The Thursday Takeaway
A tie game in the bottom of the ninth inning. A fast runner on second base. The stage was set. For this:
The only fitting conclusion to Derek Jeter's last home game, a walk-off hit by the Captain, capped a wild night in the Bronx with a 6-5 Yankees win.
The stage for Thursday's final act required more than Jose Pirela's single, Brett Gardner's sacrifice bunt, and pinch-runner Antoan Richardson's wheels. It also took an unprecedented blown save by David Robertson, an impending free agent who likewise might have donned pinstripes for the last time.
Baltimore homered four times on Thursday, twice to begin the game, by Nick Markakis and Alejandro De Aza, and twice in the ninth, off Robertson, who began the frame by issuing a leadoff walk. The closer was on track to give up exactly five home runs for the third consecutive season. But then Adam Jones clobbered the sixth, and moments later, Steve Pearce drilled the seventh.
A sacrifice fly by Brian McCann left the O's down three with six outs to go. Robertson's gopher balls gave Jeter a chance to win it in more memorable fashion.
Jeter and McCann also accounted for the Yankees' first two runs, their counter to the visitors' back-to-back big flies in the opening frame. Jeter doubled,
advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on an error by former Yankee Kelly Johnson on a ball hit by McCann.
For eight innings, that was all the support Hiroki Kuroda needed in what was likely his Bronx farewell, too. The right-hander limited the Orioles to just one hit besides the two first-inning homers, cruising through the night on 95 pitches, 68 of them strikes. Robertson's blown save denied Kuroda the win, but his efforts were instrumental in enabling Jeter to emerge as the hero.
Ichiro Suzuki, who batted eighth, went 0-for-3 with a walk in what was probably his last home game, as well. He scored what might have been the game-winning run in the seventh before the Orioles fought back in the ninth.
Some might have wanted Jeter to finish his career on this high note, to ride out on cloud nine instead of partaking in three meaningless games at Fenway Park this weekend.
Jeter isn't having it: He wants to play.
We've seen Jeter's last highlight at shortstop, heard Bob Sheppard's voice for the last time at Yankee Stadium, and witnessed the Captain's last act in the Bronx. But we haven't seen the last of Derek Jeter just yet.
Quick Hits from Thursday
If there were ever a true story that might make you rethink a cynical stance on beat writers' abilities to jinx players, this would be it.
After scoring three times in the top half of the fifth inning on Thursday, the Mets led the Nationals, 4-1. Even after the bottom of the frame began single, single, single, and the Nats drew to within two runs, things were all right. But it was around this time that MLB.com beat writer Anthony DiComo tweeted out a link to his latest article, about the Mets' pitchers bidding to become the first senior-circuit staff to go balk-free for a full season since the turn of the century:
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) September 25, 2014
Then, unbelievably, less than two minutes later, the streak was no more:
OH MY GOD THEY JUST BALKED!!!!!!!!!!!
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) September 25, 2014
At that point, DiComo decided to test the limits of his apparent control over the club he covers:
Mets on the brink of going a full season without randomly giving me $1 million.
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) September 25, 2014
No word yet on whether there's a seven-figure payday heading the scribe's way. On the bright side, the Mets let both Gee and DiComo off the hook by scoring three times in the late innings to come away with a 7-4 win.
Getting only 4 1/3 innings from Blake Treinen was suboptimal for the Nats, who are still battling the Dodgers for home-field advantage throughout the senior-circuit playoffs. Matt Williams' squad is in the midst of back-to-back doubleheaders, a challenge for any pitching staff, even with expanded rosters.
With the Brewers on the brink of elimination yesterday afternoon, Rickie Weeks had a very good day at the plate.
The second baseman went 2-for-3 with a second-inning home run and was also hit by a pitch, raising his triple-slash line for the season to .272/.350/.451. Splitting time at the keystone with the left-handed-hitting Scooter Gennett may have been the best thing for the brittle Weeks' career. His .290 True Average as a part-timer is his highest since 2010.
But what might have been the last game of the 32-year-old's Brewers career was marred Weeks' ugly side: his defense, a -29.3 FRAA eyesore that's only worsened with time.
Two innings after he got Milwaukee on the board, Weeks threw away a double-play ball, leaving runners at the corners with one out and forcing Yovani Gallardo to slither out of trouble. One inning after Gallardo picked up his second baseman, Weeks rewarded him by making another, much-costlier error that pushed along a three-run Reds rally that put the home team on top.
Weeks' counterpart, Brandon Phillips, homered in the bottom of the sixth, digging the Brewers a 5-2 hole. And while Weeks sparked a seventh-inning attack with an infield single, his platoon partner, Gennett, who entered as a pinch-hitter, thwarted it by hitting into a twin killing that brought home only one run.
The Reds held on to the 5-3 margin behind Jumbo Diaz and Aroldis Chapman, who notched his 35th save and made David Holmberg—six innings, two runs on three hits, one walk, and two strikeouts—the winning pitcher. Gallardo, who gave up five runs, only three of which were earned, took the loss, as the Giants clinched the National League's second wild-card berth while sitting in their living rooms.
As Milwaukee Journal Sentinel beat writer Tom Haudricourt pointed out, the Brewers are just the fifth divisional-era team to miss the playoffs after spending at least 150 days in first place. Their plight is the Giants' gain, and assuming the A's do not complete what would be an epic collapse, the state of California will boast four playoff teams for the first time in major-league history.
Meanwhile, for Weeks, Thursday's game was his 2014 campaign in a microcosm: a renaissance at the plate soured by continued regression in the field. The Brewers almost certainly will decline the buyout-free $11.5 million option on their first-round pick from the 2003 draft, which did not vest because of his demotion to platoon and pinch-hitting duties. As Weeks prepares to leave the only professional organization he's ever known, his free-agent case could be among the winter's most intriguing.
Remember that linked tweet, a couple of paragraphs ago, in which Angels beat writer Jeff Fletcher said California would send four clubs to the postseason? By his own admission, it was a tad premature:
Oops, I guess the A's aren't in officially yet. But they are very close. #prematuretweet
— Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) September 25, 2014
We've already seen Anthony DiComo seemingly jinx the Mets. Could Fletcher, who once covered the green and gold, do the same to them? It's a long shot, sure, but the A's got no closer to sealing their berth last night.
The Mariners kept the onus on Oakland by outscoring the Jays in a wacky one at the Rogers Centre in which the squads combined to use 15 pitchers. Toronto started rookie Daniel Norris, who lasted only 3 1/3 innings. Seattle opted for a bullpen game, started by Tom Wilhelmsen, who recorded only one out in the second.
John Gibbons' bunch got by with only five relievers, though the first four contributed to the visitors' seven-run output by allowing at least one tally each. Lloyd McClendon went to the bullpen early and often, and of the eight arms he used in relief of Wilhelmsen, only two saw their ERAs rise.
Logan Morrison did most of the damage for Seattle, thumping two homers to raise his season total to 11. Mike Zunino whacked his 22nd of the year in the top of the sixth, and it stood up as the winning run.
The A's run column on Thursday equaled their magic number. Since the latter is one, that wasn't the way to go.
and sent the Arlington crowd home happy and the A's to their hotel still one win or Mariners loss shy of clinching a trip to the playoffs at long last.
Worse still for the A's, that trip is likely to involve a flight to Kansas City, because home-field advantage is rapidly slipping away. The Royals hold the season-series tiebreaker over the Athletics, and they also now hold a one-game lead in the standings.
Ned Yost's squad scored five times against White Sox starter Jose Quintana, two more than the South Siders amassed off of James Shields. As they have on many occasions this season, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland took it the rest of the way.
Eric Hosmer's ninth-inning blast off Eric Surkamp was superfluous in the 6-3 Royals victory, which ticked their magic number to host the one-game playoff to one. Since the A's are now effectively two games back, they'd need to win out and see the Royals lose out to bring the wild-card showdown to Oakland.
The only National League division race still up for grabs got a little closer last night, when the Pirates inched to within a game of the first-place Cardinals.
Playing the Braves while the Redbirds were idle, the Bucs scored early—once in the first on a homer by Travis Snider, once in the third on a sac fly by Andrew McCutchen—and stayed ahead with a flurry of runs in the late innings. They ought not have bothered with the eight runs they scored between the sixth and eighth, because Edinson Volquez had this one in the bag.
One of the offseason's best pitching bargains, Volquez sliced through Fredi Gonzalez's lineup for 10 strikeouts in seven innings of four-hit, scoreless ball. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, it's the first time the right-hander has compiled double-digit Ks without exceeding one walk since September 11th, 2010.
The 10-1 romp not only tightened the screws on the Cardinals, who play at Arizona this weekend, it also brought the Pirates closer to hosting the Giants in the National League's wild-card playoff.
The Giants led the Padres, 6-0, heading into the middle innings on Thursday, but Yusmeiro Petit and their bullpen combined to squander that lead and more.
San Diego played home run derby at AT&T Park, sending two into the seats into the sixth and another pair in the seventh. Yasmani Grandal had a solo shot and a grand slam, Will Venable cranked a two-run jack, and Rene Rivera gave himself a trip around the bags to make it 8-6 San Diego.
But wait, there was another twist in store.
After the Friars played long ball, the Giants played small ball. They strung together four singles, one of them kicked by the first-base umpire, and then went ahead on a squeeze bunt by rookie pinch-hitter Matt Duffy.
That 9-8 edge held up, as Santiago Casilla picked up the save, and there was no harm done by the middle-inning collapse. The Giants remain one game behind Pittsburgh.
To complete the aforementioned list of scenarios, in the event the Pirates win the division and the Cardinals end up as the wild card with the same record as the Giants, St. Louis would travel to San Francisco.
This Red Sox season has long been over, but if Friday's game is any indication, the future, much like the recent past, is bright.
Allen Webster pitched seven innings and kept the Rays to just one run, scattering seven hits and a walk while striking out five.
Rusney Castillo, batting seventh and playing center field, went 2-for-4 with his first career home run.
Bryce Brentz, hitting eighth and playing right, went 2-for-4.
And don't forget Mookie Betts, a solid contributor for most of the summer, who went 3-for-5 with a double atop the lineup.
Have a night, rookies.
The Defensive Play of the Day
The sniper got Gallardo on this bunt, but he found a way to get the out anyway:
What to Watch This Weekend
The American League batting title will almost certainly go to Jose Altuve, but the senior-circuit battle rages on between Justin Morneau and his former teammates, Josh Harrison and McCutchen, with long-shot hopes for Buster Posey and Ben Revere.
The Phillies" center fielder (.308) needs to string together multi-hit games and hope for 0-fers from those above him. He'll lead off against Ervin Santana in the opener versus the Braves (7:05 p.m. ET).
Like Altuve, Harrison, the current leader at .319, has done his best work versus left-handed batters, slapping them around to the tune of a .342 average while batting .309 against righties. Unfortunately, the Reds are last on the Pirates docket, and they won't be starting any southpaws in the season's final series.
McCutchen (.314), who is five points back, has extra incentive in the race: a chance to add an extra feather to his MVP-hopeful cap that could sway voters who are reluctant to choose a pitcher (Clayton Kershaw). Unlike Harrison, and perhaps due to a small sample, McCutchen has actually fared better this year against righties (.321) than lefties (.283), and he has the power to capitalize on playing three games at Great American Ball Park (7:10 p.m. ET).
Morneau (.317) might have been the favorite were the Rockies at home, but they are away this weekend, visiting the Dodgers, and the first baseman is a .306 hitter on the road this year compared to .327 at Coors. He gets Roberto Hernandez tonight (10:10 p.m. ET).
Finally, like Revere, Posey (.310) needs to do damage and hope for help. He'll see Ian Kennedy in game two of four between the Giants and Padres (10:15 p.m. ET).
After the Blue Jays knocked Felix Hernandez around on Tuesday, the American League Cy Young Award could be there for Corey Kluber's taking when he toes the rubber against the Rays this weekend. Kluber has racked up 14 strikeouts in back-to-back starts, an impressive feat only slightly tempered by the fact that he was facing the Astros and Twins. Joe Maddon's lineup will put up more of a fight, particularly in the strikeout department, where the Rays (1,085) have the third-lowest total in the majors. The 28-year-old Kluber has a tall task in front of him if he hopes to run his K total into the 270s and join Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers ever to punch out at least 14 in three consecutive starts (6:05 p.m. ET).
Two days from now, Clay Buchholz will likely become the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the opposing starting pitcher in Derek Jeter's last career game?” Less exciting for Buchholz is the prospect of becoming the 14th starter in Red Sox franchise history to post an ERA over 5.30 while working more than 150 innings. To avoid that fate, he'll need to tick down his current 5.31 mark while dueling Michael Pineda, who hasn't taken on the Red Sox since the pine-tar incident that got him ejected and suspended ahead of a lengthy stay on the disabled list. Pine tar or not, Pineda's been just fine since his return last month, posting a 1.97 ERA and 34-to-4 K:BB ratio in eight starts. The Yankees, however, are just 3-5 behind him during that span (1:35 p.m. ET).
King Felix's final start of the regular season comes the next day, with C.J. Wilson and the Angels paying the Mariners a visit. Hernandez's normally outstanding changeup did him in on Tuesday, when he left a handful up in the strike zone and watched the Jays tee off for five hits in six balls in play. Depending on the state of the home-field race between the Angels and Orioles, Hernandez might see a split-squad-like Halos lineup in the series finale, much like the one he carved up on September 18th. Tune in to see his closing statement as the decision on the junior circuit's pitching honors goes to the jury (4:10 p.m. ET).
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