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Mastrodonato: Nathan Eovaldi the ace the Red Sox needed, but they didn’t have his back

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Mastrodonato: Nathan Eovaldi the ace the Red Sox needed, but they didn’t have his back

HOUSTON — In normal baseball times, when a manager would let his ace carry him as far as he could, Nathan Eovaldi would’ve thrown the Red Sox on his back and started churning his legs.

Nobody knows how far he might have taken them.

But these aren’t normal times. The modern game has changed. The starting pitcher’s impact has never been smaller.

Eovaldi did all he could, throwing more starts of at least five innings (three) than any other postseason pitcher in 2021, and he would’ve gone at least five again Friday night if Alex Cora would’ve let him.

Pitching on short rest, he was every bit as strong. He surrendered just one run on a dropped ball by Kiké Hernandez in center field in the first inning. He was still plowing along into the fifth, but facing the left-handed Michael Brantley a third time was too much for Cora to ask. The manager walked to the mound, shared a few words with his ace, took the ball and patted him on the rear.

That was the end of Eovaldi’s season, undoubtedly the best one of his career, and it soon marked the end of a storied run for the Red Sox, who went quietly in a 5-0 loss in Game 6 to the Houston Astros as they were eliminated from the American League Championship Series.

“He was good, really good,” Cora said. “Good fastball. Good split. Good breaking ball. In control. That guy, he is really good. They hit the ball in the air and we didn’t make a play in left center and they hit the triple down the line. But Nate was outstanding.”

Cora’s decision-making, which was about as good as it gets from a baseball manager for most of the season, stopped working after Game 3.

Cora tried desperately in Game 6, going to his bench early when he pinch-hit Danny Santana for Kevin Plawecki in the fifth. Santana has just three big league at-bats in the last 42 days. All three of them are strikeouts, including his at-bat against Luis Garcia on Friday night.

In an act of desperation, Cora replaced the struggling Christian Arroyo with Travis Shaw in the seventh, and the slumping Hunter Renfroe with Bobby Dalbec in the eighth. Neither move worked and left the Red Sox defensive unit in shambles.

Watching the Red Sox run out to take their defensive positions in the bottom of the eighth inning was about as sad as it gets. It was the sign of a team that had given everything it had.

The roster was far from perfect. The Astros matched up better. The Sox ran out of lefties to handle Brantley and Yordan Alvarez. The Astros’ starters rediscovered their magic and stymied the Sox’ over-aggressive offense in Games 5 and 6.

It all came crashing down in a matter of three days.

The one constant was Eovaldi. Where would this team have been without him?

On a staff that looked desperate for innings when the season started, the oft-injured Eovaldi led the American League with 32 starts. His 5.6 wins above replacement made him the most valuable pitcher in the league, according to Fan Graphs. He was an innings eater who showed up to big games with regularity.

“For me it’s being able to stay healthy,” he said “That’s a big thank you to our training staff. They’ve been unbelievable for us this year. Our coaching staff and taking care of me. Knowing when to take me out of games. I’m not the best in saying when I’m done, when I’m ready to come out of games. Everything that I was able to accomplish, it’s thanks to them.””

And when the postseason arrived, he brought it to another level.

Eovaldi owned the Yankees in the Wild Card Game, when he struck out eight batters and allowed just one run in 5 1/3 innings. In Game 3 of the ALDS against the Rays, he had an almost identical start, striking out eight and allowing two runs in five innings. And in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Astros, he went 5 1/3 innings and allowed three runs.

The Sox won all three games. And leading into Friday, the Red Sox were 5-0 when Eovaldi starts in the postseason, dating back to 2018.

One has to wonder how the missed strike three call to Jason Castro in Game 4 affected him. His next pitch was the worst of his postseason, a splitter that hung there, and Castro roped it into the outfield as the Astros scored the eventual game-winning run.

While Dodgers ace Max Scherzer said he had a dead arm in Los Angeles after a relief appearance between starts, struggled in his next outing and now will not take the ball in Game 6 on Saturday, Eovaldi handled the same workload with ease.

His velocity was as good as it always is on Friday night. He held it throughout. His 4-1/3 innings weren’t as long as he would’ve liked to go, but said, “physically I felt good. The other night when I came in in the ninth inning, I was doing too much. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to be doing that today.”

He worked through a masterful Astros lineup until Brantley stepped up for a third time in the fifth. At that point, Cora’s choice was to let Eovaldi carry this team as far as he could or turn it over to left-hander Josh Taylor, the only lefty Cora has been able to rely on all postseason.

Cora chose Taylor, who handled Brantley but let a run score the next inning.

Ultimately, it was the ice-cold offense that ended the Red Sox season.

A lot will be said about the 2021 Red Sox in the coming weeks. There will be a lot to analyze and wonder what could’ve been different, what went wrong and who didn’t perform.

There won’t be much to say about Eovaldi.

The 31-year-old Houston native did everything he could for 32 regular-season starts, four postseason starts and one postseason relief appearance. He was a vintage workhorse in a modern game.

The Sox lost with their ace on the mound. Tip your cap.

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British police arrest 2 in investigation into Texas standoff

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British police arrest 2 in investigation into Texas standoff

By JAKE BLEIBERG and ERIC TUCKER

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) — Police in England said Sunday they had arrested two teenagers in their investigation into an armed British national holding four people hostage during a 10-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue.

The Greater Manchester Police did not name the suspects or whether they faced any charges. They described them as teenagers who were in custody for questioning.

FBI Dallas spokeswoman Katie Chaumont referred questions to police in Manchester.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

A rabbi who was among four people held hostage at a Texas synagogue said Sunday that their armed captor grew “increasingly belligerent and threatening” toward the end of the 10-hour standoff, which ended with an FBI SWAT team rushing into the building and the captor’s death.

Authorities identified the hostage-taker as a 44-year-old British national, Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday night after the last hostages ran out of Congregation Beth Israel around 9 p.m. The FBI said there was no indication that anyone else was involved, but it had not provided a possible motive as of Sunday afternoon.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker credited security training that his suburban Fort Worth congregation has received over the years for getting him and the other three hostages through the ordeal, which he described as traumatic.

“In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening,” Cytron-Walker said in a statement. “Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself.”

President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, Biden said Akram allegedly purchased a weapon on the streets.

Federal investigators believe Akram purchased the handgun used in the hostage taking in a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Akram arrived in the U.S. at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said.

Video from Dallas TV station WFAA showed people running out a door of the synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the same door just seconds later before he turned around and closed it. Moments later, several shots and then an explosion could be heard.

“Rest assured, we are focused,” Biden said. “The attorney general is focused and making sure that we deal with these kinds of acts.”

Akram arrived in the U.S. recently on a tourist visa from Great Britain, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended to be public. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were liaising with U.S. authorities about the incident.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said the hostage-taker was specifically focused on an issue not directly connected to the Jewish community. It wasn’t clear why Akram chose the synagogue, though the prison where Saddiqui is serving her sentence is in Fort Worth.

Michael Finfer, the president of the congregation, said in a statement “there was a one in a million chance that the gunman picked our congregation.”

Authorities have declined to say who shot Akram, saying it was still under investigation.

Authorities said police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood soon afterward.

Saturday’s services were being livestreamed on the synagogue’s Facebook page for a time. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard ranting and talking about religion at times during the livestream, which didn’t show what was happening inside the synagogue.

Shortly before 2 p.m., the man said, “You got to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.” Moments later, the feed cut out. A spokesperson for Meta Platforms Inc., the corporate successor to Facebook Inc., later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.

Akram used his phone during the course of negotiations to communicate with people other than law enforcement, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Multiple people heard the hostage-taker refer to Siddiqui as his “sister” on the livestream. But John Floyd, board chair for the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group — said Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved.

“We want the assailant to know that his actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. Aafia,” said Floyd, who also is legal counsel for Mohammad Siddiqui.

Texas resident Victoria Francis, who said she watched about an hour of the livestream, said she heard the man rant against America and claim he had a bomb. Biden said there were apparently no explosives, despite the threats.

“He was just all over the map. He was pretty irritated and the more irritated he got, he’d make more threats, like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, this is all on you.’ And he’d laugh at that,” Francis said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”

Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles (23 kilometers) northeast of Fort Worth. By Sunday morning, the police perimeter around the synagogue had shrunk to half a block in either direction and FBI agents could be seen going in and out of the building. A sign saying “Love” — with the “o” replaced with a Star of David — was planted in a neighbor’s lawn.

Reached outside his home Sunday, Cytron-Walker declined to speak at length about the episode. “It’s a little overwhelming as your can imagine. It was not fun yesterday,” he told the AP.

Andrew Marc Paley, a Dallas rabbi who was called to the scene to help families and hostages upon their release, said Cytron-Walker acted as a calm and comforting presence. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m. That was around the time food was delivered to those inside the synagogue, but Paley said he did not know if it was part of the negotiations.

“He appeared a little unfazed, actually, but I don’t know if that was sort of shock or just the moment,” Paley said of the first hostage who was released.

Cytron-Walker said his congregation had received training from local authorities and the Secure Community Network, which was founded in 2004 by a coalition of Jewish organizations and describes itself as “the official safety and security organization” of the Jewish community in North America. Michael Masters, the CEO of the organization, said the congregation had provided security training in August and had not been previously aware of Akram.

The standoff led authorities to tighten security in other places, including New York City, where police said that they increased their presence “at key Jewish institutions” out of an abundance of caution.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that “this event is a stark reminder that antisemitism is still alive and we must continue to fight it worldwide.”

___

Tucker reported from Washington, D.C. Also contributing to this reporter were Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado in Austin; Michael Balsamo in Washington; Colleen Long in Philadelphia; Elliot Spagat in San Diego; Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island; Michael R. Sisak in New York; Holly Meyer in Nashville, Tenn.; and Issac Scharf in Jerusalem.

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49ers hang on late for 23-17 wild-card victory over Cowboys

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49ers hang on late for 23-17 wild-card victory over Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas — Versatile receiver Deebo Samuel ran 26 yards for a touchdown the play after an interception by Dak Prescott, and the San Francisco 49ers held on for a 23-17 wild-card victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

The Cowboys had a final chance with 32 seconds remaining and were at the San Francisco 41 with 14 seconds to go when Prescott took off up the middle intending to slide and spike the ball for a final play.

But Dallas didn’t get the snap off from the 24 until after the clock hit 0:00. After a brief delay, referee Alex Kemp announced the game was over.

The 49ers overcame an interception by Jimmy Garoppolo when they led by 13 in the fourth quarter. Prescott ran for a touchdown to get within a score, and had a chance to drive Dallas to a go-ahead score. But the 49ers got a stop at midfield when Prescott’s desperation fourth-down pass was just out of the receiver Cedrick Wilson’s reach.

After a 14th penalty from the NFL’s most-penalized team in the regular season that helped San Francisco run out most of the clock — and the frantic final seconds as Dallas tried for the win — the 49ers (11-7) clinched their first playoff victory at the Cowboys in a storied postseason rivalry.

Now they head to Tampa Bay for a divisional game, looking for another trip to the NFC championship game.

The wait for Dallas (12-6) to get that far in the playoffs will reach at least 27 years after another first-game flameout in the postseason for Prescott, the second in three trips for the star quarterback. It was his first playoff game since signing a $40-million-a-year contract in the offseason.

The 49ers were in control in the fourth quarter, but not leaning on the running game they figured could carry them to a win when Garoppolo threw an interception to Anthony Brown that set up Prescott’s 7-yard scoring run.

Garoppolo’s mistake wasn’t long after Prescott was picked off at the Dallas 26 by K’Waun Williams and Samuel ran untouched on a cutback up the middle to the end zone on the next play for a 23-7 lead.

San Francisco lost star pass rusher Nick Bosa to a concussion just before halftime when he was crunched in the head and neck area by teammate D.J. Jones. But the 49ers kept enough pressure on Prescott, finishing with five sacks while holding the NFL’s No. 1 offense to 307 yards.

San Francisco scored on its first four possessions, but three times settled for field goals from Robbie Gould to help keep the Cowboys close.

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‘Scream’ scares off ‘Spider-Man’ with $30.6M debut

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‘Scream’ scares off ‘Spider-Man’ with $30.6M debut

NEW YORK — After a month at no. 1, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has finally been overtaken at the box office. Paramount Pictures’ “Scream” reboot debuted with $30.6 million in ticket sales over the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

“Scream,” a self-described “requel” that is both the fifth film in the franchise and a reboot introducing a new, younger cast, led all releases over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Paramount forecasts that it will total $35 million including Monday’s grosses. “Scream,” which cost about $24 million to make, added another $18 million in 50 international markets.

That made for a solid revival for the self-aware slasher franchise.

Rights to the “Scream” films, once a reliable cash cow for Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Miramax Films, were acquired by Spyglass Media Group, which produced the new film with Paramount. This “Scream,” helmed by Matt Bettinello-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, was the first not directed by Wes Craven, who died in 2015. It features original “Scream” cast members Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette alongside new additions Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega and Jack Quaid.

“All of our traditional measures were indicating a solid opening, but as I kept telling people: We’re still in this thing and it’s very difficult to determine what will actually happen,” said Chris Aronson, distribution chief for Paramount. “Now we’re open, people have seen the movie and we’re off and running. Hopefully this becomes another building block toward building the business back and getting it back to some semblance of normalcy.”

Meanwhile, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” slipped to second place but continued to rise in the record books.

“No Way Home” grossed $20.8 million in its fifth weekend of release. Sony Pictures predicts that with another $5.2 million on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “No Way Home” will reach a domestic cumulative total of $703.9 million Monday, edging “Black Panther” and moving into fourth place all-time.

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