The Wednesday Takeaway
The Brewers and Blue Jays have been the most surprising division leaders heading into the July 4th weekend, and the two clubs hooked up for their second straight day game on Wednesday to close out their two-game series finale. Replays, manager ejections, and dingers were all recurring themes, with the contest finally decided in the ninth inning with a game-winning blast.
Milwaukee pushed across the first run of the game in the top of the first after Carlos Gomez singled home Jonathan Lucroy, who had ripped a double earlier in the inning. In the home half of the frame, Jose Bautista connected for a home run off Willy Peralta, making this his second straight games with a dinger after missing over a week with a hamstring strain.
The Brewers took the lead back with three runs in the third inning, which was highlighted by Ryan Braun’s two-run triple that bounced off the glove of a leaping Colby Rasmus at the center field wall. The Jays evened things back up with a run in the bottom of the third inning and a two-run shot by Juan Francisco in the fourth. The clubs remained tied until the ninth inning, with the best scoring opportunity being squandered by Toronto when Darin Mastroianni’s sacrifice bunt attempt with runners at first and second with no outs turned into a 2-6-3 double play. But action did pick up in the eighth inning, when things got heated between the managers and the men in blue.
With one out, Will Smith broke off a slider that struck Toronto's Steve Tolleson on the back foot. As Tolleson fell to the ground, Milwaukee backstop Martin Maldonado appealed to first-base umpire Phil Cuzzi to see whether Tolleson had gone around on his swing. Cuzzi said that Tolleson had held up, and replays clearly backed up his decision. Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke came out of the dugout for clarification on what had happened before having some words with Cuzzi, who proceeded to toss him from the game.
After the game, Roenicke told MLB.com, “I came out just to make sure of what was going on. He said it hit him in the foot and Phil said he didn't swing on it. So I started to turn away and I looked at Phil and I just said, 'You missed it,' and he kicked me out for saying, 'You missed it.' That's a really bad job on Phil's part. If he can't take more than that, then you shouldn't be doing this.”
During the next at-bat, Tolleson took off for second base when Smith bounced a pitch in the dirt. Maldonado recovered well and gunned a throw down to the keystone, but second-base umpire Quinn Wolcott ruled that Tolleson had slid in safely. Jean Segura signaled to the dugout to consider a challenge, and Milwaukee bench coach Jerry Narron appealed the call.
Replays showed that Segura did appear to swipe the back of Tolleson’s leg before he slid headfirst into second, and the call was overturned to the dismay of John Gibbons. The Blue Jays skipper walked out on the field to dispute the ruling despite warnings from home plate umpire Greg Gibson to stay in the dugout, and Gibson had no choice but to eject Gibbons.
Gibbons explained during post-game interviews that his ejection was fueled by frustration, and that he may have been a little on edge at the end of a long homestead. Who knows, maybe if Mastroianni had been able to get his sacrifice bunt down, Gibbons would have kept his cool.
Gibbons on his ejection: "Maybe I got tired of looking at bunts not getting put down, so I said, ‘I’ll go have a beer.’" #BlueJays
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) July 2, 2014
Back in the locker room with his beverage of choice, Gibbons watched his club fail to move the runners over with another bunt attempt, as Anthony Gose’s bunt with runners at first and second and no outs led to Jose Reyes being thrown out at third. But that was rendered irrelevant two batters later, when Brandon Kintzler hung a 3-1 slider to Edwin Encarnacion.
Bat flip. Parrot trot. Walk-off.
Quick Hits from Wednesday
Hyun-Jin Ryu had a superb night both on the mound and at the plate for the Dodgers, but his outing against the Indians was ultimately ruined by both a meltdown by a reliever long past his glory days and a late defensive miscue.
The main blemish on Ryu’s final pitching line was a two-run homer in the fourth inning by Ryan Raburn. The Korean left-hander was otherwise sharp, throwing 70 of his 101 pitches for strikes and pumping up his fastball velocity during his final inning of work. The Dodgers committed three errors behind Ryu, but third baseman Miguel Rojas did have his back in the fifth with a fantastic diving snag that kept a run off the scoreboard.
Ryu finished with eight strikeouts and zero walks across seven innings and exited with a 3-2 lead, which was made possible by his contribution at the plate.
After being spotted a 2-0 lead, Indians starter Trevor Bauer appeared to be on his way to another scoreless inning in the fifth. Miguel Rojas had lined a single to center, but Bauer kept him on first and had recorded two outs by the time Ryu stepped to the plate. Ryu had collected a single off Bauer in the third inning, and he ripped a 1-0 meatball from the former Diamondbacks prospect down the left field line to cut Cleveland's lead in half and keep the inning alive.
Things started to fall apart for Bauer after Ryu's base knock, as he walked Dee Gordon on four pitches and then battled A.J. Ellis to a full count before handing him a free pass as well to load the bases. Next up was Andre Ethier, who laced a 2-2 fastball that Bauer left up to center field to plate a pair and give L.A. a 3-2 advantage. When Ryu made his exit, the Dodgers' pitching staff had tied a modern record that shows how stellar it has been over the past five weeks.
#Dodgers starting pitchers have walked two or less batters in 36 straight games, tied for the longest single-season streak in the modern era
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the man who entered the game in relief of Ryu didn’t come close to sporting pinpoint accuracy.
Brian Wilson went to full counts against Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana, but he wound up putting them both on to start the inning. The former San Francisco closer fanned Yan Gomes on three pitches to record the first out, but the next batter, David Murphy, followed with an opposite-field single. With Brantley a lock to score from second, Matt Kemp came up firing to third base to hold Santana at second. The only problem was that shortstop Carlos Triunfel, who was jogging over to cover third base, was expecting Kemp to hit the cutoff man rather than throw to third. Kemp's throw skipped all the way to the backstop and allowed the runners to advance 90 feet.
With first base now open, the Dodgers intentionally walked Lonnie Chisenhall to load the bases. Mike Aviles proceeded to single to right field to score Santana and Murphy, giving Cleveland a 5-3 lead. The additional run that resulted from Kemp's error proved to be crucial, as Scott Van Slyke hit a solo blast in the bottom of the eighth to pull within one. But Cody Allen shut the door for the Indians in the ninth, getting Matt Kemp to fly out to warning track with runners at second and third for the final out of the game.
The past two Octobers, the Athletics have been unable to figure out the Tigers, specifically Justin Verlander. The A's made a quick exit in the 2012 postseason after a complete-game shutout by that season’s AL Cy Young runner-up, and they were downed again by Verlander's eight-inning shutout in 2013.
The hard-throwing right-hander didn't dial it up to quite those levels of dominance on Wednesday, but the Tigers batted Jesse Chavez around for one of his poorest outings of the season on their way to completing the three-game sweep of the reigning American League West champs.
Oakland actually got to Verlander early, as Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss each deposited a solo shot into the right-field stands in the first inning. The A's loaded the bases in both the third and sixth innings against Verlander, but they were unable to push across any additional runs against the 2011 American League MVP during his six innings of work. His counterpart on the hill, Chavez, was unable to bail himself out of similar situations.
Detroit used a trio of singles in the first inning to cut Oakland's early lead in half and then tied the game up in the third inning on a pair of hits and an intentional walk. The Tigers grabbed a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning and by the time the sixth inning rolled around, they had already tallied eight hits and two walks against Chavez.
Chavez opened the sixth inning with walks to Nick Castellanos and Alex Avila, which was enough for Bob Melvin to lift him in favor of Jim Johnson. Andrew Romine laid down a sacrifice bunt for the first out of the inning, but Detroit proceeded to string together a trio of singles off Johnson to extend the lead to 6-2. Up next was Miguel Cabrera, who widened the gap to six runs with a double past a diving Alberto Callaspo at third base.
That was the end of Johnson's day, as Ryan Cook took over for the former Oakland closer, who saw his ERA balloon to 5.94 after his appearance. Torii Hunter added his third RBI single of the day later in the inning to run the score to 9-2 and the total damage in the inning to six runs.
Oakland added a run in the seventh on Moss' fourth hit of the day, but it wasn’t close to enough to save his team from being swept out of Detroit. The series against the Tigers dropped Oakland to 51-33, within striking distance of both the Angels and Mariners. Los Angeles sits just 3.5 games behind the A's, while Seattle is only 4.5 games back after completing their own three-game sweep of Houston on Wednesday. On the other end of the drubbing, the Tigers are 4.5 games up on Kansas City in the Central and have won 11 of 13 since falling a game and a half behind the Royals last month.
Runs have been hard to come by for the Cubs over the past few days, as the North Siders were held to two runs or fewer in each of their last four games. However, stellar pitching performances from Jake Arrieta and Edwin Jackson gave the Cubs the opportunity to pick up their first series sweep at Fenway Park since taking four from the Boston Braves there in 1915. On Wednesday night, scoring was the last obstacle in anybody’s way.
After Chris Coghlan walked to lead off the game, Justin Ruggiano launched a towering two-run blast off Brandon Workman to give Chicago a quick 2-0 lead. The next two Cubs also reached base against Workman, prompting the Boston bullpen to get loose. Workman would settle down and work his way out of the inning with just a three-run deficit but served up a two-run bomb to Mike Olt in the fourth inning and a triple to Darwin Barney, who came home to score later in the frame to give Chicago a 6-1 lead.
The Red Sox tallied a pair of runs against Travis Wood in the bottom of the fourth, but Felix Doubront—who was on in relief for Workman—promptly gave them back in the fifth to Wellington Castillo, who deposited the southpaw’s mistake pitch into the center field stands.
With the score now 8-3, Mookie Betts provided Boston with one of their few bright spots on the night in the fifth inning. The talented 21-year-old prospect’s first Fenway Park hit came off Carlos Villanueva in the form of a moonshot blast that landed in the farthest row back at the top of the Green Monster.
The home run by Betts cut the Cubs’ lead to three runs, but that was the closest the Red Sox would get. Chicago tacked on another run in the sixth and extended the lead to 10-5 after Nate Schierholtz’s solo shot in the eighth inning barely cleared the short right field wall. So close, Brock Holt. So close.
The Red Sox back within four runs heading into the ninth, but Chicago’s bats exploded for a six-spot off Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa. The Cubs recorded seven hits in the frame, including a trio of two-baggers, to run their final hit tally on the night to 19. Justin Grimm allowed three more runs to Boston in the bottom of the ninth and recorded the final out of the game four hours and 19 minutes after it had begun. It was the longest nine-inning game played in the majors this season.
On Monday, Jesse Hahn and the San Diego bullpen combined for a 1-0 shutout of the Reds, with Ian Kennedy subduing Cincinnati the next day in an 8-2 win. The Friars turned to Tyson Ross to continue their excellence on the mound and pick up their first three-game sweep of the year. Ross not only rose to the occasion, but he twirled his best game of the season.
The six-foot-five right-hander retired the first 11 Cincinnati batters of the game before Todd Frazier pulled a 2-2 fastball through the 5.5 hole with two outs in the fourth inning. By then, the Padres had already provided a three-run lead against Johnny Cueto. San Diego loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning for Rene Rivera, and the San Diego backstop drove the ball into the right-center field gap. Billy Hamilton got a bead on the line drive, but the ball glanced off his glove and all three runs came around to score.
Cueto buckled down after that, tossing six scoreless innings after the three-run first, but the Reds were already in too deep a hole against Ross. The Cal-Berkley product wound up going the distance for the first time in his career, using 120 pitches to fan nine batters and limit the Reds to three baserunners. Cincinnati’s best scoring threat came in the eighth inning, when Brayan Pena drove one of Ross' few mistakes of the day to the right-center-field wall with one out. Pena moved over to third on a Zack Cozart groundout, but Ross stranded him there by getting Joey Votto—who was pinch-hitting for Cueto—to fly out.
Ross increased the usage of his slider over each of the first three months of the season, all the way up to a 44.8 percent clip rate over five June starts. That trend continued on Wednesday, as he went to his breaking pitch 53 times (44.2 percent), with 41 of them going for strikes. The Reds swung-and-missed at 14 sliders from Ross and whiffed at 22 offerings overall, the latter of which was a career high for the 27-year-old.
After missing nearly a month with a hamstring injury, Tyler Skaggs was terrific in his return to the mound for the Angels on Wednesday against the White Sox. The 22-year-old left-hander sent Chicago down in order the first time through the lineup, although he did get some help behind him from Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton robbed Gordon Beckham of at least extra bases and possibly a home run. The only other trouble that Skaggs ran into was in the fourth inning, which Adam Eaton led off with an infield single. Beckham again made hard contact against Skaggs, driving a double to center that advanced Eaton to third. Jose Abreu walked to load the bases. Skaggs retired Dayan Viciedo, but he surrendered his only two runs of the night when Alexei Ramirez singled home Eaton and Beckham.
Skaggs was incredibly efficient on the hill in his return; he threw 70 of his 87 pitches for strikes (80.5 percent!) and only 10 of the 28 batters he faced saw more than three pitches during a plate appearance. The former Arizona hurler pounded the inside of the strike zone and finished the night with six strikeouts versus just one walk.
John Danks matched Skaggs on the mound with 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball. The Halos did their damage against Danks in the form of solo home runs, as David Freese went opp in the seventh inning before Hamilton tied the game at 2-2 with a tater of his own in the eighth. The South Side lefty departed after surrendering Hamilton’s home run on his 120th pitch of the night, and tied a career high with 10 strikeouts.
Chicago strung together back-to-back one-out singles off Mike Morin in the bottom of the ninth inning, which placed runners at the corners and prompted the Angels to deploy a five-man infield alignment against pinch-hitter Leury Garcia. That wasn’t enough to contain the 23-year-old utility man, who found a hole through the left side of the infield and gave the White Sox the walk-off win.
The Defensive Plays of the Day
Encarnacion’s walk-off blast earlier in the day tied him with Jose Abreu and Nelson Cruz atop the American League home run leaderboard. Cruz thought he had regained that lead after crushing a Miles Mikolas fastball to left-center. Leonys Martin had enough time to get under the sky-high blast and bring it back, and Cruz had no choice but to give his former teammate props.
What to Watch on Independence Day Weekend
- The Marlins dropped 14 runs on the Phillies on May 21, when they last saw Kyle Kendrick, ending a long run of futility against the sinkerballer. Prior to that rout, Kendrick had led Philadelphia to victory in 13 of his previous 14 meetings with Miami. He’s done that chiefly by keeping the ball in the yard, as the Fish have taken Kendrick deep only four times in their last 11 showdowns. In fact, the 29-year-old Kendrick is the only pitcher who can claim to have faced Giancarlo Stanton at least 25 times without serving up more than one home run. He’ll try to shake off the May clunker while dueling Brad Hand, who’ll be entrusted with a starting assignment for the first time since April 14 (6:10 p.m. ET).
- Don’t expect many free passes in the series opener between the Yankees and Twins. Phil Hughes, who welcomes his former employer to Target Field in the opener of the four-game set, leads all qualifying starters with a 2.4 percent walk rate. His opponent, first-year Yankee Masahiro Tanaka, ranks fifth at 4.0 percent. Both right-handers rank in the league’s top 10 in PVORP, with Hughes (26.4) actually outpacing Tanaka (20.7) in the catch-all value metric for pitchers. Tanaka tossed eight innings of one-run (zero earned) ball in a win over Minnesota on May 31; Hughes turned in eight frames of two-run work against the Yankees the next day (8:10 p.m. ET).
- Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager has run hot and cold this year. He was toting a .492 OPS at the end of play on April 17, then righted his ship in short order with a 12-for-31 stretch in which he slugged five home runs. A month later, Seager was scuffling again, mired in a 12-for-66 rut over 17 games between June 3-20. Now, the UNC product is sizzling again, with 21 hits in his last 43 at-bats, including five doubles and three long balls. Seager will celebrate the Fourth of July by staring down Chris Sale, who has yet to allow an extra-base hit to a left-handed hitter this year. Check in tomorrow to find out what happens when the immovable object takes on the seemingly unstoppable force (7:10 p.m. ET).
- Somehow, someday, some team is going to figure out a way to score a run at Clayton Kershaw’s expense. In his last three starts, the defending National League Cy Young Award winner has delivered a 15-strikeout no-hitter versus the Rockies, chucked eight shutout frames against the Royals, and fanned 13 Cardinals over seven scoreless innings. Perhaps the thin air at Coors Field will give Walt Weiss’s lineup the boost it needs to snap Kershaw’s run of unblemished work. If it doesn’t, Kershaw could become the first pitcher since Brandon Webb in 2007 to log at least seven innings without permitting a run in four consecutive starts (8:10 p.m. ET).
- Rookie southpaw Andrew Heaney is one of six pitchers in Marlins history to be dealt a loss in each of his first three big-league starts, but all five of his predecessors notched at least a no-decision in start no. 4. To follow in their footsteps, the 23-year-old will need to fare better against a Cardinals club that hasn’t solved many left-handers in 2014. Mike Matheny’s offense enters play on Thursday with just a .238/.313/.359 aggregate triple-slash line against southpaws, and it’s 11-12 when the opposition rolls out a lefty starter. The Redbirds will roll with Shelby Miller (2:15 p.m. ET).
- Breaking-ball connoisseurs ought not miss Sunday’s scheduled duel between the Astros’ Collin McHugh and the Angels’ Garrett Richards. The 27-year-old McHugh has fallen upon hard times of late, suffering a loss in each of his last four starts, but his bender has been among the most effective in the majors; opponents are just 5-for-72 (.056) with 44 strikeouts when the right-hander spins it. Meanwhile, Richards’ slider and curve have held foes to a combined 17-for-130 (.130) line with 66 punchouts. The forecast calls for a slew of silly swings if the two are on point in the series finale (3:35 p.m. ET). —Daniel Rathman