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With another ninth-inning nightmare, Cubs’ road woes could be their undoing

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PITTSBURGH — Just when you think it can’t get worse.

It does.

That’s how the Chicago Cubs must be feeling after back-to-back walk-off losses. The latest came on Friday night against the Pirates, when manager Joe Maddon called upon righty Brandon Kintzler to close out a 2-1 game. The only problem? Kintzler is fresh off the injured list and predictably didn’t have his command. He walked three, the first one intentional but the last one with the bases loaded to bring home the tying run, before Kevin Newman singled home the game-winner.

“No one feels worse than Kintzler right now but that’s the way this is rolling lately,” Maddon said after the 3-2 loss. “You can’t give in to it. You have to keep fighting through it. And if you do, you’ll come out the other side. We cannot let it get to us.”

Maddon said similar the night before when the Cubs were walked off by a Bryce Harper grand slam in Philadelphia. Then came an early morning arrival in Pittsburgh where they were met by their general manager, Jed Hoyer. Team president Theo Epstein will join shortly as the organization prepares for a lighthearted day in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Little League World Series on Sunday.

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Bryce Harper rips a grand slam out of the park to give the Phillies a 7-5 walk-off win over the Cubs.

How much fun will that possibly be if the Cubs lose another road game on Saturday? Because of a 23-39 record away from Wrigley Field, they’re starting to look up at others in the standings.

“I don’t ever remember [this happening] in my whole baseball playing career,” Kris Bryant said of the back-to-back crushing losses. “I don’t know how to respond to it. It’s new to me. It’s new to most of us.”

You’ll excuse Bryant for not remembering May 5 and 6, 2018, when the Cardinals won two games against the Cubs in their final at-bats. But those came when the Cubs still won some games on the road. It didn’t hurt as bad. These sting even more.

“It could be a lot better,” Bryant said. “It could be a lot worse. We’re kind of right in the middle there. Thankfully no one is running away with it. At least we have that on our side.”

That’s the best the Cubs can muster right now. A thankfulness that Milwaukee and St. Louis haven’t run away from them. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. The 2016 World Series winners — long past their championship hangover — were supposed to be closer to the Dodgers or Astros not the Cardinals or Brewers. But those teams have gotten better while the Cubs have, well, stood still. And that might be putting it kindly.

“We can’t keep having this conversation over and over,” general manager Jed Hoyer said about the Cubs’ inconsistent play. “If we continue that cycle we’re going to end up disappointed.”

Maddon will undoubtedly get most of the blame, as most managers do. And there’s already a feeling that his days in Chicago are numbered, considering his contract is up at the end of the season. But he’s been playing a game of whack-a-mole for most of the year based on an imperfect roster.

He can’t make a defensive replacement or pick a reliever to pitch without it coming back to bite him. Both kinds of decisions came into play in Thursday’s and Friday’s losses. He can be the fall guy based solely on the Cubs road record — not that he’s maxed out on the season either. Maddon hasn’t adjusted to the new reality of the Cubs: They may not be as talented as they once were and they’re certainly not as deep. Not even close.

“It’s a cliché. We just have to keep going,” Bryant said. “I don’t know what else to say. I really don’t.”

No one does.

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‘Animated’ Boone ejected for arguing strike zone

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NEW YORK — Yankees manager Aaron Boone clashed Saturday with another rookie umpire, and this time, veteran crew chief Joe West stepped in.

Boone was ejected by West, umpiring at third base, for arguing balls and strikes during a 7-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

New York slugger Giancarlo Stanton struck out looking at three low strikes from rookie T.J. Zeuch for the final out of the first inning. Stanton argued briefly with plate umpire Jeremie Rehak — an injury replacement from Triple-A — before heading back to the dugout.

Boone, meanwhile, shouted profanities from the bench, and West signaled his ejection from across the field. Rehak also booted Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames during the exchange.

“I was just upset within an at-bat where G’s coming back and I felt like there were a few in there in his at-bat where it kind of got taken away, so I just got animated,” Boone said. “The bottom line is I probably wasn’t going to get thrown out from Jeremie. I was starting to walk away and the confrontation happened with Joe.”

Boone’s interactions with umpires have been well-documented this year, and he’s been tossed five times. The most notable was an exchange with rookie ump Brennan Miller in July when TV mics capture Boone repeatedly calling his players “savages.” That tirade went viral, and New York players routinely wear T-shirts commemorating the rant.

“I like to think I’m always in control of my emotions,” Boone said. “There’s times that I’m going to fight and I think it’s necessary. As hard as we are on our guys about controlling the strike zone and how much we demand of them in that regard, it’s something I’m passionate about and I’m going to fight. I don’t want our guys leaving the strike zone.”

New York was also peeved with West over his strike zone Friday night, when Brett Gardner argued forcefully after a called strike in the ninth. Boone said that disagreement wasn’t a factor Saturday.

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Two outs — Yanks’ Boone, Thames ejected in 1st

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NEW YORK — Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected by crew chief Joe West in the first inning of the Yankees’ game against Toronto for arguing balls and strikes.

Boone yelled from the dugout Saturday at plate umpire Jeremie Rehak after Giancarlo Stanton struck out looking against Blue Jays starter T.J. Zeuch to end the inning. West tossed Boone from third base, and Rehak — a recent call-up from Triple-A — ejected Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames.

Stanton watched three called strikes near the bottom of the strike zone and then exchanged words near home plate with Rehak. As Stanton walked off, Boone shouted profanities from the dugout, prompting his ejection. He then came out and argued with West near third base during the inning break.

The ejection was Boone’s fifth of the season. He memorably called his players “savages” during a tirade aimed at rookie umpire Brennan Miller in July. He wasn’t as lively jawing with West on Saturday.

The Yankees already were peeved with West over his strike zone Friday night, when Brett Gardner argued animatedly after a called strike in the ninth. There were no ejections Friday.

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Padres fire Green after four sub-.500 seasons

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The San Diego Padres have fired manager Andy Green, general manager A.J. Preller announced Saturday.

“I want to thank Andy for his tireless work and dedication to the Padres over the last four seasons,” Preller said in a statement. “This was an incredibly difficult decision but one we felt was necessary at this time to take our organization to the next level and expedite the process of bringing a championship to San Diego. Our search for a new manager will begin immediately.”

Green was 274-366 in four seasons as Padres manager. They won no more than 71 games in any of his three full seasons in charge and are 69-85 this year.

In August 2017, the Padres gave Green a contract extension that ran through the 2021 season.

San Diego’s .428 winning percentage with Green is the fourth worst in the majors since 2016, ahead of only the Detroit Tigers (.406), Baltimore Orioles (.408) and Miami Marlins (.427), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Padres’ 4.0 runs per game, .236 batting average and .695 OPS since 2016 are all MLB worsts.

The big offseason signing of Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million contract couldn’t turn the Padres’ fortunes, as San Diego will miss the playoffs for the 13th straight season.

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