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Garrett Whitlock, Nathan Eovaldi falter late, Red Sox dealt crushing Game 4 loss as Astros even ALCS

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Garrett Whitlock, Nathan Eovaldi falter late, Red Sox dealt crushing Game 4 loss as Astros even ALCS

With a one-run lead into the late innings on Tuesday night, Red Sox manager Alex Cora had a plan of attack, his two best pitchers rested and ready, needing six outs from them to take a commanding lead in this American League Championship Series.

The Houston Astros, however, had other plans.

Leading narrowly all night, the Red Sox had little margin for error that not even Garrett Whitlock or Nathan Eovaldi could protect them from. One game-tying home run and one stunning ninth-inning implosion later, the Red Sox suddenly found themselves deadlocked in the ALCS, tied two games apiece after a crushing 9-2 loss to the Astros in Tuesday night’s Game 4 at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox will now turn to Chris Sale for a pivotal Game 5 on Wednesday night, needing a big performance from him to put them back in front of this series before it shifts back to Houston.

“We’ll be ready tomorrow,” Cora said. “Just like every day. You win, you turn the page. You lose, you turn the page, and be ready.”

With a 2-1 lead going into the seventh, Cora turned to Whitlock, his most reliable pitcher all season. A scoreless seventh put them six outs away from being one win away from the World Series. But that’s when it all went wrong.

The Red Sox were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position to that point and it caught up to them. Jose Altuve hammered the first pitch of the eighth into the Monster seats to tie it, suddenly taking all the air out of Fenway. Then, they started emptying the ballpark. In the ninth, Cora went to Eovaldi, who gave up a leadoff double to Carlos Correa, but the right-hander nearly — and should have — walked away unblemished.

After striking out both Kyle Tucker and Aledmys Diaz, Eovaldi had a 1-2 count on Jason Castro. His fourth pitch of the at-bat, a breaking ball that painted the outside corner, had Eovaldi taking at least three steps to the dugout thinking he had strike three. But home plate umpire Laz Diaz ruled it a ball.

“I thought it was a strike,” Eovaldi said. “But, again, I’m in the moment. … I had two strikeouts, and then facing Castro I felt like I was in control of the at-bat. I felt like I made a good pitch on the outside corner, and it didn’t go my way, but I got to come back and I got to answer back and make another good pitch.”

Cora said he needed to take another look, but asked if Eovaldi was deflated by the call, the manager said he was upset.

Two pitches later, Castro took advantage of his second life as he sent a 2-2 splitter into the gap in right for the go-ahead run. Instead of a tied game with the Red Sox having a chance to walk off, the Astros had a lead and never gave it up. Eovaldi then walked Altuve, which ended his night.

Eovaldi pitched 5 1/3 innings in Saturday’s Game 2 win, but Cora was only looking for an inning out of him. He liked the matchups for the right-hander, and it nearly worked right to his plan.

“He was going to give us one inning and we felt right there in that pocket it was good for him,” Cora said. “I wasn’t going to use him in extra innings because then I get tempted to use him for six, so I decided to use him in the ninth, and it didn’t work.”

It got away from the Red Sox after that. Martin Perez was asked to keep it a one-run game. But his first pitch was crushed by Michael Brantley for a three-run double that ended any hopes of a comeback. With a seven-run ninth, the Astros took back home field advantage and the momentum in this series.

“That was a huge win,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “To tie that up, to guarantee us to go back home and have some more games at home, so we got another big game tomorrow.”

It probably shouldn’t have gotten to that point in the ninth. Despite chasing another Astros starter early — this time sending out Zack Greinke after 1 1/3 innings — the Red Sox were unable to produce the kind of damage they did in their Games 2 and 3 victories. Xander Bogaerts’ two-run homer in the first inning was all they could produce despite having at least one baserunner in all but one inning. They took seven walks.

In the third, with a runner on, J.D. Martinez struck out on a poorly missed strike three call, which should have been ball four, by Diaz, which earned the ire of Martinez and Alex Cora, who was emotional in his argument.

In the fourth, Christian Arroyo hit a one-out triple to the right-field corner, but Schwarber grounded out with the Astros’ infield in, and Kiké Hernández popped out.

Bogaerts hit a one-out double in the fifth that nearly missed being a homer, and he couldn’t get in either.

The Red Sox finished the night 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

“We didn’t get hits,” Cora said. “We didn’t produce too much, but I think the approach was good.”

It was a brutal loss, but that’s been nothing new for this Red Sox team this season. They’ve made a habit of turning tough defeats away quickly, and now they have to do it again with their season on the line. Their faith hasn’t been shaken.

​​”We’re feeling pretty confident,” Eovaldi said. “Tonight we had to battle. We had to work. We were in the game all the way up until the ninth inning. … I think that’s been one of our strengths is being able to turn the page and come in tomorrow. We’re here tomorrow, and we got to make sure we win tomorrow to be able to take Game 6 in Houston and be ready to go.”

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

The Miami Dolphins didn’t play a wild-card round playoff game, but they still found a way to lose over the weekend.

The Dolphins’ first-round draft pick took another blow with the San Francisco 49ers’ upset win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday evening.

Now, Miami will be selecting No. 25, at best, in the draft’s first round after the 49ers advanced to the divisional round of the postseason.

San Francisco now plays at the NFC’s top-seeded Green Bay Packers. With another upset, the pick that goes to the Dolphins falls to 29. A 49ers loss Sunday would’ve likely given Miami the 22nd pick.

The Dolphins own the 49ers’ selection while the Philadelphia Eagles have Miami’s pick due to the two trades the Dolphins pulled off with the NFC teams last offseason ahead of the 2021 NFL draft. Miami traded back to No. 12 with San Francisco, sending the No. 3 pick, which previously belonged to the Houston Texans, to the 49ers. A move up from 12 to 6, where wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was selected, followed and sent the Dolphins’ 2022 first-rounder to Philadelphia.

In the movement, the Dolphins are now selecting at least 10 spots lower than they would be had they traded the 49ers’ pick to the Eagles instead of their own. The Miami selection going to Philadelphia in the upcoming draft is No. 15. The Dolphins also got a 2023 first-round pick from the 49ers in the deal.

San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who is one of the Dolphins’ seven candidates being interviewed for their head coaching vacancy, could theoretically play a role in negatively affecting his first draft pick as Miami head coach should he be the choice for the job.

The Dolphins appear more likely than they once were to keep their first-round pick after the Saturday news that the franchise plans to continue working with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

The NFL draft is ordered by first having the 18 non-playoff teams pick in reverse order of record, with lower strength of schedule serving as a tiebreaker. Picks 19-24 are then reserved for the wild-card round losers in reverse order of regular-season record. Picks 25-28 go to divisional round losers and so on until the Super Bowl champion picks 32nd.

Bears interested in Dolphins exec

The Chicago Bears are already seeking interviews with ex-Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and ex-Dolphins coach Brian Flores for their two vacancies in the respective roles.

Now, they have requested permission to interview current Miami executive Reggie McKenzie for the general manager job, according to The MMQB.

McKenzie has been with the Dolphins as senior personnel executive since 2019 after spending the previous seven seasons (2012-18) as the Oakland Raiders’ general manager. In 2016, McKenzie was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year by Sporting News, The MMQB and the PFWA.

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State Fair reports 2021 operating loss, raises admission rates for 2022

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State Fair reports 2021 operating loss, raises admission rates for 2022

Although Minnesotans had to go without their beloved State Fair in 2020, it returned despite numerous pandemic-related obstacles in 2021 to become one of the best-attended North American events of the year, according to Fair officials.

In spite of the comeback, the Fair reported an operating loss of $1.3 million last year, general manager Jerry Hammer told the governing body of the Great Minnesota Get-Together on Sunday. When the Fair was canceled in 2020, the loss was $16.5 million, he said.

The Minnesota State Agricultural Society, which oversees the state’s end-of-summer ritual, held its the 163rd annual meeting in Bloomington over the weekend.

The 2022 State Fair will take place between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5. The new admission prices will be $17 for those 13-64 years old; people 5-12 and 65 and older will pay $15. Those under 4 are admitted for free. The increased price begins Feb. 1. Discount tickets will be on sale for $13 for all ages until Jan. 31 at mnstatefair.org/tickets.

Despite the operating loss, the 2021 Fair drew 1.3 million attendees, Hammer said, adding that pulling off the fair in 2021 amid the ongoing pandemic was “miraculous.”

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Baylor WR, 3-star OL commit to CU Buffs

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CU Buffs football early National Signing Day class of 2022

One of the top receivers for the Big 12 champs is coming to Boulder.

On Sunday, RJ Sneed II announced that he will play his final season of college football at Colorado after spending the previous five years at Baylor.

Also on Sunday, Van Wells, an offensive lineman from C.E. King High School in Houston, announced his verbal commitment to the Buffaloes after spending the weekend in Boulder on an official visit.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, Sneed helped Baylor go 12-2 and win the Big 12 championship game, as well as the Sugar Bowl this season. He was second for the Bears in catches (46) and receiving yards (573) and caught two touchdown passes.

During his career, Sneed has 133 catches for 1,564 yards and eight touchdowns. After playing minimally in 2017 and redshirting in 2018, Sneed finished third on the team in receptions (42) and yards (437) in 2019. In 2020, he led the Bears in receptions (39), receiving yards (497) and touchdowns (three) and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors.

A 2017 graduate of Cypress Ranch (Tex.) High School, Sneed was a three-star prospect who had 20 scholarship offers, including from Colorado. He had offers from 17 Power 5 schools, including Alabama, Mississippi, TCU, Arizona State, California, UCLA and Utah.

Sneed graduated from Baylor with a degree in health, kinesiology and leisure studies in August of 2020 and has been working on a master’s in sports pedagogy. He will have one season to play at CU.

With the Buffs, Sneed will provide production and veteran leadership to a group that has lost four players to the transfer portal this offseason: Chris Carpenter, Keith Miller, Brenden Rice and La’Vontae Shenault. Rice has not announced his destination, but Carpenter (UTSA), Miller (Texas A&M-Commerce) and Shenault (Alabama State) have committed to other schools.

Statistically, Rice was the Buffs’ top wide receiver this past season, but the Buffs are slated to return seniors Daniel Arias, Maurice Bell and Jaylon Jackson, junior Dimitri Stanley and sophomores Montana Lemonious-Craig, Chase Penry and Ty Robinson.

Also in the mix will be three incoming freshmen: Grant Page, Chase Sowell and Jordan Tyson.

A three-star prospect, Wells is rated by 247Sports.com as a top-75 interior lineman nationally in the 2022 class. He has 19 total scholarship offers, including from Air Force, Houston and Maryland.

Wells is the third lineman in CU’s class, joining tackles Carter Edwards and Travis Gray.

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