AL Wild Card Roundup: Justin Maxwell’s Grand Slam Knocks Rangers Off Pace

One big hit can alter the course of a season and the course of baseball history. Unfortunately for the Royals, that big hit will likely be far from enough for them to complete their unlikely run for the AL Wild Card. But while Justin Maxwell‘s blast wasn’t quite a Robert Andino-esque nail in the coffin, it made their postseason hopes take a major hit.

Royals 4, Rangers 0 (10 innings)

A great starting pitcher can make up the difference between a topflight team and a mediocre one in any given game. The Royals aren’t that much worse than the Rangers, and with dependable right-hander James Shields on the mound, they had to be confident in their chances of victory. However, Texas countered with red-hot right-hander Alexi Ogando, and they hoped that between Ogando and their superior offense, they could pull out the victory. Ogando lived up to his end of the bargain as he dueled with Shields, but the Rangers offense was almost entirely absent as the Royals stunned Texas 4-0.

After Ogando’s last start on September 17th against the Tampa Bay Rays, you got the feeling that something special was going on. After not throwing more than two innings in a game in over a month, Ogando held the Rays offense to just 1 run on 2 hits in 5 innings of work, striking out 4 while walking 1. It was supposed to be just a brief spot-start, but Ogando vastly exceeded expectations to earn the nod for the Rangers on Sunday. He didn’t disappoint. Ogando went 7 innings allowing no run on 2 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1. Unfortunately for him, however, James Shields was just as good on the other side, going 8 shutout innings allowing no runs on 6 hits, striking out 2 while walking 1. Tanner Schneppers and Neil Cotts followed Ogando with two shutout innings the Rangers through nine while Greg Holland did the same in relief of Shields. Then came the 10th inning and the drama unfolded.

Cotts began the inning but allowed an Eric Hosmer double, prompting Ron Washington to resort to Joakim Soria. Soria then intentionally walked Billy Butler before forcing a weak groundball off the bat of Salvador Perez, but Perez beat it out for an infield hit. The bases were loaded, nobody was out, and it seemed everything like disaster was just a moment away. However, suddenly Soria found the composure that had once made him one of the best closers in baseball to give the Rangers a chance. He forced Mike Moustakas to pop up and George Kottaras to ground into a force play at home to put the Rangers one out away from escaping the jam. But all of Soria’s efforts went to waste when he left a fastball up to Justin Maxwell, who drilled it into the left field seats for a walk-off grand slam.

The Rangers have to be kicking themselves for losing this game. Soria’s mistake after pitching great for four straight batters is the least of their concerns (he could have gotten out of the jam unscathed had Elvis Andrus beat able to field the Perez grounder cleanly). They went just 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and beat themselves on the basepaths, with Elvis Andrus getting caught stealing third base in the first inning and Alex Rios getting thrown out trying to take third in the 9th. The Rangers cost themselves once again and dug themselves a larger hole in the process.

Rays 3, Orioles 1

After a season of bad breaks, the Orioles finally had something go their way in the 9th inning of Sunday’s game. With 2 outs in the 9th inning, Matt Wieters hit a popup that apparently ended the game, but it hit off one of the catwalks on the ceiling of Tropicana Field for an RBI double. Unfortunately, the Rays had expanded their 1-0 lead to 3-0 three innings earlier, and the Orioles’ lucky break was meaningless. It was an apt way to effectively end the Orioles’ postseason run, tantalizing us with a taste of their 2012 magic before falling back down to earth like everyone knew they would.

Lefty Enny Romero took the mound for the Rays in his major league debut and was erratic yet extremely effective. Romero walked 4 without striking out a batter in 4.2 innings pitched, but he utilized major movement on his mid-90′s fastball to hold the Orioles to just one hit throughout his 4.2 innings, Manny Machado‘s single to lead off the game. Romero did not show the consistent command necessary to be a successful major league starter in the long-term, but the Orioles couldn’t make anything happen against Romero aside from talking his walks, with both his stuff and the fact that they had never seen him before representing major factors. The good news, though, was that they got Romero out after just 4.2 innings and Scott Feldman was pitching well on their side. David DeJesus drilled a leadoff home run off of Feldman, but Feldman recovered to toss shutout ball for the next 4 innings. However, the Orioles stranded a pair of runners in the 5th after a walk and a Kelly Johnson error, and the Rays tacked on two big runs against Feldman in the 6th, scoring on a Matt Joyce sac fly and a James Loney RBI single to take a 3-0 lead. The Rays bullpen shut down the Orioles in relief of Romero, including three strikeouts by three different pitchers in a perfect 6th, and only the bad break on the Wieters popout with Fernando Rodney in the game caused their bullpen to allow a run. The Rays didn’t exactly dominant this game, especially with Romero giving them such a bizarre outing, but the Orioles never made the game close and could never well have ended their season in the process. The Orioles entered their series at Tropicana Field hoping to at least take three out of four, but instead they have fallen in the first three games and seen their playoff hopes go from improbable to just about impossible.

Indians 9, Astros 2

The Astros actually led this game 2-0 after the top of the fourth inning. But then the Indians reminded everyone just how good they can be. A Carlos Santana RBI double and RBI singles by Michael Brantley and Mike Aviles gave the Indians a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 4th, and a two-run triple by Michael Bourn capped a four-run offensieve in the 6th to blow the game open at 7-2. Corey Kluber survived the two early runs to keep it together for Cleveland, going 5.1 innings allowing 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1, and his offense was able to give him plenty of support. Four different Indians had two RBIs–Bourn, Santana, Brantley, and Aviles–to cap a strong 5 for 13 effort with runners in scoring position, and while this game had some potential for an upset, the Indians quickly removed that from the realm of possibility. Everyone was hoping the Astros could play the role of spoiler, but given how tough a season they’ve had and how great the Indians are playing, that was a longshot from the start.

Giants 2, Yankees 1

It was Mariano Rivera day at Yankee Stadium and the Yankees retired their longtime closer’s number 42 in a touching ceremony including Metallica performing Rivera’s signature entrance song, Enter Sandman, live in concert. Rivera will be the last major league player to ever where the number 42. And adding to the drama of the day was Andy Pettitte, who recently told the media that he is set to retire as well, was set to make his second-to-last major league start (unless the Yankees can pull off a miracle run to the postseason). But while Pettitte and Rivera did their parts, the rest of Yankees could not do enough a they lost to the Giants 2-1.

Pettitte had a perfect game going through the first 4.2 innings and a no-hitter through 5.1, but Ehire Adrianza drilled his first major league home run to break up the no-hitter and the shutout as well as tie the game up at 1. Pettitte regrouped from there, but he exited after a Pablo Sandoval double to lead off the 8th, leaving to a standing ovation in what will likely be his last Yankee Stadium start. However, David Robertson allowed an RBI double to Tony Abreu, and that proved to be enough as the Giants won 2-1. Rivera flashed back to his earlier years to finish off the game, going 1.2 shutout innings, but by then it was too late. A legend and a very good starting pitcher are about to depart the Yankees’ fold, and the loss rightly begs the question of where the Yankees go from here.

On Sunday, the Rangers saw themselves lose a critical game to lose ground in the Wild Card while the Orioles and Yankees saw their slim playoff hopes look even more unlikely. Here are the AL Wild Card standings and your pitching matchups for Monday.

Standings

1. Tampa Bay Rays (86-69), +1.0
2. Cleveland Indians (86-70), –
3. Texas Rangers (84-71), 1.5 GB
4. Kansas City Royals (82-73), 3.5 GB
5. New York Yankees (82-74), 4 GB
6. Baltimore Orioles (81-74), 4.5 GB

BAL @ TB (3:10 PM EST): Wei-Yin Chen vs. Chris Archer
HOU @ TEX (8:05 PM EST): Jordan Lyles vs. Derek Holland
KCR @ SEA (10:10 PM EST): Yordano Ventura vs. Brandon Maurer

The Yankees will take on the Rays beginning on Tuesday and the Indians will welcome the White Sox to Progressive Field.

Topics: Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers

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