Updated: Oct. 11
Although he's a big leaguer, he began his athletic career as a gymnast until the age of 8 -- and yes, he can still do a back flip from a standing position! Winning runs in the family: His dad played in the 1976 Little League World Series and walked onto the football team at the University of Connecticut. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated a few years ago. Who is he?
Best of Three
Both NLDS series were evened at one win apiece Saturday, as the Cubs defeated the host Cardinals, 6-3, and the Dodgers beat the visiting Mets, 5-2.
In Los Angeles, a controversial slide by the Dodgers' Chase Utley, as he attempted to break up a double play, wound up fracturing the right fibula of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. The play ignited a Dodgers comeback and a firestorm of criticism and debate that will not likely end anytime soon. Following a replay review, Utley was awarded second base, and later scored on Adrian Gonzalez's tiebreaking, two-run double. Dodgers starter Zack Greinke (8 Ks) and Mets starter Noah Syndergaard (9 Ks) struck out a combined 17 batters, bringing the series' two-game strikeout total by starting pitchers to 41, and the overall series total to 50 (25 per team).
Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, the Cubs avoided turning the Gateway to the West into the Gateway to the NLCS by evening the series as it heads to Chicago for Games 3 and 4. Right fielder Jorge Soler was 2-for-2 with a home run, a double and a pair of walks in leading the Cubs to a 6-1 advantage after just three innings of play.
The NLDS takes a break today, and both series resume on Monday, with the Dodgers' Brett Anderson scheduled to face the Mets' Matt Harvey at Citi Field. At Wrigley Field, Michael Wacha will take the mound against the Cubs' Jake Arrieta.
Neither you nor your grandfather had ever seen two squeeze bunts in a postseason game let alone two consecutive successful attempts before the Cubs did just that to key their decisive five-run uprising in the second inning of Game 2 on Saturday against the Cardinals. It was the first time it's ever happened. First, Kyle Kendrick, hitting in the eighth spot, got the ball down to score Austin Jackson, then Addison Russell took advantage of the chaos to plate Miguel Montero. Keep in mind, too, that these new-school Cubs don't do a whole lot of bunting. Their 32 sacrifices were second-to-last in the NL. Manager Joe Maddon tipped his cap to his decidedly old-school former Rays colleague Don Zimmer.
The Big Kid
It wasn't all small ball for the Cubs. Cuban rookie Jorge Soler doubled in the first inning, hit a two-run homer in the second inning and added a pair of walks. Only 23, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound outfielder from Havana is just beginning to show his mammoth potential. He spoke through a translator after the game:
"Before I got hurt, it felt like I was swinging at too many bad pitches, and when I came back, I've been talking to Manny Ramirez about how to stay in the zone, and he's helped me out a lot with that."
The Whiz Kid
Only 21, Roughned Odor isn't a rookie anymore, but he's gaining confidence fast and playing with the swagger Rangers fans like to see since returning from the Minors. He scored twice in Game 2, sliding home on a shallow sacrifice fly and later with the tiebreaking run in the 14th inning of their 6-4 win. He has a homer and five runs scored in the ALDS. The youngest player in the Majors as a rookie in 2014, Odor was sent back to Triple-A Round Rock this spring after a slow start. But he's had an .861 OPS since his June 15 return.
"He has no fear," Elvis Andrus told the Dallas Morning News. "That's the first thing that always comes to your mind. When you have no fear and a lot of talent, you get a very special player."
Hanser Alberto, a 22-year-old rookie subbing for superstar leader Adrian Beltre, had had a rough game, making a costly error in the second inning and coming up empty in four previous at-bats before his single to center in the 14th inning gave the Rangers a win in Game 2.
"After I made the error, I knew I had to keep my head up," he said. "But we fight until the last out. It doesn't matter."
At the Players Association, we often talk about the fraternity of baseball players and the generational bonds they form among each other. The NY Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner captured that bond in his column today about the friendship between 25-year-old Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal and 80-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, who was one of the fiercest competitors the game has ever seen during his days with the Cardinals.
"I'll tell you right now: There's one player in the Major leagues that asks me more about my pitching than anybody, in all of the times I ever pitched or coached, and that's the closer for the Cardinals," Gibson said. "Every time he sees me. I make four or five trips throughout the year down there, and he seeks me out and sits down next to me, and we talk."
Gibson was 7-2 in nine World Series starts, posting a 1.89 ERA and winning two MVP awards. You can read the rest of the story here.
The School Spirit
AP's Ben Walker delved into the collegiate roots of the 10 playoff teams and found out that SEC schools had 22 players, including former Arkansas lefty Dallas Keuchel, on a postseason roster, followed by the Pac-12 with 12 players. You can read the story here.
The Poet Laureate
It was good to see baseball poet laureate Roger Angell's byline in The New Yorker on Saturday. The 95-year-old essayist, who accepted the J.G. Taylor Spink Award at the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York, last summer, offered his account of Friday's full day of postseason baseball, including this passage:
"I've also begun to pay skulking attention to the Astros, in case they win and move on. If that happens, I might begin to care a lot about their diminutive leadoff batter, José Altuve, who batted .313 this year, and who can twist himself down practically to beagle height in pursuit of a breaking pitch and convert it into a little skipper or liner."
"Everybody in the world has already considered us losing Game 3 with Jake Arrieta pitching. But we got a pretty good pitcher going out there ourselves (17-game-winner Michael Wacha). We're confident. We'd like to go win that game." -- Adam Wainwright
Texas Three Step?
After winning both games in Toronto, the Rangers returned to Arlington, Texas, with a chance to win Game 3 of their ALDS and advance to the AL Championship Series. But they will have to get past one of the top pitchers in baseball this season: 32-year-old right-hander Marco Estrada, who will rely on his signature changeup and cutter to keep the Rangers off balance in the must-win game for the Blue Jays. Only Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw held opponents to a lower batting average than Estrada (.203).
The Other Matchup
Dallas Keuchel is 15-0 in 18 starts at Minute Maid Park this year with a 1.46 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 129 1/3 innings. The left-hander walked just 28.
"We know we're going to be facing one of the toughest guys in the American League and in baseball," said Edinson Volquez, who takes the ball for Kansas City. "He's one of the best guys all year long. We're going to be ready for him, and I'm pretty sure they're going to be ready for us. He already faced us and we know what he's got. We're going to do our best to win the game."
Kanas City Royals @ Houston Astros; 4:10 p.m. ET; TV: MLB Network
Starters: Edison Volquez vs. Dallas Keuchel
Toronto Blue Jays @ Texas Rangers; 8:10 p.m. ET; TV: FS1
Starters: Marco Estrada vs. Martin Perez
The Trivia Answer
Houston Astros right fielder George Springer
Follow us @MLB_Players and to catch our postseason social media series, titled #WinOrGoHome #ItsBlackandWhite, featuring some up-close photos courtesy of Getty Sports.