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The Strike Zone

Five Cuts: Indians come back, Rangers rebound by crushing Rays

Michael Bourn's ninth-inning home run sealed a crucial comeback win for the Indians. (Orlin Wagner/AP) Michael Bourn's ninth-inning home run sealed a crucial comeback win for the Indians. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

1. Bourn Again

Centerfielder Michael Bourn has had an uneven first season with the Indians, but he was their catalyst on Tuesday night. Facing division rival and fellow wild-card challenger Kansas City, Cleveland was in a 3-1 hole in the seventh inning and facing not only the AL’s most dominant bullpen, but one of the majors’ best of the past quarter-century.

Bourn tripled off Kelvin Herrera to drive home one teammate and then scored the tying run on Nick Swisher’s sacrifice fly. After Asdrubal Cabrera doubled home the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, Bourn parked his sixth homer of the year in the ninth for a needed insurance as Cleveland rallied for the 5-3 win, slowing the expected “Ace Ventura” jokes that would have been inevitable had Royals rookie starter Yordano Ventura -- who routinely pounded his fastball at or near triple-digit heat -- won his major league debut.

Cleveland moved within a half-game of a wild-card berth while Kansas City fell to 3 1/2 back. Notably, the Tribe won their 82nd game to guarantee a winning record this year, the franchise’s first since 2007. That year they were eliminated in the ALCS by a Red Sox club managed by Terry Francona, who took over the Indians this season and deserves plenty of credit for guiding them to the brink of the playoffs. Though Francona’s final year in Boston had the disastrous September 2011 collapse, his club still won 90 games that season. The ’13 Indians are now his ninth straight season in the dugout in which he’s guided a club over .500.

The Indians now have just one more game in Kansas City, which is also their last of the season against a club with a winning record, as they finish the year with four at home against Houston, two against the White Sox and then four on the road in Minnesota.

2. Rangers rebound

Leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler homered on the very first pitch of the game to snap two wretched droughts -- first Texas home run and first Texas lead since Sept. 8 -- while also giving the Rangers a lead they would not relinquish for the first win since, yes. Sept. 8.

Elvis Andrus and Leonys Martin joined Kinsler in hitting home runs, but the biggest story was on the mound, where Alexi Ogando made his first start in a month and only allowed one run to the Rays in five innings. Ogando, who went on the DL after his Aug. 13 start, had made four scoreless relief appearances this month but had not started.

Homerless streaks have a way of focusing attention on offensive deficiencies, but the Rangers have struggled with their starting pitching of late, too. While losing 10 of 11 before Tuesday, the Rangers rotation had allowed five or more runs five times for a 6.55 ERA in that stretch. With the win, Texas pulled back into a tie with Tampa Bay for the wild card spots.

3. Novel Natitude

The Nationals not only swept a doubleheader the day after the Navy Yard shooting tragedy, but they also did so in dramatic and unusual ways, winning the first game with a three-run ninth inning off the game’s  best closer, Craig Kimbrel, and because of an error by the game’s best defender, shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

Then, in the nightcap, Washington received seven scoreless, two-hit innings from rookie Tanner Roark, a 26-year-old rookie and former 25th-round pick.  Roark is now 7-0 in the majors with a 1.08 ERA.

Though the Reds won, the Nationals’ twinbill sweep moved them a half-game closer for the second wild card to 4 1/2 games. They are now 27-10 since falling a season-low six games under .500 on Aug. 7.

4. Champagne on ice

Tuesday’s slate of games were the first in which a 2013 playoff spot could have been clinched, as the Red Sox entered with a magic number of two to secure an entry into October. Their defeat to the Orioles, however -- which came at the expense of closer Koji Uehara’s remarkable streak of retiring 37 straight batters, which ended as he took the loss -- kept that number right where it was, though the Rays’ defeat trimmed Boston’s magic number in the AL East to three.

The Dodgers are now the NL team that’s closest to reserving a postseason berth. Their win over the Diamondbacks halved their magic number from four to two to win the West; the Braves need any combination of four wins and Nationals losses to win the East.

5. Joltin’ Joe has left but not gone away

The name of Yankee Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio was germane to two of the day’s developments. Nationals centerfielder Denard Span notched base hits in both ends of Tuesday’s doubleheader to extend his hitting streak to 28 games -- exactly halfway to DiMaggio’s record.

Also, Marlins veteran outfielder Juan Pierre doubled in the seventh inning against the Phillies for his 2,215th career hit, tying him with DiMaggio for his career.

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