By HAL McCOY
Baseball is just a pair of losses away from a Scrooge McDuck World Series that would involve the game’s two richest franchises — the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Money talks. Real loud.
After losing the first two games in Houston, the Yankees completed a three-game sweep in New York with a 5-0 victory Wednesday afternoon over the Astros, headlined by the pitching of Masahiro Tanaka.
Just as they did in the American League Division Series when they fell behind two games to none to the Cleveland Indians, the Yankees fell behind the Astros two games to none.
For the Yankees, it appears that’s just where they want to be. Now they return to Houston with a three games to two lead over the Astros, needing just one win to qualify for the World Series.
They face a daunting task, though, in Game 6 because Astros ace Justin Verlander awaits them. Verlander pitched a complete game five-hitter and struck out 13 during a 2-1 victory in Game Two in Houston.
On Wednesday, though, it was the Yankees getting the pitching — Masahiro Tanaka gave up no runs and three hits over seven innings with one walk and eight strikeouts. Tommy Kahnle finished it with two scoreless innings (one hit).
Gary Sanchez had two hits, including a home run and drove in two, Didi Gregorius had two hits and drove in a run and Aaron Judge slammed a double and drove in a run.
MEANWHILE, THE CHICAGO CUBS, down three games to none to the Los Angeles Dodgers, fended off elimination Wednesday night with a 3-2 victory. But the Cubs need to do it three more times in a row to return to the World Series to defend their 2016 championship.
The Cubs were saved by the arm of pitcher Jake Arrieta and the bat of Javier Baez. Arrieta pitched a gut-wrenching 6 2/3 innings and held the Dodgers to one run (a homer by Cody Bellinger).
Second baseman Baez played the first few games of the playoffs more like singer Joan Baez (‘Blowin’ in the Wind’) than a major league baseball player. He was 0 for 20 when Game Four began.
But on Wednesday, batting eighth after he was benched for Game Three, Baez used the outward blowing wind to crunch two home runs.
Catcher Willson Contreras started it all, though, with a home run off LA starter Alex Wood in the second inning that might have shattered a window in the John Hancock Tower if the left field scoreboard hadn’t stopped it. They said it traveled 491 feet and gave the Cubs 1-0 lead.
One out later Baez connected for his first home run to give Arrieta a 2—0 lead. Bellinger drilled his home run to right field in the third to cut the lead to 2-1, then Baez tucked one inside the left field foul pole for his second home run, this one in the fifth to push it back to 3-1.
Arrieta, a free agent-to-be, may have pitched his last game for the Cubs unless the Chicago northsiders can stage a Houdini comeback.
If it was his last, he made it memorable — 6 2/3 innings, one run, three hits, five walks and nine strikeouts. Walks put him in hot water a few times but he was able to toss cold water on all Dodger uprisings.
With two outs in the first he walked Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig singled, but he struck out Andre Ethier.
After Bellinger’s home run in the third, Arrietta walked Yasmani Grandal with one out in the fourth. That problem was alleviated when first baseman Anthony Rizzo started a touch first and throw to second for a tag double play on Chase Utley.
Justin Turner singled to begin the sixth, but Arrieta got a force play at second and then struck out Andre Ethier and Curtis Granderson.
Arrieta walked Grandal to start the seventh and retired the next two. But he walked Chris Taylor to put two on with two outs. Manager Joe Maddon came to get Arrieta as the Wrigley Field mob booed lustily, knowing the failures so far of the Cubs bullpen.
But Brian Duensing coaxed a shallow pop fly to end the threat.
Maddon brought in closer Wade Davis for the eighth, his first appearance in the series. Davis, who blew one save all season, quickly gave up a mammoth home run to Justin Turner, cutting the Cubs lead to 3-2. It was Turners’ third homer of the series, including his three-run walkoff shot in Game Two for a 4-1 LA victory in Dodger Stadium.
Davis didn’t give up a home run all last season, but this year he gave up six home runs during the season, one in the All-Star game, one in the NLDS against Washington and one Wednesday night.
To put the shivers in Cubs fans, Davis then walked Yasiel Puig on a full count after Turner’s home run, putting the tying run on base.
Davis got a pop foul from Andre Ethier and then controversy cropped up. Curtis Granderson struck out, but claimed he fouled the ball. Home plate umpire Jim Wolf checked with the other umpires and Eric Cooper said he fouled it, although replays gave no indication of it.
Maddon argued vociferously and was ejected for the second time in the series. Then, on the next pitch, Granderson struck out anyway.
But Davis walked Grandal to put runners on second and first with two outs. That brought up Chase Utley, 0 for 23 in the playoffs, and Davis pushed that to 0 for 24 with an inning-ending strikeout.
Davis started the ninth by striking out Austin Barnes on three pitches. He quickly went to 0-and-2 on Chris Taylor, then walked him to put the tying run on base.
He fell behind Cody Bellinger 2-and-0, threw a strike, then put happiness in all of Chicago when the Cubs turned a game-ending double play — second baseman Javier Baez to shortstop Addison Russell to first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
For Davis, it was a six-out 47-pitch trip through trepidation, turmoil that ended in tumult for the Cubs. The assignment for the Cubs Thursday night in Game Five is rugged. They will face LA ace Clayton Kershaw while the Cubs cross their fingers with Jose Quintana.