Chris O'Meara/AP

Hit and Run: Comeback wins by Yankees, Rangers tighten AL races

By Jay Jaffe
September 15, 2015

1. Slade slays Rays

Not only were the Yankees no-hit for seven innings by Rays righty Erasmo Ramirez, they were down to their final out in the ninth, in danger of losing their sixth game out of seven and falling four games behind the Blue Jays in the AL East. Moments later, they were mobbing rookie Slade Heathcott, whose three-run homer in his first major-league plate appearance since late May provided the margin of victory in their 4–1 win.

The Yankees couldn't muster a hit for the first seven innings against the 25-year-old Ramirez, who walked just two batters over the course of 88 pitches and benefited from an outstanding double play by Mike Mahtook, who ran into the rightfield wall while flagging down Brian McCann's deep drive, then threw to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to double Brett Gardner off second. The no-hit bid ended with the leadoff batter of the eighth inning, as Carlos Beltran's hot smash off the shoulder of first baseman Richie Shaffer was rightly ruled a hit by the official scorer, but the knock went for naught, even after pinch-runner Rico Noel stole second base and took third on Chase Headley's line drive to rightfield.

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While Ramirez, vying to become just the second Rays pitcher to throw a no-hitter (Matt Garza was the first, in 2010), kept the Yankees at bay, CC Sabathia did the same to the Rays. Carrying a hefty 5.16 ERA into his second start since returning from a bout of right knee inflammation, the 35-year-old lefty yielded just three hits over 6 2/3 innings without allowing a run, his first scoreless start since April 7, 2013. Two of the hits were infield singles. Meanwhile, he walked two, worked around a pair of errors and struck out five while generating a season-high 15 swings and misses. Win or lose, it was a promising showing for a team desperately in need of a hopeful sign from the rotation, particularly with Nathan Eovaldi likely out until the end of the regular season due to elbow inflammation, and Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda struggling in the second half, with ERAs of 5.88 and 6.21, respectively.

Once Sabathia gave way, the Rays scratched out a run in the eighth inning against Justin Wilson via a one-out single by Mahtook and then a two-out double by Logan Forsythe. Yankees manager Joe Girardi had Dellin Betances ready to face Forsythe, but hesitated to bring him in, as it would have been the first time all season he used his fireballer for three straight days.

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The move backfired, but the Yankees still had a flicker of life when Dustin Ackley singled off closer Brad Boxberger to start the ninth. Jacoby Ellsbury grounded into a double play to extend his hitless streak to 22 straight plate appearances, but Boxberger walked Gardner on four straight pitches, and Gardner stole second on a play that was initially ruled defensive indifference. Alex Rodriguez followed by doubling to deep right centerfield, tying the game, and after McCann was intentionally walked, up came Heathcott, who had replaced Noel in the bottom of the eighth.

The 24-year-old rookie had already ridden a rollercoaster this year. A 2009 first-round pick, he overcame a slew of injuries to get his first cup of coffee, homered in his fourth major-league game on May 25, suffered a quad strain two days later and missed two months of action. He had last played on Sept. 7 for Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he pounced on Boxberger's first pitch, a 90-mph fastball:

The hit was arguably the biggest of the season, as after Andrew Miller nailed down the win, the Yankees (79–64) trimmed the idle Blue Jays' AL East lead to three games.

2. Rangers gain ground

With a chance to trim the Astros' AL West lead to half a game, Rangers fans had every reason to scratch their heads over Monday night's lineup, which featured Mike Napoli making just his second career start in leftfield, and lefties Mitch Moreland and Prince Fielder in the lineup against southpaw Scott Kazmir. Somehow, it all worked out, as Texas took the first game of a four-game series in Arlington with a 5–3 win that featured homers by both Moreland and Fielder—and an error by Napoli that ultimately proved inconsequential.

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​The Astros struck first when Jose Altuve hit a solo homer off Cole Hamels in the first inning, but the Rangers tied the score on an RBI double by Rougned Odor (hitting .313/./.355/.555 since returning from the minors on June 15) off Kazmir in the second. Scoring on that play was Fielder, who reached on a dropped pop fly by third baseman Jed Lowrie, but Napoli was out at the plate when centerfielder Jake Marisnick and shortstop Carlos Correa made perfect pegs to get the ball to catcher Hank Conger.

The Astros retook the lead in the fifth, when Marisnick hit a one-out double, took third on a Hamels balk and scored on George Springer's fielder's-choice grounder. They were poised for more when Altuve's fly ball clanked off the glove of Napoli, who prior to Sunday had never played a professional game in the outfield but became the 12th different player to start there for the Rangers this season. Napoli didn't handle a ball during Sunday's five-inning stint, and didn't look like he knew what to do once he had to on Monday night; Springer took second as Altuve reached and both runners advanced on Correa's grounder. Fortunately for the Rangers, Hamels retired Jonathan Villar (pinch-hitting for Lowrie) on a fly ball to rightfield.

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In the sixth inning, Rangers manager Jeff Baninster's decision to start Fielder (.263/.336/.429 against lefties this year, but hitting just .253/.333/.348 overall since the All-Star break) and Moreland (.233/.290/.352 career against lefties) paid off when the former hit a one-out single and the latter followed with a two-out homer off Kazmir, his 20th of the year, but just his fourth off a southpaw.

That gave the Rangers a 3–2 lead, but Hamels gave it back in the next half-inning via singles by Altuve and Colby Rasmus sandwiched around a fielder's choice and a walk. Fast-forward to the eighth inning, when Astros manager A.J. Hinch used lefty Oliver Perez against Shin-Soo Choo (whom he retired) but lifted him in favor of righty Will Harris, who allowed a single to righty Adrian Beltre and then served up this two-run shot to Fielder:

That two-run homer, Fielder's 19th of the year but just his second since Aug. 8, provided the margin of victory for the Rangers, who have won 21 of 31 to climb to 76–67, a half-game behind the Astros (77–67), who have lost 10 of their last 16.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)