1. Extra Innings And Central Powers In AL Wild-Card Chase
It took 18 innings, 566 pitches and nearly seven hours, but the Rays finally beat the Orioles, 5-4, on Friday night in one of the weirdest games of the season. The win kept Tampa Bay one-half game ahead of Cleveland in the AL wild-card standings, and dropped Baltimore into a tie with Kansas City at 2 1/2 games out.
The game set a Tampa Bay record for innings, both teams established franchise records for length of game (6:54), and the Rays set a team record for pitchers used (11), which is especially impressive given that Joe Maddon changes pitchers roughly seven times a game. At one point, Maddon made four pitcher switches over the course of two innings, and later swapped out a reliever in the 16th inning after two outs and nine pitches thrown. Either of those would qualify as a felony in Tampa if the laws on the books there went beyond punishments for jetski theft. All told, the two teams used a combined 21 pitchers, an MLB record, which is probably the best argument against September roster expansion ever conceived. The game finally came to an end on a walkoff RBI single by David DeJesus, his fourth hit in eight at-bats, to score Desmond Jennings from second base.
At one point, the teams went from the seventh to the 18th inning without either side picking up an extra-base hit. Wil Myers and Evan Longoria combined to go 1-for-16 with four strikeouts. Orioles closer Jim Johnson threw roughly an entire nine-inning game warming up in the bullpen without ever getting into the game itself. Matt Wieters caught all 18 innings; the Rays' Jose Lobaton, who replaced Jose Molina after he was pinch-hit for, ended up catching eight innings. Someone in the Rays' dugout put on a Chewbacca mask. Not to be outdone, someone else threw on a Gene Simmons mask and some massive go-go boots. Kelly Johnson got drilled by DeJesus' helmet during the walkoff celebration. And the best part? Both teams meet again on Saturday for a 1:05 p.m. matinee.
Out in Cleveland, the Indians got some help from the weather and some awful Astros defense, grabbing a rain-shortened 2-1 win over Houston in seven innings. In the fourth, tied at one, the Indians got Ryan Raburn and Asdrubal Cabrera to reach with one out before Michael Brantley hit a routine groundball to Chris Carter at first base. As the Astros have proven all season, however, there's no such thing as a routine play for them; Carter's throw to second base sailed into left field, allowing Raburn to score the go-ahead run. Brantley and Cabrera then took an extra base when Marc Krauss' throw from the outfield to home nailed Raburn in the shoulder, because the Astros are required by law to make compound errors whenever possible.
Cleveland can thank division rival Kansas City for a wild-card boost, as the Royals shut down the reeling Rangers, 2-1, behind 7 1/3 strong innings from Ervin Santana and a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk by Alcides Escobar off Neftali Feliz in the eighth inning. It's hard to imagine a sequence more infuriating for Rangers fans than walking Escobar and his .264 OBP on four pitches to lose the game. Then again, the whole of September has been one giant torture chamber for Texas, which is now 5-13 on the month and has gone from one game up in the AL West to fighting for its postseason life in the span of three weeks.
2. Heartbreak In Pittsburgh
You can be forgiven if you flipped away from Friday's Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game in the ninth inning. After all, with a 5-2 lead and shutdown reliever Mark Melancon on the mound, the Pirates looked good to grab their 89th win and increase their lead over the Reds to two games in the race for home-field advantage in the NL wild-card game.
Three singles, an error and a stolen base later, it had all come apart. Facing a golden opportunity to create some space in the division and keep pace with St. Louis, Pittsburgh literally threw away a win.
Most of the blame for Friday's loss will go to Melancon -- who allowed three hits in 2/3 of an inning -- and shortstop Jordy Mercer, who made a critical error with two outs on a wild fling to first base that allowed the Reds' first run of the inning to score. But credit has to go to Cincinnati as well, particularly Mesoraco, who fouled off three straight two-strike pitches before rapping a game-tying two-run single off the glove of Pedro Alvarez at third base. Pinch-runner Billy Hamilton, who swiped his 10th bag of the season with two outs, scored from second base on Mesoraco's infield hit.
Melancon was pulled after Mesoraco's hit, and Tony Watson managed to finish the inning without further damage. But in the 10th, Joey Votto slammed a solo homer to left to give the Reds a 6-5 lead. Aroldis Chapman finished the game with a perfect 10th, striking out Gaby Sanchez to end it.
The come-from-behind win puts Cincinnati into a tie with Pittsburgh in the division and wild card at 88-66. Particularly painful to Pittsburgh fans: St. Louis blew its own lead in the ninth inning against Milwaukee, only to score in the top of the 10th, for the team's 90th win of the year. That gives the Cardinals a two-game lead in the division with eight games left in the season.
3. Worst To First
Thursday night, the Red Sox clinched a postseason spot with a win over the Orioles. Friday night, they completed an improbable turnaround, going from last place in the AL East in 2012 to the division title in 2013 by beating the Blue Jays, 6-3. It's Boston's first AL East crown since 2007, when the Red Sox beat Los Angeles, Cleveland and Colorado in the postseason to win the World Series.
The win, Boston's 94th of the season, came with an added bonus for the franchise, as starter Jon Lester went seven innings to pick up his 100th career win. That makes Lester the 11th pitcher in team history to reach the century mark in wins. Though he has little chance to catch the franchise's all-time leader, Roger Clemens, at 192 wins, he has a good shot at the top five; he needs 23 more wins to tie Mel Parnell for fourth. Beyond that, it's a steep climb to Clemens, Cy Young (also at 192) and Tim Wakefield (186).
The Red Sox got contributions Friday from the usual cast of characters. Lester held the Blue Jays to one run over seven innings with eight strikeouts. Mike Carp hit a two-run single in the bottom of the seventh inning to give Boston a four-run cushion. And Koji Uehara once again finished the game, earning his 20th save by getting five outs, two by strikeout.
With seven games left, including two more against Toronto and two against Colorado, the Red Sox have a shot to pick up 100 wins for the first time since 1946, when they won 104 games. Failing that, the Sox need to do no worse than 4-3 to finish with 98 wins, last accomplished in 2004. Boston last won 99 games in 1978.
And to end on a fun note: Here's Jonny Gomes wearing an army helmet and punting cans of Bud Light into the stands in the postgame celebration. Odds that he and Mike Napoli wake up in a stranger's living room Saturday morning wearing sombreros: Extremely high.
4. Fifth Time's The Charm For Scherzer
It seemed like an inevitability once Max Scherzer picked up his 19th win on Aug. 24 that he'd reach 20 victories for the first time in his career. But after taking a loss or no-decision in his next four starts, Scherzer was likely down to two final chances to grab that elusive 20th win. Friday night against Chicago, he finally got over the hump, holding the White Sox to three runs in six innings as Detroit won 12-5.
In between wins 19 and 20, Scherzer had hit a bit of a rough patch. Over those four starts, he threw 23 innings and gave up 12 earned runs on 24 hits, seven walks and three homers for an ERA of 4.70 and an 0-2 record, despite striking out 31. Friday's start wasn't all that stellar, either, as Scherzer gave up a run in the first on a double, a strikeout-wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly, then surrendered another pair of runs in the fourth on a homer by Avisail Garcia. As he has all season long, though, Scherzer got outstanding run support, as the Tigers scored seven runs over the first three innings to take the drama out of it.
Assuming Scherzer gets one final start before the season's end, he'll have a chance to become the fifth pitcher in the last three seasons to win at least 21 games. Last year, Gio Gonzalez was MLB's sole 21-game winner; in 2011, Ian Kennedy, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander all grabbed 21 or more wins, with Verlander leading the league with 24.
5. So You're Telling Me There's A Chance
Going into Friday's game against San Francisco, the Yankees had roughly a three-percent chance at making the postseason, according to the math mavens at Cool Standings. They kept those small hopes alive with a 5-1 win, thanks in large part to human lightning rod Alex Rodriguez, who bashed a grand slam to right field in the seventh to break a 1-1 tie.
It was the 24th grand slam of A-Rod's career, making him the all-time leader in MLB history in that category. The previous record-holder was Lou Gehrig, who notched 23 slams in his illustrious career. A-Rod passing the Iron Horse in the history books is an achievement that baseball writers will no doubt celebrate, and not use as yet another excuse to decry the befouling most foul of the game.
Check out A-Rod's homer here, courtesy MLB.com:
[mlbvideo id="30786479" width="600" height="336" /]
Off the field, meanwhile, A-Rod remains as adorably clueless as always. From Hardball Talk: