LEADING OFF: La Russa & Baker, Red Sox vs Rays as ALDS begin

MLB Baseball

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

THAT ’70s SHOW

Two septuagenarians will be on the bench when Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa and the Chicago White Sox face the Houston Astros and skipper Dusty Baker in the opener of their best-of-five AL Division Series.

A three-time World Series winner, the 77-year-old La Russa returns to the postseason for the first time since winning the 2011 championship with St. Louis before retiring. He’ll send Lance Lynn (11-6, 2.69 ERA) to the mound in Game 1 to face Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (13-5, 3.16).

It’s the second time these teams have met in the postseason. The White Sox swept the Astros in the 2005 World Series when Houston was in the National League.

In the dugout, La Russa will match wits with an old foe in Baker, who’s still chasing that elusive first title.

”You know how I really feel inside,” the 72-year-old Baker said. ”I need it, and I got to have it.”

THE BIG EAST

AL East rivals Boston and Tampa Bay begin their Division Series at Tropicana Field, with the defending league champion Rays looking to take the first step toward a return to the World Series, where they lost to the Dodgers last fall.

Tampa Bay (100-62) went 11-8 against the wild-card Red Sox this season, winning 11 of the final 15 meetings on the way to claiming its second straight division crown.

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (13-8, 4.74 ERA) starts for Boston against rookie Shane McClanahan (10-6, 3.43), a 24-year-old lefty who made his major league debut during last year’s playoffs.

Rodriguez, a 19-game winner two years ago, missed last season after developing myocarditis following a bout with COVID-19.

”It means a lot, you know, because everything I went through last year,” Rodriguez said. ”It’s just special.”

READY AND WAITING

The Braves and Brewers will work out in Milwaukee ahead of their NL Division Series opener Friday. And the San Francisco Giants, who led the majors with 107 wins, await the winner of Wednesday night’s NL wild-card game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers.

NL West champion San Francisco announced pitching plans, with manager Gabe Kapler tabbing 24-year-old Logan Webb to start Game 1 at home, followed by 14-game winner Kevin Gausman in Game 2.

HELP WANTED

The San Diego Padres are in the market for a new manager after firing Jayce Tingler on Wednesday.

Tingler presided over the biggest collapse in franchise history just a season after finishing second in voting for NL Manager of the Year.

General manager A.J. Preller announced the move three days after the Padres finished third in the NL West at 79-83. Preller said Tingler will be given the opportunity to remain in the organization.

”Ultimately, I felt like this was a change we needed to make in order to get us on that big stage,” Preller said. ”We feel like we have a talented roster and we have a team that should play into October. The decision today reflects that.”

Tingler’s fate was sealed during a brutal freefall that saw the Padres go from a one-game lead for the second NL wild card on Sept. 9 to being eliminated from playoff contention with seven games left. The Padres clinched their 10th losing record in 11 seasons.

Tingler was 116-106 overall in two seasons.

He had no previous managerial experience above rookie-level ball and stints in various Dominican leagues before being hired on Oct. 28, 2019, by Preller, a friend from their time together in the Texas Rangers organization.

Led by superstars Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, and with a payroll of $175 million, the Padres entered this season with World Series aspirations and played with swagger until a number of problems surfaced during the second half, on the field and in the clubhouse.

LOOKING AHEAD

Cleveland manager Terry Francona is confident he’ll return next season after missing most of the past two because of serious health issues.

Francona was forced to step away from the club in late July to undergo hip replacement surgery as well as a procedure on a big toe that was partially removed last winter after it became infected.

The 62-year-old remains on crutches and has an important medical checkup scheduled for next week. Francona said the visit could determine whether he’s able to return to managing the way he wants.

”That’s a big appointment by the doctor’s admission,” he said Wednesday on a Zoom call with team president Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff. ”We get through that day and things should be OK.

”Barring anything unforeseen, I’d really like to come back and be healthy enough to embrace what the job entails and go through it with people that I enjoy and respect.”

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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