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Rangers top D-backs in Game 3 to take 2-1 World Series lead; Scherzer exits with back tightness

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks wake up each morning intending to create disarray for their opponents. They’re young. They’re fast. Don’t look down — someone might be stealing second base. The team built a marketing campaign around the concept: “Embrace the chaos.” The players hoped to put on a show Monday as the World Series returned to Chase Field for the first time since 2001.

On an idyllic evening in the desert, with the roof open and temperatures still in the mid-70s after the sun set behind the White Tank Mountains, the Diamondbacks could only embrace inertia. An early base-running gaffe by first baseman Christian Walker and some stout pitching from the Texas Rangers kept Arizona from wreaking havoc or running rampant or doing much of anything in a 3-1 Rangers victory in Game 3 of the Fall Classic.

Texas held their hosts at bay despite a mid-game emergency. Max Scherzer provided three innings before exiting with a back injury. Called out of the bullpen, Jon Gray delivered three brilliant innings. He flooded the zone with strikes and buzzed through Arizona’s lineup. A brief eighth-inning flurry against flammable reliever Aroldis Chapman led to Arizona’s only run. Texas stomped out the rally when shortstop Corey Seager and second baseman Marcus Semien turned a 6-4-3 double play to save Chapman. The escape aided the Rangers as they took a 2-1 lead in the series.

Seager and Semien combined to drive in all three of Texas’ runs, all in the third inning against Arizona starter Brandon Pfaadt. Seager delivered his second home run of the series, a two-run shot that created some cushion. Pfaadt departed with one out in the sixth. He was pitching in a big-league game for just the 23rd time. Scherzer was making his 30th postseason start.

Depending on your perspective, Scherzer is either a physical marvel or a physical wreck. He turned 39 in July. He made 27 starts this season, the majority with the Mets, who dealt him to Texas during a trade-deadline teardown. Scherzer struck out more than a batter per inning for the 12th season in a row. At times he still resembles the pitcher who captured three Cy Young awards and made eight All-Star teams in his prime.

Yet the strain on his body has been constant. He dealt with shoulder issues and neck spasms earlier this season in Queens. He suffered a strain of the teres muscle in his right shoulder in September, which sidelined him for the final weeks of the regular season. Upon his return in the American League Championship Series, he pitched with a cut right thumb. The training staff patched the wound with glue and cotton.

“I can throw a fastball 100 percent,” Scherzer said Sunday afternoon. The bigger question, he explained, was how long he could last in a game. “That’s the number we don’t have nailed down 100 percent.”

Scherzer made 63 pitches while surrendering five runs in four innings in Game 3 against Houston. Five days later, he threw only 44. Rangers manager Bruce Bochy intervened when Scherzer placed the team’s Game 7 lead in jeopardy. Bochy sounded encouraged after Scherzer demonstrated improved command and arm strength in a bullpen session last week. “Each time out, I think he’s just getting better,” Bochy said.

Arizona squandered a chance to hurt Scherzer in the second inning. Walker scalded a first-pitch fastball off the base of the center-field wall for a double. When designated hitter Tommy Pham singled into right, Walker barreled toward third base. Down the line, third-base coach Tony Perezchica wheeled his arm, signaling for Walker to go home. Walker dipped his head and missed Perezchica’s next sign. He threw up both hands as right fielder Adolis García gathered to throw. Walker never saw the changed instructions. He was out at the plate, and Scherzer avoided further damage in the frame. The sequence offered chaos, but not the kind worth embracing.

Two of the coldest Rangers combined for the game’s first run. Texas first baseman Nathaniel Lowe recorded his first hit of the World Series by smashing a double to begin the third. Semien was mired in an even deeper funk. Semien had hit .194 in October. He hunted a 2-1 fastball and singled home Lowe. The hit put Texas ahead. It also brought Seager back to the plate.

Seager displayed his affinity for first-pitch fastballs in Game 1, demolishing an elevated heater from Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald for a game-tying blast. He comes to the plate prepared to swing. He adores fastballs, but he will settle for the occasional hanging changeup, like the first pitch Pfaadt threw him. Seager ripped the ball over the right-field fence to spot Scherzer a 3-0 lead.

Scherzer sported a grimace as he left the dugout for the bottom of the fourth. He had been hit in the back by a line drive in the second inning. He looked uncomfortable as he warmed up. Bochy and a member of the training staff came to the mound. The discussion was not long. Scherzer exited with an initial diagnosis of back tightness. Bochy turned to Gray, who the Rangers had hoped to use in an extended role in Game 4.

Both teams will run some version of a bullpen game Tuesday. Gray is unlikely to play a part in the festivities after his Game 3 usage. He did not permit a man on base until Arizona second baseman Ketel Marte hit a liner off Semien’s glove for a two-out single in the sixth. The crowd stirred as rookie catcher Gabriel Moreno came to the plate. Gray quieted them with his first pitch, a shin-high, 91.8-mph slider that Moreno popped up to right field.

Gray showed changeup and curveball Monday. Of his 30 pitches, 15 were sliders and 14 were fastballs. Almost all of them were strikes. Arizona appeared happy at his departure. Pham smacked a one-out double in the seventh off reliever Josh Sborz. A run did not materialize. Sborz made outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. flail at a curveball in the dirt for the second out. The third came when outfielder Alek Thomas whiffed on another curve.

Arizona’s best chance coincided with the entrance of Chapman. No longer is Chapman a fearsome closer. His scattershot command makes every outing an adventure. He began the eighth inning by serving up a leadoff double to pinch-hitter Emmanuel Rivera. A single by shortstop Geraldo Perdomo plated Rivera and turned over the lineup. Chapman recovered to freeze rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll with a waist-high slider. Seager ranged to his left to snag a hard-hit grounder by Marte. Seager fed Semien, who wheeled to throw out Marte at first and snuff out the threat.

(Photo: Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

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