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Chris Taylor keeps Los Angeles Dodgers alive with three homers in Game 5 win

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LOS ANGELES — Cody Bellinger had goosebumps. It was the eighth inning of a game his Los Angeles Dodgers already led by nine runs, but Chris Taylor was up to bat, sitting on three home runs, and Bellinger could sense a fourth one coming.

“I felt like he was really going to do it,” Bellinger said. “He was seeing the ball well all day.”

Taylor instead struck out and settled for becoming the first player in postseason history to homer three times while his team faced elimination. He drove in six of the Dodgers’ first seven runs, providing a much-needed jolt as they cruised to an 11-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night, cutting their deficit to 3-2 and pushing the series into Atlanta.

“It’s definitely a surreal feeling,” Taylor said. “I never thought I was going to hit three homers in a game, let alone a postseason game.”

The Dodgers were facing the Braves’ best pitcher, Max Fried. The opener for the Dodgers’ bullpen game, Joe Kelly, exited after four batters because of a biceps strain that will end his season. Their starting third baseman, Justin Turner, had already been ruled out. And the first half-inning ended with a two-run deficit.

Taylor helped the Dodgers overcome all of that.

His two-run homer in the bottom of the second gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead. His single in the fourth made it a two-run game. His two-out, two-run homer off Braves reliever Chris Martin extended the Dodgers’ lead to four. And his solo homer in the seventh prompted his first curtain call. Taylor became the 11th player with a three-homer postseason game, joining names like Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth, George Brett, Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols, the man who hit in front of Taylor on Thursday night.

“The highlights are going to be there the rest of his life,” Pujols said. “That’s something you’re going to share forever.”

The Dodgers, who must win back-to-back games in Atlanta this weekend in order to advance to their fourth World Series in five years, have now won seven consecutive elimination games, the third-longest streak in postseason history.

Their latest came courtesy of Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia, Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel and Kenley Jansen, six relievers who combined for 8⅓ scoreless innings in which they allowed three hits, didn’t issue a walk and struck out nine batters. And it was fueled by Pujols, Taylor, Bellinger and AJ Pollock, who made up the Nos. 5-8 spots in the Dodgers’ lineup and combined for 12 hits, five of which sailed over the fence, an uplifting sign for an offense that has struggled to sustain rallies this postseason.

All told, the Dodgers accumulated 11 hits with two strikes, their largest output since April 2018.

“I saw fight,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I saw fight.”

Taylor, 31, made his first All-Star team this season but has long been revered by his Dodgers teammates and coaches for his defensive versatility, offensive approach and quiet professionalism. Since the start of the 2017 season, Taylor has appeared in 88% of the Dodgers’ games, has played six positions, has batted .265/.343/.461 and has accumulated 14.1 FanGraphs wins above replacement. But on a star-laden Dodgers team, Taylor usually goes unnoticed.

His personality lends itself to that.

“He’s very soft spoken and doesn’t get easily excited,” said Pollock, who contributed a two-homer game. “The only thing that excites him, I’ve seen, is he likes to have a beer. He gets excited about that, a beer with the boys, and then he loves watching surfing. Maybe the three home runs today might have spiked his adrenaline, but probably not. Most likely just the beer and watching surfing.”

Taylor battled a neck injury down the stretch and struggled his way out of the lineup at the start of October, but he came off the bench to deliver the walk-off home run that eliminated the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Game. He made a critical baserunning gaffe in the opening game of the NLCS, but he almost single-handedly kept the Dodgers’ season alive with an epic performance five days later.

“You gotta take the lows with the highs,” Taylor said. “Everything gets amplified in the postseason. And it’s a game of failures. You’re going to make mistakes. And then there’s moments like tonight where that’s what makes it worth it. That’s why you just put your head down and keep moving forward.”

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MLB Players Association to make counteroffer to league in Monday meeting

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The Major League Baseball Players Association plans to make an in-person labor proposal to the league on Monday, sources told ESPN, countering MLB’s offer last week that did little to loosen the gridlock that has gripped the sport after the league locked out the players Dec. 2.

Should the players’ offer do little to advance the negotiations that thus far haven’t yielded any substantive progress, the scheduled start to spring training in mid-February will grow that much unlikelier. And the longer discussions on a new collective-bargaining agreement last, the more they jeopardize Opening Day on March 31.

The gap between the players and league remains significant, with the union seeking major financial gains in a number of areas and owners trying to hold firm with what they currently pay in salaries. Other issues players have said remain a priority include anti-tanking measures and fixing service-time manipulation.

Any concessions players make in their offer could provide a roadmap to the negotiations. Before implementing the lockout, the league asked the union to drop three areas of discussion: earlier free agency for players, salary arbitration after two years instead of three and changes to the revenue-sharing plan. The union did not agree to the condition when presented with it Dec. 1, and the league left the bargaining table, locking out the players hours later.

Forty-three days later, the league returned to the union with an offer that included paying players with two to three years of service based on a formula, slight modifications to the draft lottery it previously had proposed and a mechanism that would reward teams with draft picks when top prospects who started on opening day rosters win awards.

The proposal did little to entice players, who after losing financial ground during the previous labor agreement want to make gains this time around.

News of the MLBPA’s expected counterproposal was first reported by The Associated Press

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Robot umpires at home plate moving up to Triple-A for 2022, one step away from major league baseball

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NEW YORK — Robot umpires have been given a promotion and will be just one step from the major leagues this season. Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.

MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball-Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game in July 2019 and experimented with ABS during the second half of that season. The system also was used in the Arizona Fall League for top prospects in 2019, drawing complaints of its calls on breaking balls.

There were no minor leagues in 2020 because of the pandemic, and robot umps were used last season in eight of nine ballparks at the Low-A Southeast League.

The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if commissioner Rob Manfred decides to use the system at the major league level.

“It’s hard to handicap if, when or how it might be employed at the major league level, because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March.

MLB said the robot umpires will be used at some spring training ballparks in Florida, will remain at Low A Southeast and could be used at non-MLB venues.

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Tampa Bay Rays say split-season plan with Montreal rejected by MLB

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays‘ proposed plan to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news on Thursday.

“Today’s news is flat-out deflating,” Sternberg said.

The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.

Montreal had a big league team from 1969, when the expansion Expos began play, through 2004. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season.

The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.

Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field but not at the box office.

Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.

St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch feels a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.

“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”

Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area.

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