The way the Rays and Rangers collapsed a few weeks ago gave several other teams a chance in the AL Wild Card. But it was a chance they would only be able to seize with a tremendous finish. Collapses happen, but rarely are they as dramatic as the Red Sox’ 7-21 September in 2011 culminated by the hysterics of Game 162. The Royals, Yankees, and Royals will see their seasons come to an end knowing that they were one hot streak away from making the postseason. But it didn’t happen, and finally the AL Wild Card race has begun to thin out.
Rays 7, Yankees 0
The Yankees could have made something happen had they swept the Rays, but the Rays made clear from the first inning that the Yankees’ plans would be foiled before they even began. Matt Joyce drilled a solo home run and David DeJesus drilled an RBI double as the Rays tagged Hiroki Kuroda for three runs in the top of the 1st. That three-run deficit was as close as the Yankees would be all game. Matt Moore had an enigmatic outing, walking 6 and allowing 3 wild pitches in 5 innings of work, but he composed himself when it mattered most to toss 5 shutout innings. Kuroda composed himself after the rough first inning, but James Loney ended any hope of a Yankee comeback with his two-out, two-run triple in the 6th. Nearly everything about this game points towards Rays dominance, but Moore’s control issues remind the Yankees once again that they had a chance but simply could not come through.
Indians 5, White Sox 4
Could Chris Perez have pitched a worse time for a collapse? Alejandro De Aza‘s RBI single off Ubaldo Jimenez in the 7th gave the White Sox a 2-1 lead over Cleveland, but the Indians came back with a Michael Brantley solo home run and a Jason Kipnis RBI single off Hector Santiago to take a 3-2 lead. In the 9th, however, Perez made all their efforts go to waste, allowing solo hhome runs to Dayan Viciedo and De Aza to take a 4-3 lead. In the bottom of the inning, however, the Indians were not going to go down without a fight. Michael Brantley singled off Addison Reed between two strikeouts, and he stole second base with pinch-hitter Jason Giambi at the plate. But that stolen base did not prove to be necessary. Giambi drilled a walk-off two-run home run to win the game for the Indians and prevent them from falling into a tie for the second Wild Card spot. Santiago fooled the Indians for the first 6 innings, but they finally got to him in the 7th and then rallied after he left to nail down the win. Even when you’re playing bad teams, you’re always going to have bad days. Even on those bad days, though, the playoff-bound teams persevere and overcome their struggles to escape with a victory, and that’s exactly what the Indians did here.
Blue Jays 3, Orioles 2 (10 innings)
The Blue Jays were playing for pride in this game while the Orioles were still hoping to somehow turn themselves around and make the postseason. How could the Blue Jays win when they had so much less to play for? Well, as the Orioles showed us in Game 162, the motivation to be a spoiler could be just as strong. The Blue Jays rallied from an 8th inning deficit to officially end the Orioles hopes at a second straight playoff run.
Chris Tillman started for Baltimore and delivered exactly the type of start the Orioles were hoping for. The 25 year old right-hander went 7 innings allowing just 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 9 while walking just 1. Ryan Goins infield single scored the Blue Jays’ only run off Tillman in the second inning, but Tillman dominated after that. Todd Redmond, though, pitched well enough to keep Toronto just behind. Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth drilled back-to-back home runs off Redmond in the third inning, but those were the only runs he allowed as he went 5.2 innings allowing 2 runs on 8 hits, striking out 2 while walking 2. His efforts paid off in the 8th inning after Tillman departed when Mark DeRosa blooped a single off Brian Matusz to tie the game at 2. And then in the 10th, DeRosa came to the plate again and slapped a go-ahead opposite-field single off Francisco Rodriguez to give the Blue Jays the 3-2 lead tthat proved to be the final. Redmond battled and the Blue Jays bullpen tossed 4.1 innings of two-hit ball, striking out 6 while walking none, and that proved to be enough to beat baseball’s best bullpen team for September at their own game. The Blue Jays gave the Orioles a dose of reality, something they would rather delay thinking about as long as possible. Now all they can do is finally nail down that 82nd win after six straight losses and hope to end the season on a high note.
Rangers 3, Astros 2
This game was a little too close for for comfort from the Rangers’ standpoint, but they overcame an early deficit and came back after the Astros rallied to tie the game as they pulled out a 3-2 victory. Yu Darvish started for Texas and didn’t look quite right for the second straight outing. An Jose Altuve single followed by a pair of walks loaded the bases in the top of the first inning, and they Astros took advantage on a Chris Carter sac fly to jump out to the early lead. The Rangers finally got to Brad Peacock in the 4th, scoring on a Geovany Soto RBI single, and after Ian Kinsler delivered another RBI hit off Peacock in the 5th, it looked like the Rangers were about to pull away. Instead, Darvish allowed a game-tying solo home run to Matt Dominguez in the top of the 6th, and Darvish left two batters later. Darvish went 5.1 innings allowing 2 runs on 4 hits, striking out 9 but walking 4. Luckily for the Rangers, though, they had a home run of their own in store in the bottom of the inning as Beltre took Peacock into the left field seats to give Texas a 3-2 lead, and the Rangers bullpen did the rest as the Rangers won by that score. Peacock pitched very well for Houston, allowing 3 runs on 6 hits in 6 innigns, striking out 7 while walking 1, and Peacock’s performance put the Rangers on the verge of dropping a game they had to win. But while the game wasn’t pretty, the Rangers found a way to come out with a victory, and that’s all they will think about as the season enters its last five games.
Mariners 4, Royals 0
No matter how fast you’re running, you can’t run through a brick wall unscathed. James Paxton was that brick wall for the Royals, and the rookie lefty shut them down for 7 innings to lead the Mariners to a 4-0 win. Paxton went 7 innings allowing no runs on 4 hits, striking out 10 while walking 1. The 10 strikeouts were one fewer than Paxton had managed in 17 innings in his first three starts as Paxton paired his mid-90’s fastball with the best curveball he’s had all season and even some effective changeups to keep the Royals stifled. Bruce Chen, meanwhile, allowed a Kendrys Morales RBI single in the first inning, and while that may have been enough to lose the game by itself given how good Paxton looked, the game looked everything like it was over after Justin Smoak drilled a three-run home run off Chen in the 5th. Between Paxton and a pair of relievers, the Mariners held Kansas City to just 5 hits and no walks in the game, and they dealt a significant blow to their playoff hopes in the process.
Ob Tuesday, the real contenders in the Wild Card, the Rays, Indians, and Rangers, all kept winning, with the Rangers and Indians narrowly escaping upsets from the two worst teams in the American League, while everyone else fell apart. The Orioles squandered a late lead to eliminate themselves from contention, the Yankees’ flat effort against the Rays slimmed their elimination number down to one, and the Royals’ lack of offense against James Paxton and the Mariners made their deficit look all but insurmountable. Let’s take a look at the standings and pitching matchups for Wednesday.
1. Tampa Bay (88-69), +1.0
2. Cleveland (87-70), —
3. Texas (86-71), 1 GB
4. Royals (83-73), 3.5 GB
5. Yankees (82-75), 5 GB
6. Orioles (81-76), 6 GB (eliminated)
TB @ NYY (7:05 PM EST): David Price vs. Phil Hughes
CHW @ CLE (7:05 PM EST): Dylan Axelrod vs. Danny Salazar
TOR @ BAL (7:05 PM EST): Esmil Rogers vs. Bud Norris
HOU @ TEX (8:05 PM EST): Dallas Keuchel vs. Martin Perez
KC @ SEA (7:05 PM EST): Ervin Santana vs. Hisashi Iwakuma