LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mookie Betts homered and drove in three runs, Will Smith also went deep and the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the San Francisco Giants 7-2 on Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 5 in their NL Division Series.

The 107-win Giants host the 106-win Dodgers on Thursday night, with the winner advancing to face Atlanta in the NL Championship Series. The Braves eliminated Milwaukee earlier Tuesday.

San Francisco won the NL West by one game over the Dodgers in an historic race that went down to the final day of the regular season. Now, these storied rivals are set for a winner-take-all showdown.

“I think it’s only fitting,” Los Angeles ace Walker Buehler said.

The wild-card Dodgers managed just five hits during a 1-0 loss in Game 3 — the second time they were shut out in this series — to put the defending World Series champs on the brink of elimination. Los Angeles had that many by the second inning Tuesday and pounded out 12 in all to back a brief but effective outing from Buehler on three days’ rest.

Atlanta advances to NLCS

ATLANTA (AP) — Freddie Freeman hit a tiebreaking home run off Milwaukee closer Josh Hader with two outs in the eighth inning and the Atlanta Braves advanced to the NL Championship Series for the second year in a row, finishing off the Brewers 5-4 on Tuesday night.

The Braves won the best-of-five Division Series three games to one, advancing to face either the 107-win San Francisco Giants or the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers with a trip to the World Series on the line.

The game was tied at 4 when the Brewers brought on Hader to make sure it stayed that way. The hard-throwing lefty struck out Eddie Rosario and Dansby Swanson, but he couldn’t get past the 2020 NL MVP.

Freeman caught up with an 84-mph slider, launching a 428-foot drive into the seats in left-center — only the fourth homer all season off Hader, and first since July 28.

Freeman celebrated wildly on his way around the bases, and popped back out of the dugout for a curtain call as the crowd of 40,195 roared. He became the first player in franchise history to hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later in a series-clinching win, ESPN Stats & Info said.

Houston gets past Chicago

CHICAGO (AP) — It was Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman once again.

Led by their October-tested stars, the Houston Astros are going back to the AL Championship Series for the fifth straight year.

Altuve hit a three-run homer, scored four times and stole a base, and Houston eliminated the Chicago White Sox with a 10-1 victory in Game 4 of their AL Division Series on Tuesday.

Correa and Bregman each hit a two-run double as the Astros bounced back from Sunday night’s 12-6 loss with their usual relentless brand of baseball. Michael Brantley had three hits and two RBIs.

Next up for Altuve and company is Game 1 of the ALCS against former Astros bench coach Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox on Friday in Houston. The Red Sox eliminated Tampa Bay with a 6-5 victory in Game 4 on Monday night.

NHL

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league has only four unvaccinated players as it opens up the 2021-22 season.

Bettman was in attendance for the regular-season opener between the back to back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.

Bettman said NHL officials and all the personnel that come into contact with the players are vaccinated.

There are still COVID-19 cases involving players that are fully vaccinated.

BASKETBALL

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks will miss the start of the season to ensure he fully recovers from a broken left hand.

The Grizzlies announced Tuesday that the decision for Brooks to receive additional treatment was made after imaging in checking Brooks as part of the team’s return to play protocol. Brooks will be reevaluated in two to three weeks.

Memphis opens the season Oct. 20 hosting Cleveland.

Brooks said at media day on Sept. 27 that he broke his hand during an offseason practice reaching for a ball. His hand hyperextended and broke in two places.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Nikki McCray-Penson says she is stepping down as Bulldogs coach immediately after one season to focus on her health.

The Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer said in a release Tuesday that she has been faced again with unspecified health concerns she had hoped were behind her. To devote time and energy toward addressing these issues, McCray-Penson stated that she decided to step away. The Bulldogs were 10-9 (5-7 Southeastern Conference) in her lone season as coach.

Associate head coach Doug Novak will be MSU’s interim coach and the school will conduct a national search for a new coach. Athletic director John Cohen said the school appreciated McCray-Penson’s time and effort and respected her decision to focus on her health and family.

Chris Brady is managing editor at The Standard-Journal and can be reached at chris@standard-journal.com.

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