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Five Cuts: Billy Hamilton thrills, Chris Davis powers Orioles, AL Wild Card heats up

Chris Davis Chris Davis didn't homer on Wednesday, but delivered a crucial two-run single in the 12th inning. (Damian Strohmeyere/SI)

A pair of thrilling extra-inning games in the American League. A heartbreaker in Pittsburgh. A comeback at the Trop. Five-extra inning games in all. Herewith, five cuts from a thrilling walk-off Wednesday:

1. The legend of Billy Hamilton continues.

He’s the fastest man in baseball, the most captivating player in the game, and Wednesday night in Houston, Billy Hamilton added to his legend. In his first career start Hamilton had three hits, walked twice, stole four bases, drove in a run, and scored two runs in the Reds’ epic five-hour win over the Astros that ended at half past midnight in Houston.

Hamilton stole his fourth base in the bottom of the 13th inning. Here’s the crazy thing: Hamilton stole second base on a pitchout. Sliding Billy then came around to score the go-ahead run on Jay Bruce’s double.

And now… here come the Reds. Cincinnati has been the overlooked team in the NL Central, but they’re suddenly playing like the best team in the National League. After their 6-5 win over Houston, they’re just a half game behind the Pirates, 2 ½ behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, and they seem to be peaking at just the right time. Mat Latos is pitching like an ace,  Jay Bruce is on fire and Johnny Cueto is working his way back.

And there’s Hamilton, who is just two weeks into his major league career and is already a dangerous weapon for his team. Making his first start in centerfield Hamilton showed that he can be more than just a designated runner for Cincinnati. Hamilton doubled in the second for his first career hit. He singled in the fourth (and stole second). He reached on an infield single and drove in Todd Frazier in the sixth (and stole second again). He walked in the ninth (and stole second) and walked again in the 13th before stealing his fourth base of the night.

Yes, Billy can run. But he can also hit a little, and he has a chance to be an elite fielder in centerfield. “Something that has more than exceeded our expectations with Billy,” Walt Jocketty said last week from Cincinnati, “is how he’s grown defensively. I’ve had scouts tell me he was the best centerfielder in the International League.”

Hamilton isn’t a gimmick. He’s already a difference maker in the NL race.

2. Chris Davis builds his MVP case.

The Indians are a great story. The Royals are an even better story. But don’t sleep on the Orioles, who are now just one game behind the Rangers for the second wild card thanks to another big hit from Chris Davis. Davis isn’t going to win the AL MVP award, but he’s at least making voters take a second look. Tuesday night in Boston, Davis set a franchise record with his 51st home run as Baltimore beat Koji Uehara and the Red Sox. Wednesday night Davis hit a tie-breaking two-run single with two outs in the 12th to lead the O’s to a 5-3 win over the Red Sox.

In a night of big wins for many of the AL contenders — the Rays and Yankees both had comeback wins — the Orioles had arguably the biggest. A week ago they were reeling after losing three of four to the Yankees, but now, with three straight wins, they’re very much in the hunt.

All in all, it was a wild night in the AL wild card race. In St. Petersburg, Desmond Jennings’ RBI single in the bottom of the 12th gave the Rays a 4-3 win over the Rangers after Tampa scored a run off Joe Nathan in the bottom of the 11th to tie the game. The Rays took the lead in the wild card race, leaving the Rangers with a half-game lead over the Indians, who lost to Kansas City. Both the Royals and the Yankees (who scored four runs in the eighth against the Blue Jays to beat Toronto 4-3) are still just 2 ½ games behind the Rangers.

Who has the edge? Here’s a reason to put your money on the Indians: beginning Thursday they have four at home against the Astros, two against the White Sox, and four at Minnesota. That’s 10 against the worst three teams in the league to close out the year.

3.  A heartbreaker in Pittsburgh. They hope this wasn’t the beginning of something. They hope that when they look back on this crazy, wild, exhilarating 2013 season, this will have been just another loss. Andrew McCutchen slammed a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh, the Pirates took a 2-1 lead, the fireworks in centerfield went off, and the Pirates faithful rose to their feet—another magical moment in a magical season. The crowd of 27,640 at PNC Park was loud and on their feet in the ninth, where the Pirates were 74-2 with a lead entering the night, then Logan Forsythe and Rene Rivera delivered a pair of two-out RBI singles off Mark Melancon, and the ballpark went silent.

Monday night the Padres’ Andrew Cashner nearly threw a perfect game for the Padres. Wednesday night he came in as a ninth-inning pinch runner for Jedd Gyorko, and scored the game-tying run from second base on Forsythe’s single. Cashner’s not Billy Hamilton, but it turns out he can run the bases:

With Pittsburgh’s third loss in a row and a Cardinals win in Colorado, the Pirates fell two games back in the NL Central and are just 1 ½ games/ 0.5 games ahead of the surging Reds.

4. Giancarlo Stanton hits one of the year’s most spectacular home runs. The Marlins are awful, but because of Giancarlo Stanton, they’re not entirely unwatchable. Bigfoot took a curveball from Ethan Martin and launched it into the concourse beyond centerfield, the ball landing just in front of Planet Hoagie at Citizens Bank Park.

[mlbvideo id="30726543" width="600" height="336" /]

5. Justin Verlander is the third best starter on the Tigers. Facing the punchless Mariners lineup, Verlander allowed three runs over seven innings in Detroit’s 8-0 loss to Seattle. This was far from a disastrous start for former Cy Young winner, but it was another underwhelming start in what’s been an underwhelming season for the 2011 AL MVP.

Verlander is now 13-12, his ERA for the season at 3.66, his highest since 2008. The Best Pitcher in Baseball only a year ago, Verlander isn’t even the second best pitcher in the Tigers rotation. So where does he fit into the Tigers rotation as Jim Leyland begins to line up his staff for the postseason? This much is clear: Max Scherzer will take the mound in Game 1. Anibal Sanchez, with his league-leading 2.51 ERA, must be the pick over Verlander to start Game 3—Sanchez, with his league-leading 2.51 ERA, has clearly been Detroit’s second most dominant pitcher (and a legitimate Cy Young contender).

That should push Verlander to Game 3. Beyond that, Rick Porcello has come close to overtaking Doug Fister as the Tigers’ fourth best pitcher: Porcello (10 quality starts in his last 14 outtings) made his case for a postseason start Monday by striking out 10 and allowing a run in six dominant innings against the Mariners. Fister, with his postseason experience, has the edge at the moment, but another strong start from Porcello could change that.

As for Verlander: it’s been a disappointing year since the 2011 AL MVP winner signed his record-breaking extension in March, but October is approaching, an opportunity still for redemption.

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