keyboard_arrow_uptop

The Weekend Takeaway

For teams that didn’t make the playoffs this year, priorities shifted around a bit during the final weekend of the regular season. Some, like the Cardinals, played spoiler to other teams’ chances of upsetting the Wild Card order. Others just got weird.

The Tigers fell into the latter camp, trotting out utilityman Andrew Romine for a rare nine-inning, nine-position start on Saturday against the Twins. Just where the germ of inspiration came from is unclear, but skipper Brad Ausmus told reporters he first discussed the feat with Romine back in 2015 and wanted to give the 31-year-old his “day in the sun.”

That day began innocuously enough. Romine took his post in left field and retired Zack Granite on a fly out for the first out of the game. He carefully worked his way around the outfield, ousting JaCoby Jones from center field and Alex Presley from right field during the shuffle. The ball followed Romine around the field in almost every inning, landing in left for Miguel Sano’s first-inning single and again in right field when Eddie Rosario worked his way around Tigers starter Buck Farmer in the third.

From there, Romine made his way inward. He swapped places with Nick Castellanos at the hot corner, deftly gloving an Eduardo Escobar pop-up for the first out of the fourth inning, and helped turn a 4-6-3 double play at shortstop in the fifth.

Second base proved fairly uneventful, with nary a hit nor an out made in Romine’s direction, but the game didn’t stay quiet for long. Romine settled in behind the plate for his first ever appearance as a catcher, tasked with calling the game for reliever Blaine Hardy. That proved more difficult than expected, even while wearing his brother, Yankees catcher Austin Romine’s glove and receiving subtle hand signals from Detroit backstop Bryan Holaday at second base.

“I had nightmares of putting down something and then they hit a home run,” Romine confessed before the game. While Hardy worked out of the inning without surrendering a run, his new catcher wasn’t so lucky, giving up a passed ball to advance Granite before switching back to second base to finish the remainder of the inning.

Things only got tenser when Romine took the mound. With the Tigers clinging to a one-run lead in the eighth, Ausmus wasn’t taking any chances. He left Romine in for just one at-bat against Miguel Sano, during which the super utilityman failed to reach the strike zone—or the plate—with his first two pitches, fell behind 3-1, then put enough life on his fastball that Sano was able to clip a sharp ground ball to third base for the out.

Enough excitement there. Romine finished the inning at first base for his ninth and final position. He remained there through the end of the ninth inning, enjoying a standing ovation before retiring Granite on an easy grounder to end the game.

No one game could possibly serve as a microcosm for all of the bizarre, phenomenal, history-making moments of the 2017 season. You can’t stuff Edinson Volquez’s no-hitter, Aaron Judge’s mind-boggling rookie campaign, Giancarlo Stanton’s mind-boggling home run spree, the record-setting seven grand slams hit on June 3, the Indians’ blistering 22-win streak, and the frenzy of each league’s Wild Card race into one evening’s worth of baseball, not to mention all of the smaller, more nuanced moments that made this year so memorable.

This one, however, comes pretty close.

Quick Hits from the Weekend

It took 161 days for the Red Sox to repeat their division championship. They sewed up the AL East with a decisive 6-3 win over the Astros, in what they could only hope was a fitting prelude to their ALDS opener against Houston next week.

Drew Pomeranz was the guiding light for six flawless innings, doing what he could to redeem a 3.88 DRA after he permitted three hits, two walks, and a run to a loaded Astros’ lineup. The rest of the Sox were quick to back their starter. Hanley Ramirez and Rafael Devers combined for a pair of runs in the fourth inning, supplemented by another three-run spread in the fifth.

In the seventh, Mookie Betts seized a 2-2 fastball from Luke Gregerson, postmarking it to the Green Monster for his 24th home run of the year.

Brian McCann returned in the eighth with his own solo shot, but it wasn’t enough to dent the Red Sox’s lead. Craig Kimbrel struck out the side to polish off the ninth inning and seal the deal.

***

Over in the National League, the Cardinals compromised the Brewers’ plan to make one last push for a playoff berth. Rookie right-hander Luke Weaver issued six runs over 4 2/3 innings, as the Brewers laid the groundwork for a monster five-run spread in the third.

Perhaps on another day, without a Wild Card at stake, during a year when the NL Central title wasn’t so hotly contested among three of its five teams, the Brewers’ lead would have held up. That wasn’t the case on Saturday, however, and the Cardinals returned in the bottom of the third, guns blazing and bats at the ready.

With the bases loaded and one out, Paul DeJong worked a full count against Jeremy Jeffress, then doubled home two runs on a pop-up that got away from Eric Thames.

Jose Martinez’s ground-rule double plated another pair, bringing the Cardinals within two runs of tying the game. They did just that in the eighth inning, challenging a dubious tag at second base to cement Stephen Piscotty’s two-run single, and recording the go-ahead run on Harrison Bader’s first hit of the night.

The win did little for the Cardinals, who remained in third place as the season grinds to a halt on Sunday, but it secured the Rockies’ Wild Card spot and knocked the Brewers out of contention for good.

***

After 13 years in San Francisco, six seasons of 200-inning, 160-strikeout ball, three All-Star nominations, three World Series championships, and MLB’s 22nd perfect game, Matt Cain has decided to call it a career.

The Giants right-hander made his final start on Saturday against the Padres, where he looked more like the 3.46 DRA hurler of 2011 than the -2.8 WARP flameout the Giants came to expect in 2017. Cain stifled the Padres for five scoreless innings, holding them to two hits and a walk and fanning four of 18 batters.

His last strikeout, an 0-2 slider to retire Padres backstop Austin Hedges, was the 1,694th of his career.

It was the quintessential Matt Cain start: good, efficient, utterly lacking in run insurance, a true “Caining.” And, more importantly, a good excuse for some of the best non-waiver deadline #baseballhugs of the year.

***

Yankees skipper Joe Girardi announced his plan to sit Aaron Judge during Sunday’s season finale, as the Yankees were already to host the Wild Card game on Tuesday. Judge made the most of his final regular season appearance on Saturday, however, going 1-for-3 with a 484-foot firework in the fourth for his 52nd home run of the year:

The blast not only registered as the fourth-farthest shot of the season, but helped the rookie slugger break yet another record. He now owns 33 home runs at Yankee Stadium, surpassing a 32-homer record set by Babe Ruth back in 1921.

To quote Girardi: “Wow.”

Defensive Play of the Weekend

Here’s Brock Holt, proving once and for all that you don’t need to be an outfielder to make the kind of heart-stopping, home run-robbing plays we’re all so fond of:

While Holt’s superhuman leap was the clear winner this weekend, we have to make some space for Javier Baez, who caught Jose Peraza on a stolen base attempt with, uh, just a little bit of dramatic flair.

What to Watch on Monday

Let us offer you our congratulations and condolences. With the regular season over, the next game on the docket won’t be played until Tuesday, when the Twins’ Ervin Santana throws down against the Yankees' Luis Severino for a spot in the American League Division Series (8:00 pm ET).

The NL Wild Card game will be played on Wednesday night, pitting the Rockies against the Diamondbacks’ Zack Greinke for the right to take on the Dodgers in the NLDS (8:00 pm ET).

In the meantime, give yourself over to Monday Night Football (or Dancing with the Stars, or The Voice, or anything else that strikes your fancy) for one night of guilt-free, baseball-free entertainment. Go ahead. You’ve earned it.