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The Weekend Takeaway

Bruce Maxwell wasn’t penciled into the Athletics’ lineup on Saturday. In fact, the 26-year-old catcher wasn’t supposed to make another start behind the dish for the remainder of the regular season, as he was going through the club’s concussion protocol after taking a foul tip to the mask on Wednesday.

That didn’t change the rookie’s plans. Prior to Saturday’s contest against the Rangers, he took the field with his teammates for the National Anthem and knelt, hand over heart, through the entirety of the song. It was the first time any MLB player had taken a knee in protest during the anthem.

Professional sports, though long revered as an escape from the banalities of the 9-to-5 workday or the divisiveness of the political arena, among other things, has never been immune to the effects of the culture that created it. On Friday, president Donald Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who refused to stand for the anthem, later suggesting that fans lead a boycott against the league should owners choose not to comply.

That was the last straw for Maxwell, who told MLB.com’s Jane Lee that while his decision to kneel had been long in the making, he felt hesitant about becoming the first MLB player to make a public stand against the racial divide in the United States.

“I’m kneeling for the people that don’t have the voice,” Maxwell said in a statement following the game. “This goes beyond the black community. This goes beyond the Hispanic community. Because right now we’re having a racial divide in all types of people. It’s being practiced from the highest power that we have in this country, and he’s basically saying that it’s OK to treat people differently. My kneeling, the way I did it, was to symbolize the fact that I’m kneeling for a cause, but I’m in no way or form disrespecting my country or my flag.”

While no other players—on the Athletics’ roster or elsewhere in the league—elected to join Maxwell by kneeling in protest, he received an outpouring of support from the team, including skipper Bob Melvin and teammates Mark Canha and Khris Davis.

That doesn't mean the stakes are low for the rookie, who knelt again on Sunday and appears intent on continuing the demonstration through the remaining seven games of the season. Maxwell has played just 104 games in the majors and is still trying to establish himself at the big-league level long term. The ramifications for those who use their platform to protest have not been mild, especially in the case of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remains a free agent three weeks into the NFL season. It’s a big gamble to make at any stage of an athlete’s career, and one that can bring an undue amount of negative attention.

This, at least, Maxwell seems prepared for.

“I know negativity is coming my way,” he said Saturday. “People think athletes should shut up and get their money and play their sport, but no matter how much money we make, no matter how many touchdowns we score, no matter how many home runs we hit, it doesn’t mean we aren’t people. Our paychecks don’t silence us.”

Quick Hits from the Weekend

The worst of the Dodgers’ slump appears to be behind them, and on Friday, they clinched their fifth consecutive NL West championship with a decisive 4-2 finish over the Giants. Rich Hill spun six innings of one-run ball, keeping the Giants to a Buster Posey RBI single before crafting a three-run lead in the third inning.

Hill led the charge there, too, putting the Dodgers on the board with an RBI double that was backed by a massive three-run blast from Cody Bellinger.

Bellinger’s home run not only supplied the championship-clinching go-ahead run, but set a new single-season record for National League rookies. The dinger was his 39th of the year, eclipsing the previous 38-homer mark held by the 1930 Braves’ Wally Berger and the 1956 Reds’ Frank Robinson.

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Elsewhere in the NL West this weekend, the Diamondbacks were busy working toward their own postseason berth with a 3-2 squeaker over the Marlins. Unlike the Dodgers, they saved all the drama for the end of the game, knotting the score 2-2 in the eighth with a Daniel Descalso line drive …

… and returning in the bottom of the ninth for Paul Goldschmidt’s stunning two-out, walk-off RBI single:

The D-backs will go head-to-head against the Rockies, Brewers, or Cardinals next week, but are guaranteed home-field advantage in the Wild Card game with a 90-66 record—their best record in six years.

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The Yankees may wind up with a similar fate in the AL Wild Card competition next week, but right now, they’re focusing all their efforts on laying claim to the AL East title. They clinched a playoff spot on Saturday, taking the Blue Jays for a 5-1 ride with another stellar start from Sonny Gray.

Gray snapped a two-game losing streak with his 10th win of the season, smothering the Jays’ efforts with four hits, a run, and four strikeouts over six innings. While far from his most dominant outing of the year, the right-hander relished the opportunity to play high-stakes ball.

“Any time you can pitch in a clinching game, no matter if it’s a postseason berth like it is today or something else, clinching games are always exciting,” Gray told reporters.

The Yankees made it easy for their ace, backing him with a three-run lead on Greg Bird’s fifth-inning, three-run home run and a solo shot from Todd Frazier in the eighth.

Starlin Castro capped the win with an RBI single in the ninth inning, but the insurance runs proved unnecessary. Aroldis Chapman shut down the Jays in order, working a 10-pitch inning to secure the win.

With the win, the Bronx Bombers are looking at a Wild Card game next week, though they could conceivably vault over the Red Sox for the division lead before then. That may be more difficult than imagined, however, with the Red Sox currently riding a six-game winning streak after sweeping the Reds on Sunday. Entering Monday’s competition, their magic number sits at three.

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Things weren’t nearly as rosy in the Tigers’ camp on Saturday. Matt Boyd was knocked around in the first inning of Saturday’s 10-4 loss after Brian Dozier scored on a pop-up-bunt-turned-Little-League-homer:

Miguel Cabrera exited the inning early with two herniated discs in his lower back, while Alex Wilson got the worst of the loss. The Tigers right-hander entered with a one-run lead in the eighth and promptly fractured his right leg on a 103.8 mph comebacker from Joe Mauer:

The Twins finished the inning with an eight-run rally, sweeping the four-game series to take control of the second Wild Card spot. Can the Tigers fast-forward to 2018 now?

Defensive Play of the Weekend

We’ll hand this one to Nationals right fielder Victor Robles, who wasn’t putting up with any shenanigans during Sunday’s nail-biter over the Mets:

Honorable mention, of course, goes to any brave soul daring enough to take on The Freeze. This week, it was former Braves pitcher Paul Byrd:

What to Watch on Monday

There’s plenty to keep your attention today. The Royals and Yankees will face off at 1:05 ET, with Jake Junis (4.93 DRA, 103 cFIP) hunting for a Wild Card spot and CC Sabathia (4.69 DRA, 106 cFIP) seeking a division title. If you don’t have any emotional investment in the playoffs, tune in for each of Aaron Judge’s at-bats as he chases Mark McGwire’s all-time rookie home run record.

As for the NL Central—the only division left to be decided—the Cubs will lean on Jon Lester (3.91 DRA, 92 cFIP) as they take on the second-place Cardinals and Luke Weaver (3.28 DRA, 87 cFIP) on Monday. A Cubs win would eliminate the Cardinals from the division race and enable them to wrap up the championship on Tuesday (8:15 ET).