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Braves survive Dodgers scare, Rays roll over winless Astros

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Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman belted a two-run home run in the fourth inning as the Braves built a big lead. Getty Images/AFP

Braves survive Dodgers scare, Rays roll over winless Astros

Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman belted a two-run home run in the fourth inning as the Braves built a big lead then held off the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-7 in baseball’s National League Championship Series.

The victory in Arlington, Texas, on Tuesday gave the Braves a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“This is a good ballclub we’re playing, and they’re explosive, as we saw,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I didn’t feel good with a big lead because these guys are too powerful.

“That is a good ballgame to win. They all are now.”

The winner of the series will take on either the Tampa Bay Rays or Houston Astros in the World Series.

In the ALCS contest, Joey Wendle and Hunter Renfroe each drove in two runs in the sixth inning as the Rays moved within one win of their second World Series appearance with a 5-2 victory over Houston.

The Braves, trying to return to the World Series for the first time since 1999, took charge early against a Dodgers team that endured a big blow with the late scratch of expected starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw with back spasms.

His replacement, Tony Gonsolin, got off to a solid start, retiring the first nine batters he faced.

But he gave up a walk to Ronald Acuna to open the fourth and Freeman followed with a homer to the right field stands off a slider from the rookie.

Freeman added a run-scoring single in the Braves’ four-run fifth inning and the Braves were up 7-0 before Corey Seager smacked a three-run home run with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning for the Dodgers.

It still looked like Ozzie Albies’s home run in the top of the ninth was just window dressing for the Braves, giving them an 8-3 lead.

But the Dodgers added some drama in the ninth, when Max Muncy hit a two-run homer off Braves reliever Josh Tomlin.

Cody Bellinger then delivered a run-scoring triple off closing pitcher Mark Melancon, who was able to induce a ground out from Justin Turner to seal the win.

“This team has a lot of fight and we’ve done it all year,” said Dodgers Seager. “We were one swing, one anything away from tying that ballgame and going into extras. This is a long series and we are looking (forward) to the challenge.”

Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson stretched his personal post-season scoreless streak to 15 2/3 innings, striking out five and surrendering five walks over four innings.

Five Atlanta relievers combined to notch the final 15 outs.

“The coaching staff does such a good job of keeping you in the moment and giving you the information you need at that time. Then it’s up to executing. We had a good game plan, and in the playoffs you have to keep your opponent from scoring and we were able to do that,” Anderson said.

In San Diego, Renfroe and Kevin Kiermaier each made a pair of sterling defensive plays for the Rays, who seized a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.

Rays eye World Series

Randy Arozarena had a double and two singles to become the first rookie with four three-hit performances in a single playoff season.

The top seeded Rays can book a berth to the World Series for the first time since 2008 with a win over Houston in game four on Wednesday.

“We have a good chance. We will have a good show,” said Renfroe.

Renfroe made a clutch sliding catch in right field to end the seventh inning and another for the second out in the eighth, the latter with the bases loaded and one out.

“I knew I had a good chance to catch it. I got a good jump on it,” he said. “If I didn’t catch it I was going to block it any way possible.”

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