As we head into the stretch run, we take a look at a team winning in a very uncharacteristic fashion, a situation where less is more behind the plate and one of the more memorable games of this or any season.
Game behind the Red Sox in the wild-card standings for the Texas Rangers as of Tuesday morning.
Don't look now, but Ron Washington's team is right in the thick of the American League playoff hunt, in spite of all the predictions that the AL wild-card winner would certainly come out of the AL East this season. When the Rangers have been in the postseason hunt in the recent past, it has been because of an over-the-top powerful offense, but this year something's dramatically different. While Texas' offense ranks just eighth in the AL in runs scored, the pitching staff ranks third in the junior circuit in ERA (4.18), which places eighth out of the 30 big league staffs. The last time the Rangers pitchers posted an ERA below their current pace was 1992 when the staff included someone very familiar to the '09 team, team president Nolan Ryan. In fact since 1995, the Rangers' best rank in staff ERA at this point in the season was 18th in 1997 (4.64). Over the same span Texas pitchers have placed dead last in the league on four different occasions, including 5.31 last season. And with youngsters Derek Holland (who last week pitched the first shutout by a Rangers rookie while allowing three hits or less since Edwin Correa blanked the Yankees on May 2, 1986) and Neftali Feliz (eight strikeouts and one base runner allowed in 4 2/3 innings) ready to contribute, pitching coach Mike Maddux's charges seem to have a bright future ahead.
Winning percentage for the Cubs since the All Star break, tied with the Braves for the best in the NL.
You'd think that the North Siders would be in great shape in the NL Central, just three games behind the Cardinals and with starting catcher Geovany Soto back in the lineup last week after missing a month with a strained oblique. However, a closer look tells a different story. With Soto (the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year) in the starting lineup this season, Lou Piniella's squad has a record of 30-34, a winning percentage of (469). With his replacement, one-time-Dodger-prospect-turned-journeyman Koyie Hill, as a starter behind the dish, the Cubs have gone 28-18 (.609). Soto is still the superior offensive player, although neither of the catchers' offensive averages are anything to get excited about (Soto: .225/.331/.396; Hill: .219/.296/.308), but Cubs pitchers are much more effective with the replacement behind the plate, posting an ERA of 3.53 with Hill calling pitches and 4.19 with Soto.
Career home runs for Alex Rodriguez after his two-run shot off of Boston rookie Junichi Tazawa in the 15th inning ended the longest scoreless tie in the epic history of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. Rodriguez moved into a tie with Harmon Killebrew for ninth place on baseball's all-time list with the shot that ended the contest in the wee hours of Saturday morning after five hours and 33 minutes of play. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rodriguez became just the fifth player in big-league history to end a scoreless tie in the 15th inning or later with a walk-off home run. The others: Old Hoss Radbourn for the 1882 Providence Grays (18th inning), Earl Averill for the 1935 Cleveland Indians (15th inning), Willie Mays for the 1963 San Francisco Giants (16th inning) and Adrian Garrett for the 1975 Chicago Cubs (16th inning). The next day (Sunday) Rodriguez moved into sole possession of ninth place, with his 574th career shot, nine behind Mark McGwire in eighth.
Mark Reynolds, 3B, Diamondbacks
The single-season strikeout king has been causing havoc all year long, and last week was no exception. In 29 at bats over seven games, Reynolds hit .448/.515/1.103 with a big-league-leading six home runs while tying for the most RBIs with 10. Reynolds' 32 total bases were four more than second place Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals and moved Reynolds to within 14 of Albert Pujols (267) for the overall major league lead (Reynolds also tied the perennial MVP candidate for tops in home runs with 36). On the downside, he fanned eight times for the week, bringing his MLB-leading total to 151.
Honorable mention: Pujols, Joe Mauer, Billy Butler, Zimmerman, Johnny Damon, Chris Coghlan, Javier Vazquez, Andy Pettitte, Holland, Mat Latos and Mike MacDougal.
Jason Varitek and David Ortiz, C and DH, Red Sox
After the thrashing the Sox took at the hands of the Yankees, it had to be a Boston player here, but how to choose between Varitek (one single in 19 at-bats, 0 runs, 0 RBIs) and David Ortiz (one single in 18 at-bats, 0 runs, 0 RBIs). Both were integral parts of the recent Red Sox run of success, but trade-deadline maneuvering (acquiring Victor Martinez and Casey Kotchman) have each of them at the crossroads of their Boston careers. Normally the main story in the Yankees-Red Sox series, Ortiz's headlines came after he was implicated as one of the 104 names on baseball's list for performance enhancing drugs positive tests from 2003, something he has denied. In all, the two veterans were a combined 1 for 24 against their nemesis.
Dishonorable mention: Chone Figgins, Joey Votto, Francisco Rodriguez, David Huff, Anthony Swarzak, Rodrigo Lopez and Yovani Gallardo.