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Red Sox Beat Astros in Game 2 to Tie ALCS

HOUSTON — Since late last season, whenever a Boston Red Sox player smashes a home run, he plops down afterward in a metal laundry cart and gets pushed the length of the cramped dugout through a receiving line of high fives. It’s a silly but unique ritual, and the players all seem to love it.

In Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, the Red Sox were in danger of wearing out their cart.

Six batters into the game, they celebrated a grand slam by designated hitter J.D. Martinez. Six batters later, they did it again, this time for third baseman Rafael Devers, who also hit a grand slam. The Red Sox thus became the first team in postseason history with multiple such blasts in the same game.

“We were really happy with what happened,” Devers said afterward in Spanish. “And we know that with a team like Houston, you have to score a lot of runs.”

On and on it went for the Red Sox against the Astros in a marathon 9-5 win that evened the best-of-seven series at one game apiece as it shifts to Boston on Monday. Red Sox center fielder Kiké Hernandez, who is hitting like a smaller, right-handed reincarnation of Barry Bonds, continued his blazing postseason at the plate, collecting two more hits, including yet another home run.

Through two games, it is clear that there will be little to no pitching, especially from the starting rotation, that the runs will come in bushels and that the games will be long for both of those reasons.

“They got the same kind of team,” Martinez said. “When you look at it on paper, they have an unbelievable lineup, and we feel like we do, too.”

It all unraveled so quickly for the Astros on Saturday. Red Sox first baseman Kyle Schwarber led off the game with a double off Astros starter Luis Garcia, Devers drew a one-out walk and left fielder Alex Verdugo drew a two-out walk to load the bases.

Up came Martinez, Boston’s most accomplished slugger, who missed two games this postseason because of a twisted ankle. When Garcia fell behind Martinez, 1-0, and then threw a fastball away, Martinez didn’t miss. He sliced it over the right field fence for a 4-0 lead that silenced Minute Maid Park.

“That situation, the pressure is on him; it’s not on me to come through there,” Martinez said. “It’s the first inning. He has bases loaded. I’m trying to tell myself that, trying to stay relaxed and just looking for a pitch so I can just put a barrel on it.”

The same thing happened in the second inning, amid a concerning development for the Astros pitcher. After Garcia walked catcher Kevin Plawecki on four pitches and his velocity dipped, Astros Manager Dusty Baker and an athletic trainer paid a visit to the mound. They ended up removing Garcia, who was done after 33 pitches, citing discomfort in his right knee.

In Game 1, the Astros had only received two and two-thirds innings from another one of their normally stout starters, Framber Valdez. As a result, the Astros bullpen has been heavily taxed two days in a row.

Complicating the issue further, Lance McCullers Jr., the Astros’ ace, is out indefinitely after straining a muscle in his throwing forearm in the previous round. And Zack Greinke, the former A.L. Cy Young Award winner, was moved to the Astros bullpen late in the regular season.

So with Garcia out, and few other options available, Jake Odorizzi, the originally planned Game 4 starter, had to take over. Odorizzi was allowed to take as long as possible to get ready, which he needed because he was unaccustomed to the short warm-ups of a reliever.

“It’s probably the worst situation you can come in as a starting pitcher,” he said, adding later, “Usually takes me 30-plus minutes, and I think I did it in under 15. So not ideal, and it’s not like it’s a fun warm-up. You’re sitting there pretty much naked in front of the other team. They get to watch every single pitch you’re throwing.”

When Odorizzi was ready to pitch, the game was nearly an hour old but still only in the top of the second inning, and there were no outs. He quickly ran into the same problem as Garcia. Red Sox second baseman Christian Arroyo and Hernandez both singled, loading the bases. And when Odorizzi threw a cutter inside, Devers clubbed the ball down the right field line, despite a sore right elbow that bothered him later in the game.

Watching to see if the ball stayed fair, Devers held the bat in his hands while standing at home plate. When it did, he jogged, spun toward his teammates and tossed his bat to the side. In the dugout, the merriment continued with the laundry cart.

“For our guys to open it up the way they did, it takes a lot of the pressure off my back,” said Boston’s ace, Nathan Eovaldi, who overcame a 40-minute gap between his first- and second-inning appearances. He allowed three runs over five and a third innings, sparing the bullpen and giving the Red Sox, who have also had trouble finding consistent starting pitching beyond Eovaldi, an advantage going forward.

Despite a sizable lead, Hernandez, Boston’s best hitter this postseason, didn’t want to be left out. When he belted a solo blast in the fourth inning, his fifth this postseason, he also got pushed through the dugout. Teammate Christian Vazquez bowed with his hands outstretched.

This postseason, Hernandez is 16 for 32. He set playoff records for hits (15), extra-base hits (nine) and total bases (34) in a five-game span. And even though the Astros, the best offense in baseball during the regular season, chipped away at their deficit later in the game, the outcome had all but been determined long ago because of the early grand slams.

“We won the seventh, eighth and ninth, but those two innings in the beginning, that’s a tremendous mountain to climb,” Baker said.

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Bob Blitz Held the NFL to Task Over the Rams’ Relocation

In a separate deposition in October 2020, N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell was pressed repeatedly on the question at the heart of the lawsuit: Did the N.F.L.’s team owners ignore their own relocation guidelines when they voted to allow the Rams to move? Goodell gave elusive responses on whether the owners had considered each of 12 predetermined factors or if they’d voted merely because a Los Angeles deal was available.

“And I will say it again that I think the ownership was very responsible in considering all of the various factors and really understanding the key issues and ultimately made a decision which is in the best interest of the N.F.L.,” Goodell said, according to a partial transcript of the deposition.

The realization that an answer like that was unlikely to satisfy a jury of Missouri residents, combined with the prospect of several N.F.L. owners being called to testify, made settling the case a more pragmatic option than opening a trial on Jan. 10, just weeks before the Super Bowl is scheduled to be played at SoFi Stadium, the splashy $5 billion venue in Inglewood, Calif., that Kroenke built after moving the team west.

In deciding to settle for $790 million, the N.F.L. closed its responsibility to Blitz and a city that has lost not just the Rams, but also the Cardinals, who left for Arizona after the 1987 season. But the league provided precedent for other scorned cities.

“The host cities may actually begin to gain leverage back,” said Daniel Wallach, a sports and gambling lawyer who has tracked the case.

For the N.F.L., the agreement ensures that a public rendering won’t happen and keeps private the juicy details of league business contained in the many documents pertaining to the lawsuit. It also ensures that the backbiting between team owners stays in house.

Before the league opted to settle, Kroenke and the other team owners appeared to be at each others’ throats as he, according to multiple news outlets, attempted to free himself of the indemnification agreement that held him liable for legal expenses and potential damages related to relocation litigation.

Now, Kroenke may have to pay for most or all of the settlement.

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China’s Silence on Peng Shuai Shows Limits of Beijing’s Propaganda

When the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused a former top leader of sexual assault earlier this month, the authorities turned to a tried-and-true strategy. At home, the country’s censors scrubbed away any mention of the allegations. Abroad, a few state-affiliated journalists focused narrowly on trying to quash concerns about Ms. Peng’s safety.

Beijing seems to be relying on a two-pronged approach of maintaining the silence and waiting for the world to move on. The approach suggests that the country’s sprawling propaganda apparatus has limited options for shifting the narrative without drawing more attention to the uncomfortable allegations Beijing hopes would just disappear.

On China’s social media platforms and other digital public squares, the censors’ meticulous work has left almost no sign that Ms. Peng had ever accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, of sexual assault. Like a museum to a previous reality, her social media account remains, without new updates or comments.

These tactics have worked for China in the past, at least at home. In recent years, officials have relied on heavy censorship and a nationalistic narrative of Western meddling to deflect blame for issues including the outbreak of Covid-19 and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

This time, though, the #MeToo accusation from a lauded and patriotic athlete implicating a top leader has no simple solution from Beijing’s propaganda toolbox. Any new narrative would most likely have to acknowledge the allegations in the first place and require the approval of top Chinese leaders.

“The central propaganda bureau does not dare go out on its own about a former Standing Committee member,” said Deng Yuwen, a former editor of a Communist Party newspaper, referring to Mr. Zhang’s position in the body that holds ultimate power in the party. “It would have to be approved by Xi Jinping.”

“For them, this is not just a propaganda matter, but also an issue of national security,” continued Mr. Deng, who now lives in the United States.

The level of censorship Beijing deployed to shut down discussion of Ms. Peng’s allegation has little precedent, said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.

To the Chinese authorities, the plan of action for now appears to be one of inaction. On overseas sites like Twitter and Facebook that are blocked in China, the response has been muted and fragmentary. When Beijing-backed journalists have addressed Ms. Peng on overseas social media sites, they have studiously avoided mentioning the nature of her accusations, or their target.

Instead, they have sought to put an end to the questions about Ms. Peng’s whereabouts, releasing photos and videos of the tennis star that seemed designed to show that she was safe despite having disappeared from public life. Ms. Peng also appeared in a live video call with the leader of the International Olympic Committee that only raised more concerns.

To some, the apparent stage-managing of Ms. Peng was a reminder of the authorities’ use of forced confessions and other video testimony from detainees for propaganda. In 2019, a state run news service ran a “proof of life” video of Abdurehim Heyit, a prominent Uyghur folk poet and musician, to quell international concerns that he had died in an internment camp.

When Peter Dahlin, a Swedish activist, was detained by the authorities in 2016, he was forced to speak in a Chinese propaganda video about his so-called crimes. He said in a recent interview that he saw the state media’s gradual release of photos and videos of Ms. Peng as evidence that Beijing was monitoring her movements mainly to silence her while waiting for the outcry to die down.

“She is obviously under custodial control,” Mr. Dahlin said. “Everything she does will be scripted from beginning to end; she will be told exactly what to do, how to act, how to smile.”

A waiting game has helped Beijing defang attacks from individual critics in the past, be they dissidents or sports stars. When Hao Haidong, a retired Chinese soccer star, called for the downfall of the Chinese Communist Party in 2020, officials purged records of his career and waited as he faded from memory. Though Ms. Peng brings more international backing, Chinese officials may be betting the social media cycle of shock and anger will eventually dissipate.

For Beijing, the concern is that the blowback could interfere with the upcoming Winter Olympics, which China is hosting.

“They have to placate not just the usual critics in the West, but also decidedly apolitical tennis stars and sporting associations overseas, while at the same time burying all mention of Ms. Peng’s original charge,” said Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia and author of “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.”

“It’s no surprise that the propaganda system is floundering,” he said.

In a strange turn, the only recent post about Ms. Peng that remains on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, is from the French Embassy in China. It calls on Beijing to respect its commitments to combating violence against women. But the seemingly curated comments on the post accused France of meddling in China’s affairs. Along similar lines, some Chinese journalists took to Western social media sites to question the motives of those who expressed concern about Ms. Peng.

“Can any girl fake such sunny smile under pressure? Those who suspect Peng Shuai is under duress, how dark they must be inside,” Hu Xijin, the editor of the nationalist Global Times tabloid, wrote on Twitter.

The narrative that Ms. Peng is being used by hostile foreign forces to undermine China has been echoed by other state media employees on Twitter. The posts have done little to appease concerns outside China.

“There’s no narrative even to really distract; there’s nothing substantive beyond character attacks on the West and Western media,” said David Bandurski, director of the China Media Project, a research program in Hong Kong. He added, “This is really the best they’ve been able to come up with.”

Within China, it remains unclear how many people are aware of the controversy. On Baidu, a Chinese search engine, queries for “Peng Shuai” spiked to nearly two million on Nov. 3, the day after she posted her accusation, but have since fallen to the tens of thousands. Ms. Peng’s frozen Weibo account, which does not appear in search results for her name, has gained 59,000 followers since her post — a blip in a country where top celebrities have tens of millions of followers.

Mr. Xiao, the research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, is the founder of China Digital Times, a website that monitors Chinese internet controls. His group has tracked hundreds of keywords, some with only the faintest connection to Ms. Peng, that had been blocked from posts and searches. Only the most sensitive topics — like Xi Jinping, China’s leader; and the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 — have such long lists of blocked terms, he said.

In the weeks since, censors have begun to fine-tune their approach. Some broad keywords, like “tennis,” have been restored in searches. Still, Mr. Xiao said, the wide gulf between what can be said outside China and what can be said inside the country could continue to plague attempts to control the topic.

“They know they cannot feel secure. The Great Firewall leaks,” he said, using a term that refers to China’s blocks and filters that keep out foreign social media. “Millions of people jump the wall to read about it.”

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.

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Brian Kelly Leaves Notre Dame for LSU

Brian Kelly will leave Notre Dame to become the football coach at Louisiana State, the latest in a series of changes at some of the country’s most storied college football programs.

The news was confirmed Tuesday morning by L.S.U.

The hiring follows the move of Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma to Southern California. Both shifts surprised the college football world, where coaches do not regularly leave elite programs voluntarily, and created enticing vacancies at the universities Riley and Kelly left behind.

The Fighting Irish finished the regular season 11-1 this year and, if a top team loses, could earn a berth in the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame was ranked sixth in the most recent rankings for the four-team playoff. The new rankings will be released on Tuesday night.

Kelly had seemed like an institution at Notre Dame after 12 years in the top job. He had a national championship game appearance in the 2012 season and a 113-40 overall record. (The wins in the championship game season were later vacated by the N.C.A.A. after a trainer was found to have done coursework for players.) This season, Kelly surpassed Knute Rockne with the most wins as a coach for the university.

As unusual as it is for a head coach with Kelly’s success to leave a program that is still in the playoff hunt, his move could potentially position him to finally win a national championship, something he could not do at Notre Dame. Kelly lacks a top tier bowl victory, with losses in the Fiesta, Cotton and Rose Bowls, along with the national championship game loss.

And Notre Dame, despite Kelly’s elite recruiting (he has produced a top-20 class every season since taking over the head coaching job in 2010), appeared severely outmatched in its recent playoff appearances, losing to Alabama and Clemson by a combined 44 points.

Louisiana has one of the most ripe recruiting grounds in the country. L.S.U. has had a class outside the top 10 only twice since 2010. Kelly will have access to as much talent as he has seen.

L.S.U. won the national championship after the 2019 season, only to fall to 5-5 in 2020. Coach Ed Orgeron announced this would be his last season in October, when his team was 4-3. The Tigers currently stand 6-6. Like his predecessor, Les Miles, he found that not even a national title guaranteed long-term job security in Baton Rouge.

L.S.U. reported that Kelly would be paid $95 million over 10 years, plus incentives, a significant increase from a salary believed to be in the $3 million range at Notre Dame.

“I could not be more excited to join a program with the commitment to excellence, rich traditions, and unrivaled pride and passion,” Kelly said in a statement that L.S.U. released Tuesday morning. He added: “I am fully committed to recruiting, developing, and graduating elite student-athletes, winning championships, and working together with our administration to make Louisiana proud. Our potential is unlimited, and I cannot wait to call Baton Rouge home.”

Scott Woodward, the university’s athletic director, called Kelly “the epitome of a winner.”

Reports had initially linked L.S.U. with Riley, who over the weekend denied he would take the job before he moved to U.S.C. There also had been in-state support for the University of Louisiana coach Billy Napier, but he chose to go to Florida.

Luring Kelly from Notre Dame, though, was an even bigger surprise.

Kelly started his career at Grand Valley State in Michigan, where he won two Division II national titles. He then spent three years at Central Michigan and four at Cincinnati, culminating in an undefeated regular season. That landed him the Notre Dame job.

The hiring of Kelly at L.S.U. helps keep the Southeastern Conference at the center of the college football universe: The conference has recently added the powerhouse teams Texas and Oklahoma, and its members Alabama and L.S.U. have won four of the seven national championships in the playoff era.

Another Southeastern Conference team, Georgia, is undefeated and No. 1 in the country this year. It will face Alabama (11-1), third in the playoff rankings, in the conference championship game on Saturday in Atlanta.

Alan Blinder and Alanis Thames contributed reporting.

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