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LEADING OFF: Fans back as Braves, Dodgers open NLCS in Texas

BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

A look at what’s happening around the majors today:

WELCOME BACK

For the first time since spring training shut in mid-March because of the virus, fans will be permitted back in the ballpark. They will be allowed into Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas when the Dodgers and Braves meet in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series.

About 11,500 tickets were available, sold in groups of four with each of those pods separated by at least six feet. That’s about 28% of the 40,518 capacity at the new $1.2 billion home of the Texas Rangers.

There aren’t any fans inside Petco Park in San Diego for the ALCS between Houston and Tampa Bay.

“I think it’s a step back towards the normalcy, where people have the right to be free and make a choice to go out and do what they want to do,” Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen said. “It’s not fun playing baseball without fans. … We welcome it, we are excited for it.”

REMEMBER ME?

After getting the win for Houston in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Charlie Morton beat the Astros for Tampa Bay in Game 3 of last year’s AL Division Series.

Morton again faces his former team when he starts Game 2 of the AL Championship Series at Petco Park with the Rays leading 1-0.

“I’d rather not think about it, just stay more even-keeled and scout them and go about my business on the mound,” he said Sunday. “And away from the field, you can be pals with people.”

The 36-year-old righty spent several seasons pitching for Pittsburgh early in his career. He recalled later facing Pirates players Josh Harrison, Neil Walker, and Andrew McCutchen.

“It’s weird,” he said. “I don’t think you could ever really get used to it, get used to pitching against people that you’re close with. So it’s just one of those things that you just have to deal with every now and then.”

Morton hopes to be able to pitch next year. If Tampa Bay declines his $15 million option, he isn’t sure how much demand there will be for him in what is likely to be a tough free-agent market.

He regrets being unable to take his 7- and 3-year-old sons and 6- and 2-year-old daughters to meet teammates in the clubhouse this year and wonders whether coronavirus will be conquered sufficiently for a more normal 2021.

“On a selfish level, I didn’t want this to be the last memory that I had of the game, of the way that it’s had to go with testing, isolation, not being to really enjoy special moments in the clubhouse,” he said. “It’s kind of been sterilized.”

Lance McCullers Jr. is scheduled to start Game 2 for the Astros. Morton and McCullers have enjoyed a lot of success when pitching in the same game, albeit on the same side.

Morton got the win and McCullers earned the save when the Astros beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS. Then in the World Series, McCullers started Game 7 and Morton wound up with the win.

OPENING UP

Walker Bueher, troublesome finger blister and all, starts the opener for the Dodgers when they play Atlanta in the NL Championship Series at Arlington, Texas.

The right-hander has made two starts in this postseason and has been limited to eight innings because of the blister. He’s struck out 16 and is 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA.

Lefty Max Fried (0-0, 3.27) goes for the Braves. The 26-year-old lefty was 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA in the regular season. He threw seven shutout innings against Cincinnati in the wild-card round, then scuffled in a start versus Miami in the Division Series.

CROSSOVERS

California-born Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud was with the Dodgers for less than a week and played in one game for them in May 2019, after he was released by the Mets and before he joined the Rays.

“I don’t like seeing him in the four-hole against us for this next week, but really happy for him,” Roberts said.

Atlanta manager Brian Snitker has a rooting interest in the ALCS matchup. His 31-year-old son, Troy, is a hitting coach for the Astros. “It’s a really neat thing to have going on in our family,” dad said.