Andy Murray is "back in the good books" with wife Kim after his missing wedding ring was found at Indian Wells.

The former world number one had issued a plea on social media after his precious band was lost in bizarre circumstances.

Three-time grand slam champion Murray ties the ring to his shoes while he is playing and had forgotten to remove it when he left the footwear outside to dry out.

The shoes were taken and that left Murray in trouble back at home, but his appeal to be reunited with his belongings soon bore fruit.

"Huge thanks for all the messages and to everyone for sharing the story," Murray said on Instagram.

"I had to make a few calls and chat to the security at the hotel but would you believe it?

"They still absolutely stink but the shoes are back, the wedding ring is back and I'm back in the good books – let's go!"

Murray's Indian Wells Masters campaign begins against Adrian Mannarino in California on Friday.

Frances Tiafoe has not found much success at the Indian Wells Masters, but the young American is off to a strong start this year after defeating Benoit Paire 6-4 6-4 on Thursday. 

Playing in his first match since a fourth-round loss at the US Open, the world number 49 eased past the man ranked one spot below him, reaching the second round at the event for the first time since 2016. 

Tiafoe came up with the big shots when he needed them, converting four of five chances to break Paire's serve, as the veteran suffered 30 unforced errors to just 20 winners. 

"I definitely took a long time off after the Open, the longest time I’ve taken in the middle of the season in a while, so [I was] a little rusty in the beginning and in the days leading up I wasn’t feeling great," Tiafoe said in his on-court interview.

"Happy to just get a first round under my belt. Obviously tonight was up and down, Benoit wasn’t having the best of days, but you take that."

Tiafoe will face his 32nd-seeded countryman Sebastian Korda next. 

 

NISHIKORI GOOD AS EVER IN DECIDER

Kei Nishikori is among the most reliable players on the ATP Tour in deciding sets, and he prevailed in the third yet again with a 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-2 defeat of qualifier Joao Sousa. 

Only world number one Novak Djokovic has a better winning percentage than Nishikori's 147-55 mark (72.8) in deciders, and the Japanese veteran put away Sousa with relative ease after dropping the first-set tie-breaker. 

Nishikori hit 40 winners with 23 unforced errors in the match, to Sousa's 22 winners and 20 unforced errors. He moves on to face 18th seed Daniel Evans in the second round. 

 

PAUL SPOILS LOPEZ MILESTONE

Feliciano Lopez achieved a milestone just by stepping on the court as he set a record by appearing in his 139th ATP Masters 1000 event – one more than Roger Federer – but that was the only positive as the 40-year-old Spaniard fell to Tommy Paul 6-3 7-6 (7-3).

The 24-year-old American, ranked 60th in the world, won 70 per cent of his service points to prevail in his Indian Wells debut. 

Another tournament newcomer, Germany's Daniel Altmaier, defeated former quarter-finalist Sam Querrey 6-2 6-4 in just over an hour. 

Another USA veteran, Steve Johnson lost 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 7-5 to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who also is playing the event for the first time. 

Kim Clijsters' first appearance at the Indian Wells Open in a decade did not last long, the two-time champion eliminated in the opening round.

Clijsters remains winless since coming out of retirement on the WTA Tour, falling 6-1 2-6 6-2 to Katerina Siniakova on Thursday. 

A four-time grand slam champion, the 38-year-old Clijsters has lost all five of her singles matches since her return last year. 

"I think overall, there's definitely moments where I'm feeling really good out there, and there's moments where I feel too inconsistent," Clijsters – a winner at Indian Wells in 2003 and 2005 – told reporters.

"That's part of this process in general, it's not going to be a smooth ride, and that's what I'm going to try to improve every time I'm out there."

World number 53 Siniakova converted six of nine break points on Clijsters' serve and moved on to face 10th seed Angelique Kerber at the WTA Premier 1000 event.

 

GOLUBIC HOLDS OFF VONDROUSOVA

The day's only duel between top-50 players saw world number 46 Viktorija Golubic outlast 37th-ranked Marketa Vondrousova 6-1 4-6 6-3. 

Both players struggled with their own service games, combining for three aces and 17 double faults, but it was the Swiss who managed to convert on eight of 14 break-point chances and come out on top. 

It was Golubic's first win against a player in the top 50 since joining those ranks herself in July; she had been 0-3 against them since then. 

 

GARCIA RALLIES PAST FLIPKENS, RISKE GETS RARE INDIAN WELLS WIN

Caroline Garcia fought back to defeat Kirsten Flipkens 5-7 6-4 6-0 in a match that took two hours, nine minutes to complete, firing seven aces and winning 71.2 per cent of points on her first serve. 

The Frenchwoman, who had been upset by qualifiers at her two previous tournaments in Ostrava and Chicago, meets 15th seed Coco Gauff in the second round. 

Alison Riske celebrated a victory for just the second time in seven trips to Indian Wells, cruising past qualifier Liang En-shuo 6-2 6-2 to set up a second-round matchup against 16th seed and former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu. 

Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams got back on track, overcoming the Seattle Seahawks 26-17 to open Week 5 of the NFL season on Thursday.

Bouncing back from a loss to the high-flying Arizona Cardinals, the Rams (4-1) spoiled what would have been a miraculous comeback led by Seattle backup quarterback Geno Smith with a late interception. 

It took both offences time to find their rhythm, as Seattle (2-3) entered half-time with a 7-3 lead, but Stafford led touchdown drives on the Rams' first two possessions after the interval. 

Smith came on after Seahawks starter Russell Wilson left the game with a finger injury suffered late in the third quarter and led a 98-yard touchdown drive, hitting DK Metcalf for a 23-yard score for the QB's first touchdown pass since December 3, 2017. 

That score brought the home side within 16-14, but Stafford led the Rams right back down the field and Sony Michel punched it in for a two-yard touchdown run. 

Smith then engineered a drive ending in a field goal to keep the Seahawks in the game, but after a Rams punt his pass for Tyler Lockett was picked off by Nick Scott, setting up a Matt Gay field goal that would seal the win for Los Angeles. 

Stafford finished the game 25-of-37 passing for 365 yards, while Wilson was 11-of-16 for 152 yards and Smith 10-of-17 for 131 yards, with all three QBs recording one touchdown and one interception each. 

Aaron Donald, meanwhile, became the Rams' all-time leader in sacks with number 88.5, eclipsing Leonard Little.

Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson called for all quarterbacks to be protected, insisting he is not seeking any special treatment from referees in the NFL.

Jackson was on the end of some late hits during Baltimore's 23-7 win over the Denver Broncos last week.

Former MVP Jackson was 22-of-37 passing for 316 yards, a touchdown and three sacks on the road in Denver, where the Ravens QB showed no signs of a sore back to snap the Broncos' unbeaten start to the season.

"I just feel we should be protecting all quarterbacks in the league, not just myself," Jackson said Thursday, ahead of the Week 5 clash with the Indianapolis Colts.

"Everyone should be included in that, especially while we're in the pocket – our leg area and stuff like that.

"Football is football. Guys get aggressive sometimes. Stuff happens. Probably don't mean it. I'd like the ref to throw the flag, though, if they catch it."

Against Denver, Jackson had his highest passing yardage total since Week 1 of 2019 (324) – the 2019 Pro Bowler has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 13 consecutive home games.

The Ravens have the chase to break the record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games – Baltimore are currently level on 43 alongside the Pittsburgh Steelers (1974-77).

Baltimore have won their last two games against Indianapolis, including a 24-10 road win last season.

The Ravens have never won three straight games against the Colts, the franchise which began in Charm City before moving to Indianapolis in 1984.

A trio of rookies starred as the Tampa Bay Rays began the road back to the World Series with a 5-0 win over the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series (ALDS). 

After posting an AL-best 100-62 record during the regular MLB season, the Rays got standout performances from pitcher Shane McClanahan and hitters Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena as they opened their defence of the AL pennant at Tropicana Field. 

McClanahan scattered five hits in five shut-out innings on Thursday, striking out three without walking a batter in his first postseason start. 

The Rays became the first team in MLB playoff history to have two rookies post an extra-base hit and another rookie toss a scoreless start in the same game, per Stats Perform.

His team-mates gave him run support early, as Franco doubled home a run in the first, then came around to score on a Yandy Diaz single. The 20-year-old phenom would add another double in the seventh.

Nelson Cruz, who at 41 is more than twice as old as his Dominican countryman Franco, went deep in the third for his 18th postseason home run. 

Not to be outdone, the breakout star of the 2020 playoffs – though still technically a rookie – Arozarena added a majestic solo shot to left in the fifth inning, then stole home in the seventh. 

According to Stats Perform, Arozarena is the first player in MLB postseason history to hit a home run and steal home in the same game. 

Tampa Bay will send another rookie to the mound in Game 2 as Shane Baz takes the ball against Red Sox veteran Chris Sale. 

The Houston Astros opened the other ALDS with an emphatic 6-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox as Lance McCullers Jr. was dominant on the mound for the home side. 

McCullers allowed four hits and did not walk a batter in 6.2 shut-out innings while striking out four, making him the first Astros pitcher to go at least that long in a postseason game without a walk since Brandon Backe against the White Sox in the 2005 World Series.

In 15 career postseason games, McCullers has a 2.87 ERA and has struck out 9.62 batters per nine innings. 

Yordan Alvarez entered the game with just 14 hits in 58 postseason at-bats (.241) but he was the hitting star for Houston in Game 1.

The designated hitter reached base three times in four trips to the plate, driving in a run with a double in the third inning and another with a solo homer in the fifth. 

While Alvarez did the heavy lifting, Jose Altuve provided the highlight of the night with a nifty slide to score from third on an Alex Bregman grounder to third base in the third inning. 

Game 2 is Friday in Houston with the Astros sending Framber Valdez to the mound against Chicago's Lucas Giolito. 

 

Dodgers at Giants

Eternal rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have each won 107 games this season, and they open their National League Division Series (NLDS) with Walker Buehler and Logan Webb on the mound on Friday. 

Christian McCaffrey appears likely to return to the Carolina Panthers' line-up against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

Though McCaffrey was limited in practice for the second consecutive day, the running back said he "definitely" believes he has a chance to play after leaving Carolina's Week 3 win over the Houston Texans with a hamstring injury. 

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said Carolina will likely wait until Sunday to make the final call but McCaffrey is eager to return after missing 13 games last season with multiple injuries. 

"Yeah, definitely," McCaffrey told reporters. "We'll take it to Sunday and see how it goes from there. But I feel really good."

The Panthers rushed for 113 yards in McCaffrey's absence last week, slightly above their season average going in, but suffered their first loss of the season to the Dallas Cowboys. 

If McCaffrey is ruled out for Sunday, the men who replaced him against the Cowboys – Chuba Hubbard, Royce Freeman and Rodney Smith – will be ready to carry the load again. 

But getting McCaffrey back as an all-around weapon for quarterback Sam Darnold would be a significant boost. 

"Any time you have the opportunity to have 22 on the field, that changes a lot of things," said offensive co-ordinator Joe Brady.

The 2019 All-Pro selection kept his remarks about his status brief, but McCaffrey did have some thoughts when asked about being injured in a Thursday night game. 

"It's extremely frustrating," he said. "I don't prefer Thursday night games. You go through a lot in a football game. And you really get two days to recover, and one of those days is a travel day.

"You get two days to recover; you get on a plane, you go to a hotel, you're playing a football game. It's tough, but it is what it is.

"It's part of the game, but obviously frustrating."

Up until this point, it has been a season to remember for the San Francisco Giants, who are playoff-bound for the first time since 2016.

A franchise-record 107 wins and the best record in baseball saw the Giants fend off reigning World Series champions and rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League (NL) West title.

It was San Francisco's first division crown since 2012 as they ended the Dodgers' streak of eight straight NL West trophies.

San Francisco's World Series charge is being spearheaded by their golden oldies – Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey – after a tough couple of years, with Gabe Kapler overseeing dramatic improvement with a stacked roster of experienced veterans.

 

From afterthoughts to contenders

As the Giants prepare for the NL Division Series (NLDS) against the aforementioned Dodgers, it is safe to say they entered the 2021 season as afterthoughts in their own division, despite missing the playoffs by just one win in last year's coronavirus-shortened campaign.

All eyes were on the star-studded Dodgers and a surging San Diego Padres franchise hot off signing Fernando Tatis Jr. to the third-richest contract in MLB history – a 14-year, $340 million deal – after both bolstered their already impressive squads. The Dodgers brought in reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer and eventually future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols plus ace Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. The Padres acquired frontline starters Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in blockbuster trades.

Without a postseason berth since losing to the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 NLDS, the Giants needed an historic campaign to dethrone the Dodgers in the NL West and hold off an exciting Padres squad.

Despite boasting the oldest roster in the majors with an average age of 30 years and 313 days, they achieved just that and became the first NL team to win more than 106 games since the 1986 New York Mets.

 

 

Rejuvenated veterans thriving under Kapler

Eyebrows were raised when the Giants and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi hired Kapler to succeed beloved San Francisco figure and future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy in 2019. Kapler's two-year stint with the Philadelphia Phillies left a lot to be desired. But his shortcomings have long been forgotten as the Giants and their roster reap the rewards of Zaidi's decision.

"They're a teaching staff," reliever Tony Watson said of Kapler's coaching staff, which included MLB's first full-time female assistant Alyssa Nakken. "You could see the improvement of guys throughout the roster, one through 26. It wasn't just the young guys that were coming up and still developing, you saw Buster, [Crawford], [Longoria] and Belt changing their swings and changing the way they go about their days. That's a tribute to all 14-15 staff members and being able to relay information and ideas."

Belt (33), Crawford (34) and Posey (34) were all part of San Francisco's World Series-winning team in 2014, and, despite their advancing years, have all improved under Kapler's management.

Belt enjoyed the best 162-game campaign of his career thanks to his .597 SLG, .975 OPS and 29 homers (surpassing the 18 he hit in 2015 and 2018). It was the same for Crawford (.522/.895 and a career-best 24 home runs).

Belt, Crawford and Darin Ruf (.519/.904) have all enjoyed career years in both SLG and OPS. When factoring at least 100 plate appearances and a team playing in 155 or more games, the 2021 Giants are the first franchise since the Cardinals in 2004 to have three-plus players with career years in both SLG and OPS.

Posey – who is looking to become the first NL player since Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres to win four World Series rings with the same team – boasted his best SLG (.499) and OPS (.889) since the Giants were crowned world champions in 2012. His 18 homers were his most since his 19-homer campaign six years ago.

Fellow veteran Evan Longoria also enjoyed a return to form, with the 35-year-old’s SLG (.482) and OPS (.833) numbers his best since his penultimate season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016.

It is a similar theme with San Francisco's pitchers – starters Kevin Gausman (2.81), Anthony DeSclafani (3.17) and Logan Webb (3.03) finishing the regular season with career-high ERAs.

Gausman (227) heads into the postseason with a career-best 227 strikeouts, while DeSclafani (152) only managed more strikeouts in 2019 when he struck out 167 batters during his time with the Cincinnati Reds. Gausman finished the year behind only Corbin Burnes in Stats Perform's Strike+ metric, which measures which pitchers rack up both whiffs and called strikes.

 

Depth shines in the Bay Area

The Giants achieved a first in their 137-year existence, hitting 241 home runs in a season for the first time. They achieved the feat without a single 30-homer hitter on their roster – the highest number of homers without a player reaching at least 30 home runs in MLB history.

It was a collective effort. Case in point: The Giants had 17 players with at least five homers this season – an MLB record. Belt (29), Mike Yastrzemski (25), Crawford (24), Wilmer Flores (18), Posey (18), LaMonte Wade Jr. (18), Ruf (16), Alex Dickerson (13), Longoria (13) and Austin Slater (12) all reached double digits.

Rather than rely on stars like Posey, Belt and Crawford, the Giants – who hit 103 game-winning RBIs, the second highest in the majors since 1974, ended the season with six players aged 30 or older among the team's top four in home runs – the highest figure since 2014, ahead of the 2018 Giants (five).

"It's just been such a collective effort. Contributions up and down," Posey said. "We set the [franchise] record for homers [in a season] and pinch-hit homers. Those are some examples. You've got most the home runs ever for the team and nobody has 30."

 

Of San Francisco's home runs, 18 came in pinch-hit situations – a single-season MLB record, eclipsing the 2016 Cardinals.

This season's Giants are unlikely to produce an MVP or Cy Young Award winner, but their championship run is fuelled by a selfless approach.

San Francisco's quartet of Gausman, Logan Webb, Alex Wood and DeSclafani further solidified the team-first mentality – helping the Giants rank second in the majors with a 3.24 ERA in 2021. Run suppression was aided by the Giants suppressing the longball, as the team finished with an average of 0.93 homers allowed per game this season, the best in the majors.

While their NLDS opponents may have more star power, the Giants counter with one of the deepest and most talented squads in franchise history. Their opening playoff series should be an instant classic, and the Giants have proved they'll be a tough out for any team they face.

Eighteen former NBA players have been charged over an alleged scheme to defraud the league's health and welfare plan out of nearly $4million.

The Department of Justice announced on Thursday that 19 defendants had been charged after allegedly submitting "fraudulent reimbursement claims for medical services that they never received".

One of the 18 ex-players was Tony Allen, a six-time All-Defensive Team selection who was part of the championship-winning Boston Celtics squad in 2008. His wife was also charged.

Allen's former Celtics team-mate Glen Davis, Shannon Brown – twice a champion with the Los Angeles Lakers – and Melvyn Ely, a title winner in 2007 with the San Antonio Spurs, were also named among the defendants.

FBI assistant director Michael J Driscoll said: "Today we've charged 18 former NBA players and one spouse for their alleged participation in a health care fraud scheme that resulted in nearly $2million in losses to the National Basketball Association's health and welfare benefit plan.

"The health care industry loses tens of billions of dollars a year to fraud. Thanks to the work of our dedicated FBI agents and partners alike, cases like this demonstrate our continued focus in uncovering health care fraud scams that harm both the industry and the consumers of their services."

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: "The defendants' playbook involved fraud and deception. Thanks to the hard work of our law enforcement partners, their alleged scheme has been disrupted and they will have to answer for their flagrant violations of law."

New York City Police Department commissioner Dermot Shea said: "Today's federal indictment represents the NYPD's long-term commitment, working with its law enforcement partners, in making sure those accused of health care related fraud are held accountable. I commend those involved in the investigation, the FBI, and the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District in New York for its work in ensuring there is justice in this case."

Wide receiver Calvin Ridley will miss the Atlanta Falcons' showdown with the New York Jets in London for personal reasons.

The absence of Ridley is a big blow for the Falcons, as he is the team's leading wide receiver with 255 yards this season.

Atlanta are 1-3 ahead of the Week 5 game at Tottenham Stadium on Sunday and their chances of improving that record have taken a hit with Ridley unavailable.

A Falcons statement said: "Due to a personal matter, Calvin Ridley will not travel to the Falcons game in London this weekend. We are in support of Calvin during this time and will respect his privacy on the matter."

Wideout Russell Gage (ankle) and defensive end Marlon Davidson (ankle) are also out of the game against the 1-3 Jets.

Olamide Zaccheaus will be expected to step up with Ridley not making the trip to England.

Max Verstappen insists he is not under any pressure to win the Formula One title this season as the Red Bull driver does not believe it will change his life.

The Dutchman trails Lewis Hamilton by two points after 15 races – the smallest margin between the top two at this point since 2006 when Fernando Alonso scrapped it out with Michael Schumacher.

Verstappen recovered from the back of the grid to finish second to seven-time world champion Hamilton in Russia two weeks ago and is seeking his eighth race victory of 2021 at Istanbul Park on Sunday.

Hamilton previously suggested Verstappen would be feeling the pressure as the title race hots up, but the 24-year-old has stressed that is not the case as finishing second would still be an achievement in its own right.

"I always do my best and I know that the team is also doing the best they can," he said at a news conference on Thursday.

"And if that's going to be first at the end of the year – that's of course an amazing achievement and that's what we work for, right?

"But, even if we would finish second, I think we'd still have had a great season. And at the end of the day it's not really going to change my life.

"I mean, I enjoy what I'm doing, and I think that's also very important. For me, there is not much to worry about really."

Verstappen started from the back of the grid in Russia after Red Bull opted to have a new engine installed.

Hamilton may face a similar handicap this weekend as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff revealed a fourth engine of the season could be fitted to the Briton's car.

That would take the championship leader over the permitted allowance and leave him starting at the back of the grid, but Verstappen will only focus on his own race regardless of where his rival is positioned.

"At the end of the day, I can't control what they're doing," he told Sky Sports. 

"It's more important to focus on ourselves and then try to get the best out of that and try to score as many points as possible every single weekend. And, of course, I will try to do that again."

With eight wins this year, Red Bull are one victory away from equalling their third-best season (nine in 2010). 

They have only surpassed that in 2011 (12) and 2013 (13), while they have already matched their best total of pole positions (eight) with seven more races in the calendar.

Lewis Hamilton does not expect to take an engine penalty at the Turkish Grand Prix this weekend.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff revealed that a fourth engine of the season could be fitted to Hamilton's car ahead of the race at Istanbul Park on Sunday.

That would take the championship leader over the permitted allowance and leave him starting at the back of the grid.

Hamilton does not envisage that happening this week, but is not entirely ruling it out.

He said in a press conference on Thursday: "At the moment, I still have number two and three.

"So I don't envisage us having to take one at the moment, but that could change. Who knows?"

Hamilton leads Max Verstappen by only two points in a thrilling title battle and the 36-year-old says off-track interests help him to switch off as the pressure builds.

"I genuinely find it easy because I have these other outlets so I'm able to blow off steam in lots of different ways," Hamilton said.

"The most important thing is always to be able to come back into the racing environment fresh, recovered, positive and not really having any worries.

"So I think I’m able to arrive and just love doing my job. So we just take it one weekend at a time and one race at a time, just always trying to elevate.

"I've spent plenty of time speaking to the team about how we can advance and improve but I've been doing this a long time so I’ve found ways personally [of coping].

"What works for me personally won’t work for everyone but I've found a way that I know how I tick, what gets me on course and what can put me off course, so I stick to them."

Tyson Fury insisted Deontay Wilder's "legacy is in bits" as he vowed to knock out his American opponent in Saturday's trilogy fight.

Wilder suffered a technical knockout defeat to Fury almost 20 months ago at MGM Grand after their drama-filled first fight in December 2018 ended with a split-decision draw.

The pair face off again at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas this weekend as unbeaten Fury makes the first defence of his WBC world heavyweight title.

And Fury continued to goad his rival, who made a string of excuses for the defeat last time out – the first of his professional career – at Wednesday's final news conference.

"You're in denial and you're going to get knocked out and retire," Fury said.

"Your legacy is in bits. All the excuses, you've been destroyed. No one has believed you. They're all laughing at you like a weak piece of s***.

"You're a weak man, you're getting knocked out."

Wilder has remained largely quiet in the build-up to the high-profile bout but he eventually rose to the taunts, insisting Fury is not capable of knocking him out on Saturday.

"You don't know nothing about knocking anyone out. You don't have knockout power. You're not a knockout artist."

Responding to Wilder's "legacy" claims, Wilder said: "When you know the truth, they say the truth will set you free. 

"I have no pressure, there is nothing to lose, everything to gain.

"All the pressure is on him. Your legacy only dies when the man dies, when the desire and fire in your heart dies, when that dies so does your legacy, and I am well alive.

"We have got a lot of things in line, in order, this is what the world needs to know, there is a lot of things I could put out there, but silence is golden."

Both men were set for a traditional stare down after exchanging words, but promoter Bob Arum called it off and the boxers left the stage in opposite directions.

"At the end, we were going to do a face-off and Wilder ran away! Welcome to my world, b****," Fury later told iFL TV.

Los Angeles Dodgers' match-winner Chris Taylor was only trying to hit a single before his walk-off home-run in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the St Louis Cardinals in the National League Wild Card Game.

Taylor, who did not start the game, came up with the decisive moment from Cardinals closer Alex Reyes at 1-1 in the ninth inning with Cody Bellinger on base.

The 31-year-old, who was a 2021 All Star before losing form late in the season, hit the fifth walk-off winner in a winner-take-all game in majors' history.

Taylor became the first player with a walk-off home run in a winner-take-all game since Edwin Encarnacion in the 2016 Wild Card game.

" I was taking that pitch all the way," Taylor told ESPN after the game. "Let him [Bellinger] get in a scoring position. Once he got there [to second base], I was honestly only trying to hit a single.

"Not try to do too much. He gave me a good sighter to hit and I was able to get it up in the air."

Taylor finished the regular season batting at .254, with 20 home runs, 129 hits and 73 RBIs, with a .782 OPS, although he had not homered in his past 15 games.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts opted not to start Taylor due to his form but praised him for his impact.

"Honestly the openness from a lot of the players and being ready when called upon," Roberts said.

"I know it sounds trite and easy, to be ready to perform when your number gets called. You might not start the game but you can still impact the game. Clearly you saw Chris Taylor won the game for us."

It was also the second walk-off win to advance in the postseason for Dodgers in their history, with the previous time occurring in 1978 in the NL Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The result means the Dodgers will take on the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series, marking the first time two teams with 105-plus regular season wins have met in the postseason.

"That's going to be fun," Taylor said. "Two of the best regular season records of all time. We've been battling all year. I expect a hard-fought series."

Justin Turner also homered to level the game in the fourth inning after Tommy Edman got home in the first inning to give the Cardinals an early lead. Turner's home run extended his franchise record for postseason homers with 13.

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens had to come from behind to progress against Heather Watson after almost three hours in the Indian Wells Open first round.

Stephens, who is currently ranked 73rd in the world, having been number three on the WTA Tour in 2018, triumphed 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 6-1 over Watson in two hours, 50 minutes on Wednesday.

In a see-sawing match, there were six breaks in the opening set, as Watson got the edge early on Stephens' serve at the WTA Premier 1000 event.

Stephens steadied by claiming a late break in the second to level the match, before dominating the third set.

Playing at her 10th Indian Wells Open, Stephens won seven consecutive games after the match was 5-5 in the second set.

"After the first set, that was disappointing to lose that one, but I felt like it was a battle and I was still in the match," Stephens said. "I knew I had to keep fighting and that's what I did, and I'm just really pleased to have squeaked out a win here."

 

KEYS ON SONG IN OPENER

Former world number seven Madison Keys moved through to the second round with a 6-0 7-5 win over fast-finishing Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi.

American Keys won 21 consecutive points as part of a streak where she clinched the first nine games of the match, withstanding Kenapi's late push.

Keys will take on Russian ninth seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for a spot in the third round.

 

SAMSONOVA, MARTIC, ROGERS AND PUTINTSEVA PROGRESS

Liudmila Samsonova, who made the fourth round at Wimbledon earlier this year, needed more than two hours to get past Ukrainian qualifier Kateryna Kozlova 6-4 7-6 (8-6).

Samsonova will face countrywoman and 25th seed Veronika Kudermetova in the second round.

Petra Martic won through to take on second seed Iga Swiatek with a 6-4 6-4 victory over American wildcard Katie Volynets.

Ash Barty's US Open conqueror Shelby Rogers claimed her 25th win for the year, getting past Ukrainian Anhelina Kalinina 7-6 (7-2) 6-2, while Yulia Putintseva won 7-6 (7-2) 6-1 over experienced German Andrea Petkovic to set up a showdown with fellow Kazakh player and 13th seed Elena Rybakina.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and their pursuit of back-to-back World Series championships remains alive after conquering the St Louis Cardinals via a 3-1 walk-off victory in the National League (NL) Wild Card showdown.

With a date against the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series on the line, Chris Taylor hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to take down the Cardinals in walk-off fashion and progress to the MLB playoffs on Wednesday.

One out away from extra innings in Los Angeles, Taylor went deep off Alex Reyes to spark wild celebrations at Dodger Stadium midweek.

According to Stats Perform, Taylor became the second player in MLB history to hit a walk-off home run in a winner-takes-all playoff game despite not starting. The other was Aaron Boone in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series (ALCS).

The Cardinals got on the board early, Tommy Edman scoring on Max Scherzer's wild pitch in the opening inning. Dodgers ace Scherzer gave up three hits, one run while striking out four in 4.1 innings.

Edman became the first player in MLB history to have three-plus hits and two or more stolen bases in a winner-takes-all playoff game, according to Stats Perform.

The Dodgers levelled things up in the fourth inning – Justin Turner's 401-foot homer sailing into the crowd off Adam Wainwright, who struck out five batters as he allowed one run on four hits in 5.1 innings.

There was nothing between the two franchises until Taylor stepped up to the mound and produced the game-winning homer at the death.

The Dodgers will now resume hostilities with NL West champions the Giants, who ended their streak of eight consecutive division crowns, starting in San Francisco on Friday.

 

Red Sox at Rays

The AL Division Series will get underway as the Tampa Bay Rays host the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 in the best-of-five matchup on Thursday. Elsewhere, the Chicago White Sox will also visit the Houston Astros in the American League.

Jose Abreu tested negative for COVID-19 and is set to link with the Chicago White Sox ahead of their American League Division Series (ALDS) opener against the Houston Astros.

Abreu – the reigning AL MVP – had been dealing with flu-like symptoms and did not travel with the White Sox to Houston on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, White Sox manager Tony La Russa confirmed star Abreu would link up with the team and be a game-day decision for Thursday's Game 1 in the best-of-five series at Minute Maid Park.

"He caught a bit of the flu," La Russa told a news conference. "He got to the workout [in Chicago] and he had been through a tough night with fever.

"Now we're all brimming with happiness and excitement because his fever broke and he passed the test, which [is] mandatory and he'll be flying back here tonight [Wednesday]."

Abreu – a three-time Silver Slugger and three-time All-Star – batted .261 with 30 home runs and 117 RBIs during the regular season.

The 34-year-old also had a franchise-best slugging percentage of .481 and OPS of .831 in 2021, along with 86 runs and 148 hits from 566 at-bats.

"I think he's the biggest key that we need healthy," White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson added. "But I'm sure you know, we all know, how stubborn he is, and you know he's not going to want to sit out. He's not going to be happy about that."

The White Sox also announced Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito as their starters for Game 1 and 2 against the Astros.

Chicago finished the regular season at 93-69 to top the AL Central, while the Astros were 95-67 to lead the AL West division.

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