovey Cove.

“The dang column kept me from a splash hit,” Posey said.

1633759632 206 SF Giants beat Dodgers in NLDS Game 1 as Webbs
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 8: The San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey hits a 2-run homer off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Walker Buehler in the first inning of Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., FrIday, Oct. 8, 2021. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

The homer was Posey’s first in the playoffs since Game 4 of the 2012 World Series, when he hit a sixth-inning home run off former Tigers starter and current Dodgers ace Max Scherzer in the Giants’ clinching victory.

Posey’s swing against Buehler was hardly a sign of things to come for the Giants as the Dodgers right-hander settled in and held San Francisco scoreless over his next five innings. Bryant and La Stella each had two hits against the Dodgers starter, but every other Giants hitter was flummoxed by a pitcher who had five quality starts against them during the regular season.

Buehler was cruising when manager Dave Roberts allowed him to take the mound in the bottom of the seventh, but the decision backfired on the Dodgers when Bryant hit a solo home run out to left-center field to extend the Giants’ lead to 3-0.

1633759632 767 SF Giants beat Dodgers in NLDS Game 1 as Webbs
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 08: Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler #21 reacts as San Francisco Giants’ Kris Bryant #23 rounds the bases after hitting a a solo home run in the seventh inning of Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

Bryant’s homer was his first in the postseason since the 2017 NLCS when the former Cubs star took Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw deep in a blowout loss for Chicago.

With the Giants ahead 3-0 in the ninth, fans at Oracle Park chanted “M-V-P” as Crawford came to the plate to face Dodgers southpaw Alex Vesia. The veteran shortstop’s homer was the second he has hit in the playoffs and follows the go-ahead grand slam he slugged in the 2014 NL wild card game at PNC Park against the Pirates.

Posey, Bryant and Crawford all have World Series rings and extensive postseason experience, but their heroics from Friday’s game against the Dodgers won’t overshadow the greatest showing of Webb’s brief career.

The Giants starter threw a season-high 38 changeups and set a new career-high by generating 12 swings and misses with the pitch.

“He’s got three pitches that are elite,” Posey said. “It’s definitely a luxury on my end to pick and choose depending on the game and the lineup that we have and the action I’m seeing on his pitches to which one we want to lean on more.”

The 24-year-old posted one of the highest groundball rates of any major league starter this year and found success keeping the ball out of the air against a Dodgers lineup that recorded nine groundball outs against him.

“I think to be quite honest we didn’t make adjustments,” Roberts said. “I thought he had good command tonight, mostly glove side versus right-handed hitters. The slider, the change down below. We just chased a lot more than we should have.”

The Giants committed two errors on Friday, but Webb received crucial help from his defense in the fourth inning when Stella stopped Justin Turner’s groundball up the middle and started a sensational 4-6-3 double play with a back-handed glove flip to Crawford.

The play was reminiscent of the iconic 4-6-3 double play Crawford and former teammate Joe Panik turned in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series against the Royals, which also started with an on-target glove flip that came with a high degree of difficulty.

“Definitely a nice SportsCenter top 10 play,” Bryant said.

1633759632 364 SF Giants beat Dodgers in NLDS Game 1 as Webbs
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 8: The San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey, who hit a 2-run homer in the first inning, congratulates Brandon Crawford on his solo shot in the eighth against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., FrIday, Oct. 8, 2021. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
1633759633 701 SF Giants beat Dodgers in NLDS Game 1 as Webbs
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 8: Giants longtime broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper arrive to throw out the first pitch before Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., FrIday, Oct. 8, 2021. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

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Chris Sale lit up, but Tanner Houck plays hero as Red Sox steamroll Rays, 14-6, to even American League Division Series

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Chris Sale lit up, but Tanner Houck plays hero as Red Sox steamroll Rays, 14-6, to even American League Division Series

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — “The starting pitcher sets the tone” is a phrase that’s growing extinct.

There aren’t too many starting pitchers anymore. Just pitchers.

Chris Sale started Friday’s game for the Red Sox and allowed five runs in the first inning, never to return. By the end of the back-and-forth slugfest at Tropicana Field, the starting pitchers were a distant memory.

Instead, it was Tanner Houck who played the role of hero, throwing five magnificent innings out of relief while the Red Sox bats mounted a snowballing comeback as the Sox escaped Tropicana Field with an 14-6 win, evening the American League Division Series at one game apiece.

“What this guy did was unbelievable,” Kiké Hernandez said of Houck.

His performance on just two days of rest brought back memories of Nathan Eovaldi, who threw six strong innings out of relief on one day of rest in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series.

But unlike Eovaldi’s heroic act three years ago, the Red Sox actually won this game.

Houck entered with his team in a 5-2 deficit, then promptly retired the first 11 batters he faced. Including his five perfect innings against the Nationals last weekend and a perfect inning against the Yankees on Tuesday, Houck had retired 27 batters in a row while striking out 15 of them.

“I had no idea, to be honest,” Houck said of his perfect run. “I was just focused on getting outs and putting the team in position to win.”

He finally allowed a single to Wander Franco in the fifth inning, and Ji-Man Choi took him deep for a solo shot in the sixth, but Houck finished with five innings of one-run ball allowing two hits, no walks and striking out five. He threw 61 pitches, 44 for strikes.

And most importantly, he walked off the mound with an 8-6 lead.

“It truly is a surreal night of being able to actually put things fully together,” he said.

Being optioned back and forth to Triple-A Worcester, shuffled in and out of the starting rotation, Houck was fighting imperfect conditions all year. But the results never faded. In parts of two big league seasons, he’s struck out 31% of the batters he’s faced, the second-highest mark of any Red Sox pitcher in that span.

And though Eduardo Rodriguez and Sale combined to throw just 2 2/3 innings while allowing seven runs in two starts this series, Nick Pivetta and Houck piggy-backed with lengthy outings that saved the Sox’ pen and gave them a chance to win.

“He’s been amazing,” manager Alex Cora said. “He doesn’t panic. He stays in the moment. He just wants to keep going and get people out. He’s obviously going to be down for a few days but today was huge for us. It was huge.”

The Red Sox actually had an early lead in this game. They were aggressive against Rays’ rookie right-hander Shane Baz in the first inning and jumped ahead 2-0 on a pair of RBI singles by Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo.

But Sale had neither his best stuff nor his best command. Most of his pitches were simply not competitive. And he generated just three whiffs, all three coming on sliders, while his mid-90s fastball was knocked around. The knockout blow was a grand slam to Jordan Luplow on an 0-2 fastball just above the zone to put the Sox behind, 5-2.

At that point, Verdugo said Cora went up and down the dugout screaming, “it’s all right, we got a whole game, eight more innings, keep going.”

“I felt like that really set the tone,” Verdugo said.

After Houck came in to settle the game down, the Red Sox offense showed no signs of injury, despite two of their best hitters, J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers, clearly hurting.

Devers, who appears to be nursing an arm injury but Cora has been vague about diagnosing it, looked to be in pain all night as he drew two key walks in the middle innings, then added a two-run homer to straightaway center in the eighth to put the Rays to bed.

Martinez, who hadn’t played since exiting Sunday’s series finale with a sprained ankle, had a 4-for-5 night with the decisive three-run homer in the fifth inning.

The Red Sox combined to hit five home runs, including one each from each of their hitters from No. 2 through No. 6 in the lineup: Hernandez, Devers, Bogaerts, Verdugo and Martinez.

It was the most homers the Red Sox have ever hit in a playoff game.

“We’ve been behind plenty of times,” Cora said. “We hit the ball hard yesterday. Offensively, we’re getting to who we are.”

Hernandez has been cold at the dish but busted out with a 5-for-6 performance. With three doubles and a home run, he became the first Red Sox player ever to have four extra-base hits in a playoff game.

Verdugo had three hits and made a pair of great catches, including one where he reached over the wall in foul territory down the first-base line and made a fully-stretched grab through a handful of fans.

In front of a fairly split crowd of 37,616 fans who were having dueling chants amid the steady sound of cowbells all night, the Sox managed to overcome the momentum from Luplow’s first-inning grand slam and looked like a much different team from the one that didn’t do much of anything one night earlier.

They finished with 20 hits, including nine extra-base hits, while going 8-for-17 (.471) with runners in scoring position.

“We have a lot of good hitters on this team,” Martinez said. “Hitting is contagious. And these guys came out today raking right out of the game. Everybody had a great night tonight. It wasn’t just one person.”

Eovaldi will be on the bump for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon at 4:07 p.m. ET as the series moves back to Fenway Park.

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