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September 27, 2013

What You Need to Know

A Bronx Goodbye

by Daniel Rathman

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The Thursday Takeaway
Moments after the Rays defeated the Yankees 4-0, last night, Mariano Rivera went out to the mound. He knelt down, gathered a handful of dirt, and, with that keepsake in hand, bid farewell to the ballpark in which he made 629 career appearances, 53 of them in the playoffs.

The Yankees failed in their attempt to grant Rivera a save situation for the road, but in the end, the way Thursday’s series finale unfolded led to a more touching scene than even the most heartfelt handshake line could have produced. Rivera entered in the eighth inning with runners at first and second, and he made quick work of Delmon Young and Sam Fuld to help rookie Dellin Betances out of a jam. In the top of the ninth, he coaxed a ground out from Jose Lobaton and a popup from Yunel Escobar.

Were the Yankees ahead by a run or two, manager Joe Girardi might have felt compelled to stick with Rivera and give him a chance to record regular-season save no. 653. Under these circumstances, he had something much greater in mind.

Girardi sent the two other active members of the core four, Derek Jeter—who is on the disabled list, but will be its last man standing—and Andy Pettitte—who made his last Yankee Stadium start on Sunday—to the mound with Matt Daley ready in the bullpen. Pettitte made the call to Daley and then hugged Rivera as the 43-year-old broke down in tears, with the crowd and the players in both dugouts and bullpens on their feet. It was the first of many hugs for Rivera, who tipped his cap on his way back to the dugout and made a curtain call after he was done embracing everyone inside it.

Rivera’s 1 1/3 perfect innings brought his career ERA down to 2.209, one one-thousandth of a run better than the record previously held by Eddie Cicotte. If he does not toe the rubber in Houston this weekend, by that metric and many others, Rivera will go down as the best of all time.

Quick Hits from Thursday
With the Rays’ final score up on the out-of-town scoreboard and the Indians cruising against the Twins, the Rangers, one game behind the Tribe in the race for the second wild card spot, were on thin ice. And were it not for some ninth-inning magic from a blue-chip prospect wading through a quiet rookie year, they might have rued this day all winter.

Matt Garza coughed up a first-inning run to the Angels on a pair of singles and an RBI fielder’s choice by Mike Trout, but the Rangers bounced back with a fine rally in the home half of the frame, featuring four singles and a sacrifice fly. The scoreboard read 3-1 Texas, and Ron Washington’s team seemed headed for victory, a result it had enjoyed only seven times in Garza’s first 12 starts with the club.

Garza got two quick outs to begin the top of the second. And then, all of a sudden, the wheels came off. Not from Garza—from the fielders behind him.

The Rangers went around the infield making errors. Andrew Romine reached on a ball booted by first baseman Mitch Moreland. J.B. Shuck moved Romine to second with a single. Then Erick Aybar reached on an error by second baseman Ian Kinsler, who picked up a second error on the play by throwing the ball away and allowing all three runners to move up an extra base. Trout followed with an infield single to third base, but Adrian Beltre wasn’t content with that outcome. He misfired, too, allowing Shuck and Aybar to score the tying and go-ahead runs.

It was a veritable three four-ring circus, the likes of which Arlington had never witnessed. The last time the Rangers made four errors in the same inning, they weren’t the Rangers. They were the Washington Senators, and the date was August 1, 1962.

Fortunately, Garza—despite getting knocked around for 11 hits in addition to the four errors—was able to limit the damage, with a little help from left fielder Craig Gentry. The Angels began the fifth inning with three straight hits and a walk, but they failed to score in the frame, because Gentry gunned down Howie Kendrick at the plate on the third base hit. A couple of lineouts stranded the remaining three runners.

Moments later, the Rangers loaded the base with nobody out in the last of the fifth and also failed to score. Finally, in the next inning, Leonys Martin delivered a crucial two-run double, plating Gentry and Adam Rosales to put Texas ahead 5-4. Martin’s two-bagger was the first extra-base hit of the night. The first 21 were all singles, despite the fielders’ best efforts to make them more.

But the razor-thin margin wouldn’t last long, as Tanner Scheppers promptly served up a leadoff triple to Kole Calhoun, who scored on a single by Mark Trumbo. Joe Nathan preserved the 5-5 tie in the top of the ninth by fanning Calhoun and Trumbo with Josh Hamilton on third and one out, setting the stage for the aforementioned heroics from a player not yet old enough to drink.

Jurickson Profar waited only three pitches before going yard and becoming the youngest player to turn in a walkoff blast since Miguel Cabrera did it in his major-league debut on June 20, 2003. He joined Geovany Soto, Martin, and Beltre in the art of walking off the Angels with a long ball, which the Rangers have now done in the last four meetings between the teams at the Ballpark in Arlington.

Meanwhile, at Target Field…

***


The Indians took a 6-1 lead into the ninth inning, and manager Terry Francona decided that it was an excellent opportunity to help embattled closer Chris Perez clear his mind. Jason Giambi tried to do that with a hug after his own walkoff homer, but there’s no substitute for a clean inning to erase the frustration of a rough one.

But Perez did not complete the ninth inning. He faced six batters and gave up four runs, the last two on a home run by Josmil Pinto, before giving way to Joe Smith with the Indians clinging to a 6-5 margin. Smith allowed an infield single to Trevor Plouffe and then walked Chris Colabello to put the tying run 180 feet away from the plate. Blood pressures were spiking around Cleveland. The baseball gods were being summoned to help. At last, Smith fanned pinch-hitter Oswaldo Arcia to narrowly preserve what should have been a comfortable win.

After all of that drama, the junior-circuit wild card picture looks precisely as it did 24 hours ago. The Rays are a game ahead of the Indians, who are a game in front of the Rangers. That’s good news for the incumbents and bad news for the challengers in Texas, who now have one less day to make their move. The Indians and Rangers will stay where they are for the weekend; the Rays will cross the border for a three-game set with the Blue Jays.

***

Braves fans who were waiting nervously for Jason Heyward to rediscover his swing in the wake of a month on the shelf with a broken jaw don’t have to wait any longer. The outfielder fell into a 2-for-15 rut in his first five games back, but he shook it off and put a big-time hurtin’ on the visiting Phillies last night.

Batting at the top of Fredi Gonzalez’s order, Heyward kicked off the bottom of the first with a 421-foot bomb off of Tyler Cloyd. The Braves batted around in that frame, so Heyward was back up again to start the second—and he added a double. Eight Braves came up in the second, so Heyward was on deck to begin the third—and after pitcher David Hale struck out he tacked on another double. Only five Braves batted in the third, so Heyward would have to wait until the fifth for his fourth chance in the box—and, when that one came around, he smacked yet another two-bagger.

Four plate appearances. Four extra-base hits. How’s that for a day? Not enough, apparently.

Heyward’s fifth and final try came in the bottom of the seventh, and he improved to 5-for-5 with an infield single. It was the first five-hit outing of Heyward’s career and the first contest in which he collected more than three extra-base knocks.

It also helped the Braves draw even with the Cardinals in the race for the senior circuit’s best record. That, too, will be decided this weekend, as the Braves keep entertaining the Phillies and the Redbirds welcome the Cubs.

Defensive Play(s) of the Day
The Rangers offered a plethora of non-plays in an effort to build on yesterday’s edition, but going with those wouldn't have been fair to Mark Buehrle. The veteran lefty endured a blow to the leg and still managed to scamper off the mound and throw to first in time to retire Steve Pearce.

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • Pettitte’s Bronx farewell came on Sunday, as the Yankees honored Rivera with a ceremony that featured Metallica, but the 41-year-old left-hander has another farewell to bid. Whether coincidentally or with poetic possibilities in mind, the schedule makers gave Pettitte an opportunity to close out his career with a start in Houston, the only other big-league home he has ever known. Pettitte spent three years at Minute Maid Park, from 2004 through 2006, and he finished fifth in the National League Cy Young Award voting in the second one. He’ll take the ball in the series opener looking to avenge an April rout at the hands of the Astros, in which he was rocked for seven runs in 10 hits in just 4 1/3 innings. The home club is scheduled to counter with Brett Oberholtzer (Friday, 8:10 p.m. ET).

  • Anibal Sanchez spent parts of six seasons with the Marlins before Miami shipped him to Detroit along with Omar Infante in July 2012. Now, as the right-hander looks to finish off a 4.5 WARP regular season on a high note, he’ll return to south Florida and square off with Nathan Eovaldi, whom the Marlins acquired from the Dodgers in the Hanley Ramirez deal two days later. Armed with the league’s fastest fastball among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 1,000 of them this year, Eovaldi has, for the most part, been impressive. In fact, if you threw out his three-inning, 11-run (nine earned) disaster versus the Giants on August 16, he’d be sporting a 2.77 ERA. Alas, that’s not how things work in the big leagues, so the 23-year-old will take the bump in the middle match with his ERA at 3.50. The Tigers are Eovaldi’s second interleague test of the season; he passed the first one by holding the Indians to one run in seven innings on August 4, though that wasn’t enough to beat Scott Kazmir in the 2-0 defeat (Saturday, 7:10 p.m. ET).

  • When it comes to home-field advantage in the one-game playoff, the Pirates and Reds control their own destinies: to the victor of this weekend’s head-to-head series in Cincinnati go the spoils. And they are important spoils, because unlike the Mets—who went 41-40 on the road but are just 32-45 at home—the Pirates (50-31) and Reds (49-28) both prefer sleeping in their own beds. The rotations for the three-game series are set; it’ll be A.J. Burnett and Homer Bailey tonight, Charlie Morton and Bronson Arroyo tomorrow, and Gerrit Cole and Johnny Cueto on Sunday. Cueto logged 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Pirates before leaving with an injury on April 13, and then returned to blank them for eight frames on May 31 before taking two more weeks off. If the series finale is a rubber match, Cueto will have a taller order: he’ll be asked to halt Cole’s four-start winning streak and to keep his shoulder intact while doing it (Sunday, 1:10 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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