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‘It’s just like ripping open a scab’ — Dodgers’ sign-stealing anger bursts through

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dave Roberts was watching his players throw bullpen sessions and conduct batting practice while members of the 2017 Houston Astros stumbled through pre-arranged apologies on Thursday morning. Later, while addressing an eager media contingent, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager struck a distinct tone — he was done talking about what may or may not have occurred three World Series ago, and he was ready to move on with the 2020 season. “Our story,” Roberts said, “is moving forward.”

The following morning, before the team’s first official workout of spring training, it was clear that many of Roberts’ players were not done venting, grieving and, in many ways, processing how the Astros might have unfairly beaten them in the championship round.

Cody Bellinger, one of the game’s brightest young stars, went scorched earth on the Astros, saying Jose Altuve “stole” the 2017 MVP from Aaron Judge and that he “lost respect” for that team. Justin Turner, one of the Dodgers’ clubhouse leaders, ridiculed Astros owner Jim Crane for initially stating that his club’s sign-stealing methods “didn’t impact the game.” Alex Wood, who had the foresight to constantly change the sign sequences while starting Game 5 of the 2017 World Series from Minute Maid Park in Houston, said he wouldn’t be surprised if several opposing pitchers threw at Astros hitters this season.

Clayton Kershaw, who might have been among the most directly impacted by the cheating scandal, admitted that he doesn’t know what to think.

“Us in this clubhouse, we’re all going to handle it differently,” Kershaw said. “And I think that’s awesome that everybody’s gonna answer these questions differently. Everybody’s gonna be honest about it, everybody’s gonna move on in their own way, and I think that’s really cool. I think as a team, we can all be individual in how we handle it, and then come together as a team after it and be ready to go. I think the script of this, of what happened in Houston yesterday, it didn’t seem as genuine. And I think over here, you’re gonna feel the genuineness of what we feel. And we’re going to move on a little bit easier from it, I think.”

The process is ongoing, the sentiments scattered. Kershaw believes adding a former MVP in Mookie Betts and a former Cy Young Award winner in David Price — essentially shaking up the core group, an approach Roberts has long believed to be important — “really helps bring a new excitement to this season.”

Turner wasn’t so sure.

“It’s just like ripping open a scab,” Turner said of constant revelations about the Astros’ methods. “It rehashes some things, and you go back, think what if, what happened. And that’s just going to drive us crazy if we continue to do that. You just gotta let them deal with it however they deal with it. Everyone’s gonna have their opinion, everyone’s gonna treat them however they feel necessary. Lucky for us, we don’t play them this year. So we don’t even have to worry about them. The rest of the league can deal with them.”

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Ross Stripling was recently almost traded to the Los Angeles Angels, an American League West team that will open its season at Minute Maid Park and is scheduled to play the Astros 17 other times. He was asked if he would have taken it upon himself to throw at Astros hitters if that had been the case.

“I would lean toward yes,” Stripling said after some thought. “In the right time, and in the right place.”

Wood alluded to a fascinating dilemma with that approach.

“Somebody will take it into their own hands, and they’ll get suspended more games than any of those guys got for the biggest cheating scandal in 100 years,” he said. “It’ll be pretty ironic when that happens, because I’m sure that’s how it’ll end up playing out.”

A group chat began with basically every member of the 2017 Dodgers team that lost to the Astros in seven World Series games shortly after Bregman and Altuve were unrepentant during the team’s fan fest around the middle of January. It was initially an effective outlet for some of the affected players, but the onslaught of text messages eventually died down. As the weeks progressed and spring training approached, some of those players identified their own purpose within the sign-stealing scandal.

Wood, among the most vocal on Twitter, has taken it upon himself to educate fans on why stealing signs the way the Astros did was such a big deal.

“When guys know what’s coming, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Wood said. “This is a game, but it’s also a lot of guys’ lives. It’s how they feed their families.”

Stripling pinpointed a goal — to ensure that the stigma of all this doesn’t die.

“One of the worst things that could happen is that we get through spring and it’s just forgotten about, or that you get pegged for the first two games and it’s just forgotten about,” Stripling said. “It needs to be reiterated.”

In that vein, several Dodgers will attempt to strike a difficult balance — of making sure the extent of the Astros’ crimes is not forgotten, but also ensuring that it isn’t a constant source of internal consternation throughout their pursuit of an elusive World Series championship. They’ll all navigate it differently.

On Friday, the Dodgers seemed consistent with one thought — that the Astros’ apology was not good enough.

Stripling thought it was “as bad as it can be.” Turner, like many others, didn’t go out of his way to watch it, but did catch Crane’s statement, which he later walked back, and said: “It’s mind-boggling to me that you had that much time to prepare for this and you had to retract the first thing you said in the statement.”

“That’s just wild,” Bellinger said when asked of Crane saying the Astros’ sign stealing “didn’t impact the game.” “I don’t know if he meant to say that or not, but that’s obviously not true.”

“To be honest, I don’t know what to think anymore,” Kershaw added. “Some of those guys seemed remorseful. Some of those guys said the right things, gave a good apology, and that’s great. We’ll move on with that. And then you get the owner up there saying some dumb stuff, and it’s like, ‘What’s going on? How can you be that ignorant to the situation?”

In the midst of his comments, Bellinger brought up how he just met Betts and Price and how excited that made him about what awaits. Turner struck a similar tone, acknowledging that the pain of the 2017 World Series would never vanquish while also expressing the importance of moving on from it.

He hopes others will follow.

“Obviously when you start talking about the beginning of spring training, there’s more opportunities for players to voice their thoughts, and there’s media that wants answers, which is completely fair,” Roberts said. “But I do think that once we get going, it’s got to be in the past. I think that they’re aware of that.”

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Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani wants to remain 2-way player in 2021

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LOS ANGELES — Shohei Ohtani wants to remain a two-way player for the Los Angeles Angels, even though he didn’t come close during the shortened season to matching his performance from 2018.

Ohtani went 1-for-4 with a strikeout — and grounded out to first for the final out — in a 5-0 loss to the Dodgers on Sunday that ended the Angels’ season.

The Japanese star batted .190 during the 60-game season. Pitching-wise, he suffered a forearm strain that limited him to parts of three innings over two games before he had to shut it down on the mound.

“The numbers show that I didn’t have a great year and I’m fully aware of that,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “I found a lot of things I need to work on in the offseason. I’m looking forward to getting that underway.”

Manager Joe Maddon said Ohtani is expected to begin his offseason throwing program in the next month.

“I really have a lot of confidence in him,” Maddon said.

Ohtani was set up for a normal season, having completed rehabbing last December from Tommy John surgery. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, wreaking havoc on the sports world and delaying the start of the season until the end of July.

“I’m sure if I was able to spend the regular, normal rehab schedule, the results might have been different,” he said.

With only offense to concentrate on, Ohtani struggled at the plate. He cited being unable to watch in-game video of his at-bats as a contributing factor.

“I want to know where the pitch was and where I took it,” he said. “Ideally, I would have liked to see the replays again. I think it would have helped me.”

Two years ago, Ohtani created a splash while making his major league debut for the Angels. He hit .285 with an on-base percentage of .361. He had 22 home runs, 61 RBIs and 10 stolen bases and was named the American League Rookie of the Year.

By that September, however, he was headed to having Tommy John surgery.

Ohtani returned to the lineup the following May. A month later, he became the first Japanese-born player to hit for the cycle in MLB. That September, his season ended early because he needed patella surgery.

Despite all he has been through, Ohtani remains confident he can regain the form he showed in 2018.

“I just need to get past me being able to throw without any worries or setbacks,” he said. “Once I get past that, I think everything will fall into place.”

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Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu wins AL batting title; Luke Voit finishes with majors-leading 22 home runs

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NEW YORK — The New York Yankees lost six of their last eight regular-season games, which included series losses to the Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins, but they still limped into the wild-card round as the fifth seed in the first 16-team expanded playoffs in MLB history.

Among the few bright spots for the Yankees was that leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu went 2-for-3 in Sunday’s 5-0 loss to the Marlins to finish the season with the best average in the majors at .364.

“It’s pretty cool. I don’t think it’s really sank in yet,” LeMahieu said after learning he won the American League batting title. “I wish it was over 162 games, and I wish there were fans in the stands, but it is what it is and I’m definitely proud of it.”

By winning the AL batting title, LeMahieu became only the fourth player in Yankees history to lead the majors in batting average, joining Mickey Mantle (.353 in 1956), Joe DiMaggio (.381 in 1939) and Lou Gehrig (.363 in 1934). It is LeMahieu’s second career batting title; he won one with the Colorado Rockies in 2016 and becomes just the second player in MLB history to win the batting title in both leagues, joining Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty.

Luke Voit went hitless Sunday, but his 22 home runs were the most in this pandemic-shortened 60-game season. LeMahieu and Voit became the first pair of teammates to lead the majors in batting average and home runs since Hank Aaron (.355 BA) and Eddie Mathews (46 HR) for the 1959 Braves.

“They have been the pillars in our lineup, the rocks in our lineup,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Voit and LeMahieu. “Luke just put together an amazing season. I think both guys are worthy of MVP consideration. What DJ has meant at the top of our order now for two years, just his amazing consistency and what he brings with his defensive versatility. … We are not getting on a plane and going to the playoffs without the performance of those two guys.”

LeMahieu complimented Voit: “It’s definitely well-deserved. Not only hit a bunch of homers, but had some huge homers for us and really carried us this year. He’s a complete hitter, he’s not just a home run hitter. He definitely takes big swings, but he has a great approach the other way, gets tough RBI in situations and, obviously, the home runs speak for themselves, so I am really happy for him.”

The loss to the Marlins put the Yankees in position to finish the season as the eighth seed and take a plane to Florida to face AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays, but a Toronto loss to Baltimore guaranteed that New York would start the postseason against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

“We’ve had a week where we haven’t played our best baseball, where we’re struggling a little bit, but I know what we’re capable of, our guys know what we’re capable of, and opportunity knocks right now,” Boone said. “We have an amazing opportunity. We hold the bat; we hold the ball; we hold the pen. We can write the story right now; we don’t need anyone’s help. And that’s exciting, especially when you’re walking in with the group of guys that we have.”

“I think we have the best team in the league still. I don’t know why it was so up-and-down. I’ll chalk it up to 2020. It’s been kind of a roller coaster,” LeMahieu said. “We’re all excited to get in the postseason, kind of turn the page on this last week. I love our team in that clubhouse so I’m just excited to get out there with them in the playoffs. I think it’s gonna be a really fun month.”

It has been an erratic season for the Yankees. Although the club finished 33-27 and in second place in the division, their final losing streak came on the heels of a 10-game winning streak.

Which team will show up against the Indians? Boone admitted that the first round of the playoffs, particularly in what he called a “crazy, different, challenging season,” will be a throw of the dice.

“I trust that we have a team that is capable of going out and winning. But obviously, we are entering a three-game series, and I think the same can be said for all 16 teams that are going to be in it,” Boone said. “[This season] there have been a lot of ups and downs for us, peaks and valleys that we have to avoid moving forward. But we look forward to the challenge of going in and competing for a championship. Anything can happen in these. We know if we’re playing our best baseball we cannot only play with, but we can beat anyone.”

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Miami Marlins’ Starling Marte, Jose Urena hurt against New York Yankees

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NEW YORK — Miami outfielder Starling Marte and right-hander Jose Urena left Sundays’ regular-season finale against the New York Yankees after getting hurt in the early innings.

Marte was hit on the front of his helmet by Clarke Schmidt‘s 94 mph fastball in the second inning. The pitch knocked off the helmet. Marte stayed down for a few minutes and was replaced by Lewis Brinson.

Urena, a candidate for Miami’s postseason bullpen, was hit on his pitching hand by a 103.9 mph line drive from AL batting leader DJ LeMahieu with one out in the third. Urena crumpled over in pain and stayed down in front of the mound before exiting the game. He was replaced by Daniel Castano.

After the game, a 5-0 Miami win, the Marlins said Urena suffered a nondisplaced ulna fracture in his right forearm, and Marte had a bruised left ear.

“Kind of your biggest fear on a day like today,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “You hate to be playing your guys almost.”

Miami acquired Marte from Arizona on Aug. 31. He is hitting .245 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 28 games with the Marlins.

Urena was among 18 Marlins sidelined with COVID-19 early this season. He is 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA in five starts since his season debut Sept. 7.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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