REPORT: 2009 ALABAMA PLAYERS ACCEPTED CASH FOR AUTOGRAPHS

A Sports Illustrated story published Monday alleges that two players from Alabama‘s 2009 national championship football team accepted cash in exchange for signing their names to memorabilia.

Cliff Panezich, who sold signed sports memorabilia, told Sports Illustrated that he and Adam Bollinger paid Alabama players Marquis Johnson and Terrence Cody $200 and $400, respectively, in December 2009. Johnson denied that he was paid for his autograph and told the magazine that he did not know Panezich. Cody declined comment.

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It’s unclear whether the allegations would have fallen within the NCAA’s statute of limitations, which covers four years unless it is shown that there was a “pattern of willful violations” that began before the four-year window but continued into the current four-year window, or a “blatant disregard for certain fundamental rules” such as recruiting, extra benefits, academics, ethical conduct or an “effort to conceal violations.”

According to the report, some Alabama players, including quarterback Greg McElroy, signed the memorabilia but refused payment in order to stay in compliance with NCAA rules.

Panezich and Bollinger told Sports Illustrated they waited for players outside of the athletic dormitories during winter break while the team wasn’t practicing, first encountering Johnson, who then allegedly recruited other players to participate.

An Alabama spokesman told SI, in part, “As part of our comprehensive compliance and education program, we routinely review all situations of potential concern and address matters such as these with all of our student-athletes.”

Alabama went undefeated in 2009, beating Texas to win the BCS National Championship.

In December 2016, Panezich pleaded guilty in Youngstown, Ohio, to aggravated theft, identity fraud, telecommunications fraud, money laundering, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and three counts of forgery with a forfeiture specification.

In April, he was sentenced to six years in prison. Prosecutors say he was the mastermind behind an enterprise that sold sports items with fake athlete signatures to close to 20,000 people.

SEVERAL HOUSTON TEXANS PLAYERS KNEEL AFTER COMMENTS FROM OWNER

After controversial comments made by owner Bob McNair, several Houston Texans players took a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Lindsey Wisniewski of USA Today captured an image featuring Texans players kneeling on the sideline:

Per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, approximately 10 Texans stood during the anthem with their hand over their heart.

On Friday, ESPN The Magazine‘s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. reported McNair said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” during the NFL owners’ meetings on Oct. 18 in response to player protests during the national anthem.

After McNair’s comments were made public, ESPN.com’s Sarah Barshop reported wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running back D’Onta Foreman missed Friday’s practice and other players left the team facilities before returning to practice.

NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported McNair met with the team Saturday and “expressed regret for his comments.”

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported early Sunday the Texans were planning a group protest before the start of their game against the Seahawks, with their methods ranging from kneeling, peeling the team logo off their helmets, raising their fists and staying in the locker room during the anthem.

HOUSTON ASTROS ONE WIN AWAY FROM WINNING FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP IN FRANCHISE HISTORY

The Houston Astros are one win away from clinching their first championship in franchise history after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers, 13-12, in a wild 10-inning Game 5 of the 2017 World Series on Sunday night.

Alex Bregman, who homered off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Saturday, ended the game with a walk-off RBI single against the All-Star reliever that scored pinch-runner Derek Fisher from second base.

After missing an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 series lead Saturday night, the Astros got back on track 24 hours later. They will end the 2017 postseason with an 8-1 record at Minute Maid Park, but it will take one more victory at Dodger Stadium to win the biggest prize in Major League Baseball.

Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times had the best description of this game that still manages to undersell the ridiculousness of it:

An even more appropriate tweet to describe this game is this 2015 gem from Justin Klugh of The Good Phight:

There’s almost no story that can fully capture the wildness of a matchup that took five hours and 17 minutes, featured 25 runs scored and began with two former Cy Young winners starting the game.

This marked the second time in the series that Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel were the starters, but ESPN’s Marly Rivera noted this one had a far different pace than Game 1:

With Kershaw on the mound, the Dodgers gave their ace a three-run cushion before he ever threw a pitch. Logan Forsythe hit a two-run single off Keuchel, followed by Enrique Hernandez scoring on a throwing error by Yuli Gurriel.

Heading into the game, this seemed like it was going to be a tense pitching showdown because of the starting hurlers. Kershaw and Keuchel had an outstanding duel in Game 1 that the Dodgers won, 3-1.

Instead, it turned into a wild back-and-forth slugfest that featured four ties, five lead changes and seven home runs.

Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Gurriel did most of the damage for Houston. That trio went a combined 8-for-15 with three of Houston’s five home runs, 10 RBI and six runs scored.

Keuchel had been lights-out this postseason with a 3.00 ERA, 28 strikeouts and six walks in 24 innings over four starts coming into Game 5.

Richard Justice of MLB.com noted Keuchel has been masterful at Minute Maid Park throughout the 2017 season:

The 2015 American League Cy Young winner didn’t have his best stuff or pinpoint control Sunday, needing 32 pitches to get out of the first inning and lasting just 3.2 innings before Astros manager A.J. Hinch went to his bullpen.

After Austin Barnes extended the Dodgers’ lead to 4-0 with an RBI single in the top of the fourth, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince noted Kershaw has been virtually unbeatable in this situation throughout his career:

However, Houston’s offense came to life against Kershaw in the bottom half of the fourth inning to bail out Keuchel.

Gurriel tied the score at four with a monster home run off Kershaw after Correa got Houston on the board with an RBI double:

That blast from Gurriel also put Kershaw in the MLB postseason record books, though not for a reason he would prefer:

The Astros were still in a vulnerable position, having to rely on their bullpen for 19 outs. That group has struggled with a 5.21 ERA this postseason and allowed five runs in the decisive ninth inning of Game 4.

Ken Giles, who has given up at least one run in six of his seven appearances this postseason, was told by Hinch before Game 5 he likely wouldn’t be used in the closer’s role.

“He’s a big reason why we’re here,” Hinch said (via MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart). “Right now, those words probably fall on deaf ears because of the struggles that he’s had. He doesn’t have to wear the burden of anything. He’s doing his best to be prepared and come in and make pitches, and he’s getting burned a couple of different times.”

Hinch turned to Chris Devenski to get the final four outs for Houston, but he turned out to be just as ineffective as Giles. Yasiel Puig cut the deficit to 12-11 with a two-run homer, and then Chris Taylor tied the score with a two-out, two-strike RBI single in the top of the ninth.

From innings seven through nine, there were five consecutive half-innings in which at least one run was scored. Jansen ended that streak with a scoreless ninth inning that sent the game into extra innings before Bregman got to him again.

Collin McHugh, who hasn’t pitched since Game 3 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees, started the fifth inning for Houston and gave the Dodgers life. Corey Seager and Justin Turner walked to open the frame, and Cody Bellinger picked up where he left off from Saturday with a three-run homer:

In case you wondered how quickly a playoff narrative can turn, Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle sent this after Bellinger struck out against Charlie Morton in the top of the fifth inning in Game 4:

In five at-bats after that punchout, Bellinger hit two doubles, one home run and drove in four runs.

Unfortunately, Kershaw couldn’t bounce back after getting the lead back. He was pulled with two on and two out in the bottom of the fifth, setting up Altuve to tie the score against Kenta Maeda with a three-run shot of his own.

The homer was Altuve’s seventh of the postseason. Katie Sharp of River Avenue Blues noted he’s closing in on exclusive company:

Even though the Astros have their own bullpen concerns, the Dodgers haven’t gotten much relief from their crew in this World Series. Jansen blew the first playoff save of his career in Game 2, though that looks like nothing compared to what happened Sunday.

Six Dodgers relievers combined to allow seven runs in five innings. Ross Stripling (0.2 innings) and Tony Watson (0.2 innings) were the only members of that group who didn’t give up runs in their outings.

After a quiet sixth inning, George Springer gave the Dodgers new life when he tried to make a spectacular play on a sinking line drive by Bellinger that hit the ground and went all the way to the wall, allowing Hernandez to score.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts turned to his shutdown relievers with an 8-7 lead, starting with Brandon Morrow in the seventh inning. It didn’t take long for the plan to fall apart when Springer greeted him with a leadoff homer to tie the score.

After Bregman followed with a single, Altuve struck again with an RBI double over the head of Joc Pederson in left field to put the Astros on top for the first time. Correa’s two-run homer appeared to put the nail in Los Angeles’ coffin on this night before the ninth inning.

Despite Devenski’s slip-up in the ninth, the Astros didn’t waver until they were finally able to prevail.

This game is the story of Houston’s 2017 season. It’s a team led by a high-powered offense, which scored an MLB-best 896 runs during the regular season.

In Game 4 of the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox, the Astros scored three runs off Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel to close out the series. They outscored the New York Yankees 11-1 in the last two games of the ALCS to earn a trip to the World Series.

On Sunday, the Astros knocked Kershaw around and got Jansen to give up a run for the third straight time he’s pitched in the series.

The Astros will have Justin Verlander on the mound for Game 6 on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium looking to close out the series. The Dodgers will attempt to rid themselves of the bad taste in their mouth from this game when they start Rich Hill to save their season.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE WILL HEADLINE SUPER BOWL LII HALFTIME SHOW

Global superstar Justin Timberlake will headline the Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show on NBC at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, it was confirmed tonight.

A multi-talented actor and musician, Timberlake has won ten Grammys and numerous other awards. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, he rapidly became a highly respected musician, winning two Grammys for his debut solo album, “Justified.” He’s been recognized for a range of performances, including Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Dance Recording and Best Music Video. Timberlake was most recently nominated for an Academy Award® for the song “CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!” from the film Trolls for which he won his 10th Grammy.

A gifted actor, Timberlake has appeared in diverse films including: Alpha Dog, Black Snake Moan, Shrek The Third and The Social Network. He has also won four Emmys for his appearances on “Saturday Night Live.’ Timberlake is a co-star of the upcoming film Wonder Wheel, which opens later this year.

This will be Timberlake’s third time performing on the Super Bowl Halftime stage, giving him the distinction of having the most appearances by an individual entertainer. He previously performed at Super Bowls XXXV and XXXVIII.

Justin Timberlake performs at the Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Franklin, Tenn. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

The Super Bowl halftime show

Justin Timberlake will make his third appearance at a Super Bowl Halftime. Take a look back at the best performances.

This announcement is just the beginning. Leading up to Super Bowl LII, fans may visit Pepsi.com for behind-the-scenes looks into Timberlake’s journey to the Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show, as well as other surprises along the way.

Timberlake joins an esteemed list of recent halftime acts including Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Madonna, The Who, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Prince, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, U2 and more.

The Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show is the most-watched musical event of the year. Last year’s show was the most-watched musical event of all-time across all platforms and the most-watched Super BowlHalftime performance in history through broadcast and digital channels, reaching more than 150 million unique people, garnering more than 80 million views and totaling 260 million minutes watched. Super Bowl LII and Halftime Show will be broadcast by NBC from U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota.

Super Bowl LII marks Pepsi’s sixth year as title sponsor of the Super Bowl Halftime Show and 16th year as an NFL partner. Pepsi and the NFL have teamed again to provide fans with a halftime experience worthy of pop-culture’s biggest stage.

The Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show is an NFL Network Production and will be executive produced by Ricky Kirshner and directed by Hamish Hamilton.

Visit Pepsi.com leading up to Super Bowl LII to see what this historic Halftime Show has in store for fans. For more information about Super Bowl LII, visit SuperBowl.com.

PATRIOTS STEAM-ROLL PAST THE FALCONS

The New England Patriots jumped out to a 17-0 lead and cruised from there, easily handling a mistake-prone Atlanta Falcons team in a 23-7 win on Sunday night. Here’s what we learned:

1. The Super Bowl rehashing drove the pregame and the early content, but by halftime, it was pretty clear these two teams were not the same ones who met in Houston last February. New England dominated the Falcons in the first half on offense and defense, and rode that lead to the end of regulation for an emphatic win on a national stage.

2. More of what we expect from the Patriots‘ offense. Dion Lewis led all running backs in snaps with 23, and right behind him were Rex Burkhead (22) and James White (21), with the latter also accounting for a receiving touchdown by shaking linebaker Deion Jones on a deftly run angled route out of the backfield and into the end zone. Brandin Cooks caught four of his five targets for 65 yards and a touchdown, and Rob Gronkowski caught three passes for 51 yards. Tom Brady capped another efficient night that didn’t quite produce fireworks (it’s a good thing, because with the fog that rolled in, visibility was already low), but did more than enough to cruise past Atlanta. His line was clean — 21-of-29 passing, 249 yards, two touchdowns — as was his play as New England improved to 5-2.

3. Atlanta looks nothing like the offense it was in 2016, and it’s starting to reflect poorly on offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. No sequence of Falconsplays was uglier Sunday night than when the Falcons found themselves inside the Patriots‘ 1 with two downs to score and promptly threw an incomplete pass and attempted to run an end around to Taylor Gabriel flush to the line of scrimmage, resulting in a big loss and turnover on downs. With two downs to gain all of 12 inches, there’s simply no reason to get cute, and it cost the Falcons their last legitimate chance to get back into the contest.

4. At first, it looked like a gutsy call, perhaps a message to send to his team that he believed in them enough to go for it on fourth down. But by the second fourth-down conversion attempt, it just seemed desperate from Dan Quinn. And after Atlanta went into halftime down 17-0, who could really blame him? The Falcons‘ offense found ways to move the ball between the 20s, but was a disaster once in the red zone, getting overly complicated with play calling and failing to execute, including two missed field goals from usually reliable veteran Matt Bryant. It was almost as if Quinn didn’t believe his team could find itself in a similar position, which was difficult to comprehend with the ball near midfield on the first go-for-it call. Those decisions are usually reserved for when a team is knocking on the door of the end zone. From the first blocked field goal to the failure on the 1-yard line, it was evident that for the third straight week, it wasn’t the Falcons‘ night.

5. New England has to be happy with how its defense played tonight after the unit was a collective disaster earlier in the season. The Patriots limited the Falcons to just 22 percent (2 of 9) in third-down efficiency and kept Julio Jones out of the game until they had built a 17-0 lead. The defense stood firm, breaking up an attempt to throw a fade to Jones in the third quarter and denied Gabriel’s end around run, and carried a shutout deep into the fourth, despite having to play coverage in a thick fog.

“I thought we competed and made them earn every yard,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said.

6. The narrative stemming from this game will be about how the Patriots are back to where everyone thought they’d be, but while New England played a solid game and should be proud of its victory, this wasn’t a massive win by any means. The bigger storyline that should come out of this game is what has happened to Atlanta? The Falcons‘ defense, which featured the league’s leader in sacks last season and looked menacing in the first three weeks has since lost its strength and didn’t muster all that much of a fight against the Patriots. That only piles on top of whatever has gone wrong with the team’s offense — this writer thinks someone might be outcoaching himself while also failing to use all of his personnel — to make what was once a promising season now a concerning one at 3-3.

7. It was legitimately difficult to decipher what was going on in this game, thanks to some unexpected and thick fog. The beautiful development that stemmed from this was a fourth quarter broadcast almost exclusively from the wire camera angle, which was perhaps the best development from Sunday Night Football this season. The change allowed viewers to see plays unfold from the view of the offensive players, which is usually reserved for replays and game film (and is much more useful than the broadcast angle), and drew almost exclusively rave reviews from those watching on Twitter. It was truly magnificent in a game that was very far from that.

MARTAVIS BRYANT “WANTS OUT” IN PITTSBURGH

PITTSBURGH — Receiver Martavis Bryant appeared to reinforce his trade request on social media late Sunday, calling out rookie JuJu Smith-Schusterand urging the Pittsburgh Steelers to “give me what I want.”

What he wants is clear.

“He wants out,” a source close to Bryant said. “Point blank.”

Bryant was tagged on a comment from an Instagram post by @fantasyfootballcounselor pointing out how Bryant didn’t get the ball on a play intended for Antonio Brown during the Steelers’ 29-14 win over Cincinnati.

Bryant responded in a since-deleted comment that was screengrabbed and shared all over social media.

“JuJu is no where near better than me, fool,” Bryant commented. “All they need to do is give me what I want and y’all can have JuJu and whoever else.”

Bryant then clarified those remarks with a new comment that tagged Smith-Schuster, the rookie who caught a 31-yard touchdown Sunday and has cut into Bryant’s playing time.

“JuJu is the future and got great talent and is going to be one of the best to play this game,” Bryant commented. “I want him to get his. I just want mines, period, point-blank. Ain’t nobody did nothing to get me back. I worked my ass off to get myself back with no help and little support, period. In due time the process will show.”

The NFL Network reported Bryant had requested a trade. ESPN confirmed the report, citing Bryant’s disenchantment with his role in the offense.

Bryant and the Steelers cooled those reports during the week, with Bryant saying publicly he did not request a trade. Coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Bryant was happy.

Bryant, who was suspended for the 2016 season for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy, entered the game with 17 catches for 231 yards and a touchdown.

He was heavily involved in practices this week, but Sunday he caught one pass for 3 yards on two targets.

LAVAR BALL “WHO IS PATRICK BEVERLY”

LOS ANGELES — LaVar Ball fired back at Patrick Beverley after the LA Clippersguard shouted an obscenity as he walked into the locker room that was presumed to be about Lonzo Ball.

After the Clippers routed the Los Angeles Lakers 108-92 and held Ball to three points, four assists and nine rebounds in his debut, Beverley was heard screaming, “weak ass m—–f—–. Bring him out on the court with me and I will tear his ass up,” as he walked off the court and into the locker room.

“Yeah, you shut the m—–f—– down,” LaVar Ball told ESPN after the game. “And your check still ain’t going to go no higher than what it is. Yeah, you shut him down. OK … Who is Patrick Beverley? He played all last year and nobody said nothing about him. Now we are looking at your first game. Why? Because Lonzo’s name is attached to it.

“So you got to be [all hard],” Ball added as he slapped his fists together. “Let’s see what you do the next five games, if you are going to be pumped up towards everybody like that and go back to your 0-for-5 shooting and your two or three rebounds. Nobody is going to care about you. But you put my son’s name in it and you put my name in it, now you got some action and you got some people talking.”

Told that Beverley didn’t say Lonzo Ball’s name when he screamed on his way into the locker room, LaVar Ball said it didn’t matter. He said Beverley tried staring him down in his courtside seats near the Clippers bench during the fourth quarter.

“You ain’t got to say it by name because I saw the way he looked at me when he was on the side of the bench,” he said. “He was going to see if I can get eye contact. I just looked at him like I looked right past him because he’s nobody. You talking to Big Baller.

“One game. OK, you still don’t have your own shoe, you are still not your own boss,” he continued. “I know why you are looking at me. And you want to tell me that I got your son! Well I got two more you can try to get some of, too. They will be here, don’t worry about it. I don’t worry about one game.”

The Lonzo Ball era began with the rookie point guard struggling with his shot and missing 5 of 6 shots. Beverley, as he likes to do, picked up the rookie well past halfcourt many times. The Lakers expected and warned Ball that Beverley would test the rookie, who might have been surrounded by more hype than any other rookie.

“Look, I can’t even imagine being him right now,” team president Magic Johnson said of Ball and all the attention surrounding him before the game. “Being an L.A. kid, this has got to be crazy. Always wanted to play for the Lakers and he gets his first game tonight? Wow. … Now it is for real now. It is no exhibition. This is real.

“[And] he is up against a tough dude, that is what I am telling him, Patrick Beverley is no joke,” Johnson added. “He is one of the best defenders that we have and he is also one of the best at playing mind games, too. Once he’s got you, mentally he attacks you. He is almost like Draymond [Green], they talk to you. So he has to be really ready and stay strong and stay into his game. He is going up against a pro that really knows how to play.”

At one point, Beverley shoved Ball down at halfcourt and drew a foul in the first half. The rookie got Beverley with a nice crossover at one point when Beverley went for a steal and whiffed. But later in the game, Beverley stripped Ball clean near halfcourt for a layup. Beverley finished with 10 points and two steals while Ball had two turnovers.

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“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said after the game. “I told him after the game due to all the riff raff that his dad brings that he is going to get a lot of people coming at him. He has to be ready for that, and I let him know after the game. But what a better way to start than 94 feet guarding him.”

Ball said he liked the shots he got but couldn’t make them. Ball tried to impact the game in other ways by hitting the glass often for rebounds. He blocked Blake Griffin from behind on one play and had one stretch in the third quarter when he looked more comfortable by dishing three assists.

Ball, who was held out of the fourth quarter with the game out of hand, didn’t have any problem with the way Beverley played him.

“[Beverley] plays hard, he knows his job, he does it very well,” said Ball, who estimated he had at least 40 friends and family at the game. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

“We got blown out so I didn’t play too well.”

After the game, LaVar Ball huddled with his son as they do after every game to go over what happened and how the point guard can improve. Lonzo Ball getting off to a slow start is not something new. The rookie struggled in his Las Vegas summer league debut before leading the Lakers to a summer league championship and becoming the MVP.

“Beverley is going to test [people],” LaVar Ball said. “He didn’t do nothing. But it is a better story. Lonzo don’t even care about Beverley. You never care about Lonzo versus Westbrook, Lonzo versus Harden, Lonzo versus Beverley. Who cares? It is a team game.”

THE LA DODGERS RETURN TO THE WORLD SERIES AFTER A LONG HIATUS

CHICAGO — It hasn’t been 108 years since the Los Angeles Dodgers have won a World Series, but they are one step closer to erasing their own drought. After knocking out the defending champion Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series with an 11-1 victory at Wrigley Field on Thursday, the Dodgers are back in the World Series for the first time since 1988, when Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson led the team to a dramatic upset of the Oakland A’s.

This is the Dodgers’ 11th postseason appearance since then, and their stretch of 10 appearances in a row without a title is an MLB record. That history has been punctuated by four previous losses in the NLCS, including last season when the Cubs beat them in six games, a defeat that prompted ace starter Clayton Kershaw to admit the Cubs were “just the better team.”

This year was different. Kershaw was once again on the mound for the Dodgers, but this time trying to pitch his team into the World Series instead of facing elimination. In his five previous NLCS starts dating to 2013, the Dodgers had been shut out three times and scored only six runs — three of those coming in Game 1 of this series after Kershaw was knocked out.

In this game, the Dodgers scored early and often. Super-sub Enrique Hernandez was the offensive hero, with a solo home run to left-center off Jose Quintana in the top of the second inning and then an opposite-field grand slam to right-center off reliever Hector Rondon in the third that gave the Dodgers a 7-0 lead. Hernandez added a two-run homer in the ninth, ending the night 3-for-4 with seven RBIs.

Kershaw did his part as well, throwing six innings to earn the win. He gave up one run, on a solo homer by Kris Bryant, and three hits. He struck out five and walked one.

Just a few weeks ago, it was difficult to envision the Dodgers going 7-1 in eight postseason games. After a torrid 56-11 run put them on pace to challenge the MLB record for wins in a season, they inexplicably lost 16 of 17 from late August through mid-September, a stretch of ineptitude no playoff team had ever endured. The Dodgers recovered to finish with 104 wins, most in the majors and most for the franchise since it moved to Los Angeles in 1958.

“We learned that we could get through something like that and come out on the other side,” manager Dave Roberts said before Game 4. “It was also encouraging to see that guys continued to stay the course as far as the preparation. There wasn’t any finger-pointing. We still banded together and stayed focused on winning baseball games.”

The Dodgers eliminated the Cubs even though All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, the team’s No. 2 hitter, missed the series because of a sore back. Roster depth has been key to the team’s success all season. In Seager’s absence, Charlie Culberson — who started only one game at shortstop all season — started the first two games and Game 5, and Chris Taylor, who had become the team’s starting center fielder, took over in Games 3 and 4. Hernandez, a right-handed hitter, has started games at seven positions this season and was in the starting lineup with the lefty Quintana starting.

Taylor and Justin Turner were named co-MVPs of the NLCS.

GORDON HEYWARD SUFFERS FRACTURED ANKLE IN SEASON OPENER

CLEVELAND — Celtics forward Gordon Hayward was stretchered off the floor at Quicken Loans Arena after suffering a horrific-looking leg injury a little more than five minutes into his Boston debut Tuesday night.

Hayward’s left leg bent awkwardly after he went up for an alley-oop pass, collided with LeBron James and collapsed under the basket with 6 minutes, 45 seconds left in the first quarter.

Players initially kept their distance as doctors tended to Hayward. Teammates and Cavaliers players, including James, then checked on Hayward as he was being stretchered from the court.

After the game — a 102-99 Celtics loss — Boston coach Brad Stevens said Hayward dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia. The team announced the injury as a fractured left ankle. Hayward was set to fly back with the Celtics to Boston on Tuesday night and go straight to New England Baptist Hospital after landing. According to ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, Hayward will have surgery Wednesday.

“You hurt for him. He’s put in a lot of great work. And I thought he had his most comfortable week as far as feeling like he was going to play really well,” Stevens said. “But now we’ll hopefully get a full recovery, right? And so it’s a tough deal, but I guess that’s part of it, the risk of injury. I really feel for him.”

Hayward’s left ankle turned at such an odd angle that teammates stood in shock as he motioned for help from the sideline.

Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade knelt with his hand on his head nearby, as team doctors worked on Hayward. Shellshocked Celtics players huddled, with Kyrie Irving burying his head in the chests of teammates Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum.

Fans gave Hayward a standing ovation as he was taken from the court with his entire left leg immobilized in an air cast. Sources told ESPN that Hayward’s ankle was reset on the floor, which reduced his pain and stabilized him.

He was immediately taken to the Cavaliers’ locker room for more evaluation.

Numerous doctors and Cavaliers and Celtics officials were with Hayward in the Cleveland locker room, where he received X-rays. Many were ashen as they left, including Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman.

Isaiah Thomas, who recruited Hayward to Boston this summer, was in the locker room with him for an extended period before returning to the bench.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who recruited Hayward to Cleveland as a free agent in 2014, also visited him.

The Celtics trailed by 16 at the half but rallied in the third quarter.

As far as what the coach told his team at halftime about focusing on basketball after the injury, Stevens said, “I don’t have any magic words for that. You’re all hurting for him. I’m not going to try to take the human element out of it.”

Players across the league immediately reacted on social media to the injury, including Paul George, who broke his leg in a gruesome injury in 2014.

“It was terrifying,” said Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose team was readying for its season opener against the Houston Rockets. “The whole coaches’ office was just devastated watching it. It just shows the fragile nature of what we do.”

Hayward signed a four-year, $128 million contract with the Celtics in July, making him the first of two All-Stars that they acquired this summer. Boston later picked up Irving in a trade with the Cavs.

Hayward’s arrival in Boston reunited him with his former Butler coach Brad Stevens.

The Celtics play their home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.

YANKEES BLAST ASTROS 8-1

NEW YORK — Yankee Stadium was reverberating with the chant, “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” On a classically cold night in the Bronx, the sellout crowd serenaded Aaron Judge, putting its own exclamation point on Judge’s spectacular fourth inning that included an amazing catch and a three-run homer.

Judge had finally answered Jose Altuve, his regular-season MVP adversary, who had been the far better player in the first two games of the American League Championship Series. More importantly, Judge and the New York Yankeesturned Monday night into less of a game and more of a party to tighten this series.

“It was his night,” Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

While Judge was center of attention because of who he is, it was a team effort — with the old guard, CC Sabathia and Todd Frazier, doing their part — as the Yankees cruised to a Game 3 win over the Astros, 8-1.

It was such a celebration that in the eighth inning, the fans in the left-field bleachers decided to do a roll call — which is usually reserved for the first inning — when they chant each player’s name until receiving acknowledgement. Judge paid them his respect by extending his glove as the fans chanted his name.

With Judge crashing into the wall to make a fourth-inning catch, it was not only the fans who were in an appreciative mood.

“We have guys on this this team that will basically go through walls for everybody,” Frazier said.

The Astros are quickly finding out what the Cleveland Indians learned the hard way: Being down 0-2 means little to this Yankees team that has an ideal mix of talented youth and veteran grit. Sabathia once again reached back, like his old buddy Andy Pettitte used to, giving the Yankees exactly what they needed with six scoreless innings. Frazier, a Toms River, New Jersey, native, used the right-field porch to slap a three-run, second-inning homer. Those were all the runs the Yankees would need.

In 2017, the Yankees are about Judge most of all, which is why the talk on the subways in all five boroughs and offices around the city will be about the 6-foot-7, nearly 300-pound right fielder on Tuesday.

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Did you see Judge’s catch? Yeah, he homered, too.

In the fourth, Judge made an amazing catch, slamming against the wall in right and holding on to the ball like a tight end after being floored by a free safety.

“That pad’s only a couple inches thick, and right behind that, it’s not moving, even as big as he is,” Yankees left fielder Brett Gardnersaid. “Even though it’s padded, it’s a pretty good hit he took. But like I said, he’s a big guy, so the wall’s probably hurting, too.”

In the bottom half of the same inning, Judge slammed a three-run homer and the blowout was on.

This postseason, Judge is morphing into a combination of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Like the old captain, he has shown a flair for the moment. In the comeback over the Indians, he made probably the most important defensive play of the year when he stole a two-run homer from Francisco Lindor.

While he hasn’t had that many hits so far in the playoffs, Judge has made what he has have count. He nailed a two-run homer in the Yankees’ wild-card win. He had a two-run double in Game 4 of the AL Division Series that chased Cleveland’s starter, Trevor Bauer, in the second. Both extended leads.

“We’ve played how many playoff games — nine? He [has] seven RBIs,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He gets his walks, got another one tonight. I know how dangerous he is. He can really change a game really quickly.”

This is especially true when he gets his pitch. Judge is so dangerous when pitchers try to go inside on him, like reliever Will Harris did in the fourth. On pitches classified as high and inside, Judge hit four homers on 78 regular-season swings (19.5). On average, the rest of baseball hits those type of pitches out only once every 65 swings.

But still, his clutchness, a la A-Rod, has come into question from some Yankees fans. He has struck out a lot during his Rookie of the Year and possibly-MVP regular season, but the whiffs have been more glaring in the playoffs. He has been sent down on strikes in 50 percent of his postseason at-bats compared to a 31 percent rate in the regular season.

Only nine games into the playoffs, Judge has already broken the record set by Reggie Sanders (1995) and tied by Austin Jackson (2011) for the most strikeouts by one player before the World Series, with 21. It doesn’t impact his mood.

“You’ve got to take the ups with the downs,” Judge said. “You can’t have all the good, come out here and hit a thousand, even though I want to.”

Judge is more than just a home run hitter. In the fifth, he added another really nice catch, coming in to make a diving stop.

“You don’t see people his size move like that,” Yankees first baseman Greg Birdsaid. “At least not in our sport. Maybe the NBA or the NFL, but I never have, personally, up close like this, and it’s really impressive to watch.”

But like the all the biggest stars, the moment seems to find him. If he and his teammates can claw their way back again from another 2-0 hole, it will be the stuff of legends.