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The Sports Report: Division lead is cut as Dodgers fall to Padres

Trent Grisham of the Padres rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the sixth inning.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: The closest thing to a playoff atmosphere in an empty stadium in September unfolded at Petco Park on Monday night. As a layer of haze hovered over the vacant ballpark, the two best teams in the National League, separated by 2 1/2 games in the standings, began a marquee three-game series with a pitcher’s duel, a heated exchange of words, and a late-game collapse.

In the end, the Dodgers, even after a dominant start from their ace, were outclassed in a 7-2 loss to the sizzling San Diego Padres.

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The difference was the seventh inning. The Dodgers (33-15) fell apart and the Padres capitalized on their miscues to break open a tie game with five runs. With the win, the Padres cut the Dodgers’ lead in the National League West and for the No. 1 seed in the NL to 1 1/2 games. They have won 21 of 26 games and eight straight. The Dodgers have dropped five of their last eight.

The Dodgers’ trouble in the seventh inning started when Wil Myers lined a leadoff single against Clayton Kershaw. Two batters later, Kershaw, who had been cruising, allowed a single to Jurickson Profar to put two runners on base with one out. The sequence prompted manager Dave Roberts to pull Kershaw — not before a conversation on the mound — and insert Pedro Báez.

Kershaw threw 99 pitches, 73 for strikes. He compiled zero walks, nine strikeouts, and 21 swing-and-misses. Eighteen of the whiffs were on sliders. His fastball averaged a promising 92 mph. But Roberts chose Báez to escape the jam.

Jorge Oña greeted Báez with a flare double down the left-field line to give San Diego the lead. Next, Greg Garcia hit a ground ball to Max Muncy at first base. Across the diamond, Profar sprinted home and stopped halfway when he saw Muncy look his way. When Muncy walked towards first base, Profar dashed home. Muncy, a few feet from a sure out at first base, fired home. Profar slid in headfirst safely.

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Trent Grisham followed with another ground ball to Muncy, who threw to second base to start an inning-ending double play. Instead, the ball bounced off shortstop Chris Taylor’s glove and into left field, allowing Oña to score. The Padres (32-17) tacked on two more runs against Blake Treinen and didn’t look back.

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LAKERS

Broderick Turner on the Lakers: The Lakers will attempt to keep their rhythm, or their “cadence,” as coach Frank Vogel called it, while they take five days off before playing in the Western Conference finals opener.

They have been down this road before — when the Lakers dispatched the Portland Trail Blazers in five games in the first round and had to wait six days before playing the Houston Rockets, who beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in a seven-game series. The Lakers lost Game 1 to the Rockets but won the next four in the second round.

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Now the Lakers await the winner of the tense series between the Clippers and Denver Nuggets that’s tied at 3-3 and will be determined Tuesday night.

The Lakers practiced Monday, will have Tuesday off, and then will practice Wednesday and Thursday to prepare for the opponent they will face beginning Friday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
All times Pacific
No. 1 Lakers vs. Clippers or Denver

Game 1: Friday, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 2: Sunday, 4:30 p.m., TNT
Game 3: Tuesday, Sept. 22, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 4: Thursday, Sept. 24, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 5*: Saturday, Sept. 26, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 6*: Monday, Sept. 28, TBD, TNT
Game 7*: Wed., Sept. 30, TBD, TNT

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CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: Having seen two opportunities to advance to their first conference finals slip away in eerily similar fashion, the Clippers have much to discuss before the seventh and final game against the Denver Nuggets. But at no point before Tuesday’s tipoff, coach Doc Rivers promised, would his team hear a soaring pregame speech.

“Rah-rah speeches are very overrated,” Rivers said Monday. “They last about three minutes and you come running out and you’re fired up and then three minutes later you’ve got to focus on playing basketball.”

Beginnings haven’t been the issue against Denver. It’s their finishes where the Clippers have searched in vain for a pick-me-up, a stop, a made shot and better focus — anything to stop rallies by the Nuggets to win Games 5 and 6 after trailing by 16 and 19 points, respectively.

“What I see the most is our pace offensively,” Rivers said. “Some of that is because they’re scoring, but some of that I thought was self-inflicted. And then defensively we have to be better.”

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No. 2 Clippers vs. No. 3 Denver
Second round
All times Pacific

Game 1: Clippers 120, Denver 97
Game 2: Denver 110, Clippers 101
Game 3: Clippers 113, Denver 107
Game 4: Clippers 96, Denver 85
Game 5: Denver 111, Clippers 105
Game 6: Denver 111, Clippers 98
Game 7: Tonight, 6 p.m., ESPN

ANGELS

Maria Torres on the Angels: The Angels have been searching for a suitable replacement for aging Albert Pujols since they traded C.J. Cron more than two years ago.

Perhaps their solution is a player who lurked in the background before enjoying a major-league breakthrough.

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Jared Walsh has been staking his claim as the Angels’ first baseman of the future with a blistering start to September, batting .389 with five homers and two doubles.

“Everybody wants to be a good major leaguer,” Walsh said at the onset of this torrid 10-game stretch, “not a good triple-A player. … I have by no means figured everything out, but I do think I’m moving in the right direction.”

Walsh nearly went undrafted out of college in 2015, left to worry if a team would give him a chance on the final day of the 40-round selection. The Georgia product waited until the 39th round. After the Angels picked him, he waited three more years before he emerged as one of the team’s best 30 prospects. When he reflected on the improbability of his ascent to the major leagues before debuting last season, he referred to himself as “Almost Mr. Irrelevant.”

But the last two weeks have provided a peek of what could be. And Walsh has shown he could supplant Pujols, whose contract extends through 2021, if his bat produces steadily during a full season.

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“I really love this organization and want to be a part of it for a long time,” he said Saturday after his three-run moonshot, his fourth homer in as many days, secured the Angels’ 11-inning victory in Colorado. “I think there’s some really outstanding players here. I want to be a part of the future in any way I can. I think [my] role will kind of solve itself so I don’t really jump to conclusions too much.”

HORSE RACING

John Cherwa on horse racing: Santa Anita has postponed this weekend’s opening of its autumn meeting for one week, until Sept. 25, because of the nearby Bobcat fire affecting the San Gabriel Valley.

The combination of poor air quality and the track being used as an evacuation center precipitated the decision.

“Our local community has been deeply impacted by the Bobcat fire burning for more than a week in the mountains behind us,” said Aidan Butler, acting executive director of California operations for the Stronach Group. “The current weather pattern has kept the smoke in the valley, and the air quality is quite poor now.”

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Santa Anita was supposed to open Saturday for two days of racing before going to a Friday through Sunday schedule for the remainder of the five-week season.

Also, Bob E. McGee became the 27th racing or training fatality at Los Alamitos since Dec. 27 when the 2-year-old gelding sustained a life-ending injury after finishing a 350-yard race on Sunday night. The horse was running in a trial for the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Assn. Breeders’ Futurity.

He had just run fourth, 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner, and was decelerating when it’s believed he fractured his left shoulder and then fell to the ground. The injury was considered unrepairable and the horse was euthanized. A necropsy will be performed to determine the cause of the injury. Rider Jairo Rangel was unhurt.

Bob E. McGee was running his fourth lifetime race, having finished third twice. His last race was June 26 when he finished third in a maiden race. His earnings totaled $10,214. He was trained by Paul Jones and owned and bred by Bobby Simmons.

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WNBA

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on the WNBA: When Bill Laimbeer arrived in Bradenton, Fla., for the WNBA’s quarantined season in July, the Las Vegas Aces head coach had a clear idea which team he thought would rise to the top of the league. It wasn’t his.

Two months later, with the No. 1 seed in the WNBA playoffs, Laimbeer needed a moment to collect his thoughts.

“Who would’ve thunk it?” Laimbeer told reporters on a videoconference call after the Aces (18-4) clinched the top seed Sunday with a win over the championship-favorite Seattle Storm.

The Aces’ unexpected rise to the top of the standings is the latest twist in the WNBA’s unique season, which continues Tuesday with the first round of the playoffs. The team rode star forward A’ja Wilson and the most prolific bench in league history to a season sweep of the Storm and three wins in four days to close the regular season. All this after losing starters Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum before the season began.

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With a two-round bye in hand, the Aces and No. 2 seed Storm (18-4) have one week to rest before the semifinal series begin Sept. 20. Six other teams start action this week.

The Sparks faded at the finish with two straight losses. After celebrating its bench early this year, the team’s depth was tested with injuries to guards Sydney Wiese (ankle) and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (shoulder). They could return in time for the Sparks’ single-elimination second-round game Thursday.

With teams getting reseeded after each round, the Sparks (15-7) face the lowest remaining seed after first-round games featuring No. 5 Phoenix Mercury vs. No. 8 Washington Mystics, and the No. 6 Chicago Sky vs. No. 7 Connecticut Sun. The remaining first-round survivor faces No. 4 seed Minnesota.

Playoff Schedule
First round, single elimination
All times Pacific

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Today
No. 6 Chicago Sky vs. No. 7 Connecticut Sun, 4 p.m. EST, ESPN2
No. 5 Phoenix Mercury vs. No. 8 Washington Mystics, 6 p.m., ESPN2

Second Round, single elimination

Thursday
No. 4 Minnesota Lynx vs. TBD, 4 p.m., ESPN2
No. 3 Sparks vs. TBD, 6 p.m., ESPN2

NBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

CONFERENCE FINALS
EASTERN CONFERENCE

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No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Today, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 2: Thursday, TBD, ESPN
Game 3: Saturday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 4: Monday, TBD, ESPN
Game 5*: Wed., Sept. 23, TBD, ESPN
Game 6*: Friday, Sept. 25, TBD, ESPN
Game 7*: Sunday, Sept. 27, TBD, ESPN

*-if necessary

NHL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE


All Times Pacific
Conference finals
Eastern Conference

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 NY Islanders

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Game 1: Tampa Bay 8, NY Islanders 2
Game 2: Tampa Bay 2, NY Islanders 1
Game 3: NY Islanders 5, Tampa Bay 3
Game 4: Tampa Bay 4, NY Islanders 1
Game 5: Today, 5 p.m., NBCSN
Game 6*: Thursday, 5 p.m., NBCSN
Game 7*: Saturday, Sept. 19, 4:30 p.m., NBC

Western Conference
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars

Game 1: Dallas 1, Vegas 0
Game 2: Vegas 3, Dallas 0
Game 3: Dallas 3, Vegas 2 (OT)
Game 4: Dallas 2, Vegas 1
Game 5: Dallas 3, Vegas 2 (OT)

*-if necessary

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TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific.

Clippers vs. Denver, 6 p.m., ESPN

Dodgers at San Diego, 6 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Arizona at Angels, 6:30 p.m., FS1, FSW, KLAA 830

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THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1923 — Bill Tilden wins the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association championship, beating William Johnston in straight sets, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.

1962 — Frank Tripucka of the Denver Broncos passes for 447 yards and two touchdowns in a 23-20 win over the Buffalo Bills.

1971 — Stan Smith wins the U.S. Open title over Jan Khodes and Billie Jean King beats Rosemary Casals for the women’s title. It’s the first time in 16 years both titles were won by U.S. players.

1973 — Three-year-old Secretariat wins the Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap in the then-world record time of 1:45 2-5 for 11/8 miles.

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1973 — Archie Griffin of Ohio State starts his NCAA record string of 31 games of rushing for at least 100 yards, leading the Buckeyes to a 56-7 rout of Minnesota in Columbus.

1978 — Muhammad Ali becomes the first three-time heavyweight champion with a unanimous 15-round decision over Leon Spinks at the Superdome in New Orleans.

1991 — The United States women’s gymnastics team makes history with its first team medal — a silver — at the World Championships in Indianapolis.

2002 — Sam Hornish Jr. wins another incredible race at Texas Motor Speedway, and his second straight IRL title. Hornish side-by-side with Helio Castroneves for many of the last 25 laps in the season-ending Chevy 500, crosses the finish line 0.0096 seconds — only a few inches — ahead of the other driver in contention for the season championship. Hornish wins his IRL-record fifth race of the season and becomes the first driver to win two IRL championships.

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2012 — Ryan Blaney becomes the youngest winner in NASCAR Trucks history at 18 years, 8 months, taking the caution-filled race at Iowa Speedway in his third series start. Blaney, the son of Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney, breaks the age record of 20 years, 18 days set by Kyle Busch in 2005 at Charlotte.

2013 — Aaron Rodgers throws for a career-high 480 yards and James Jones has a career-best 178 yards receiving in Green Bay’s 38-20 win over the Washington Redskins.

2013 — Denver’s Peyton Manning passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns in the Broncos’ 41-23 win over the New York Giants. Manning (60,256) becomes the third quarterback in NFL history to reach 60,000 career passing yards, joining Brett Favre and Dan Marino.

2017 — The Cleveland has its AL record run stopped at 22 straight games as the Indians are beaten 4-3 by the Kansas City Royals, who become the first team to conquer the defending league champions since Aug. 23. The Indians came within four of matching the overall record held by the 1916 New York Giants.

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And finally

In the movie “42", Jackie Robinson deals with Ben Chapman‘s racism (warning: language). Watch it here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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