The crucial final weekend of the MLB season began on Friday as there were four series with playoff possibilities. The Tampa Bay Rays continued their series with the KC Royals and the NY Yankees opened their series with the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Both teams are tied in the American League East and for the best record in the AL (though the Rays hold the tiebreaker because of their season series victory).
In the National League, the San Diego Padres opened their series at the SF Giants needing a sweep just to tie the Giants in the NL West. The Atlanta Braves began their series at home against the Philadelphia Phillies clinging to a two game lead in the wild card over the Padres. The Braves are hoping to send manager Bobby Cox to the playoffs in his final season.
The Red Sox and Yankees had to wait another day. Rain in the Northeast plagued Boston all day and night, leading to the postponement. The teams will play two on Saturday. The Yankees however still took over first place in the American League East by a ½ game as the Rays lost in Kansas City.
Bruce Chen of the Royals pitched a complete game two-hit shutout as he kept the Rays offense off-balance all night. He walked just two while striking out seven. He used a similar game-plan as Baltimore Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz, who just pitched a three-hitter against the Rays on Monday. Rays starter James Shields put together another subpar performance heading into the postseason as he allowed seven runs (six earned) on 12 hits in five innings (and three batters into the sixth). Gregor Blanco of the Royals went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and three RBIs in the leadoff spot. The loss dropped the Rays behind the Yankees in the AL East.
The Minnesota Twins had the opportunity to gain ground for the best record in the AL, but they continue to lose heading into the postseason. With the game tied at 2-2 in the top of the 8th inning and two outs, Toronto Blue Jays catcher John Buck singled to score Vernon Wells to give the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead. Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion followed with a three-run homerun off Twins reliever Jesse Crain to give the Blue Jays a 6-2 lead.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel talks about wanting to keep the integrity of the sport because the Braves are fighting for a playoff spot, but he also wants to get his regulars some time off. His team also doesn’t mind playing the role of spoiler. Braves rookie starter Brandon Beachy was solid until the 6th inning when his defense failed him. Jayson Werth hit a fly ball to deep centerfield that Nate McLouth misjudged and it sailed over his head for a double. With two outs in the inning and reliever Peter Moylan in, Carlos Ruiz hit a ground ball to third base. Brooks Conrad (in the lineup more for his bat than his defense), tried to get the out at second base but Omar Infante was nowhere near the bag. Conrad was charged with an error because he should have thrown to first base with two outs and the catcher running. That miscue loaded the bases and the inning imploded for the Braves from there.
Rookie pinch-hitter Domonic Brown worked an RBI walk to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead. In came left-handed reliever Mike Dunn, who threw one pitch to Jimmy Rollins that sailed into the left field seats for a grand slam. That blow gave the Phillies a 7-2 lead. The Phillies would score four more runs in the top of the 8th inning before the Braves would make things interesting in the 9th inning. Derek Lee hit a bases-clearing double off left-handed reliever Mike Zagurski to cut the Phillies lead to 11-5. Braves rookie catcher JC Boscan got his first Major League at-bat after 14 years in the minor leagues, as he walked and scored on Lee’s double. David Herndon came on, and after walking Melky Cabrera, got Matt Diaz to ground out to end the game. The loss kept the Braves magic number at two, but the Padres now sit just a game back of the wild card.
The Padres bats awoke against Matt Cain and the Giants. They hit three homeruns (Ryan Ludwick, Adrian Gonzalez, and Matt Stairs), accounting for five of the Padres’ six runs in their 6-4 victory. Cain allowed all six runs in just four innings (and two batters into the fifth). The win brought the Padres to within two games of the Giants in the National League West.
Josh Hamilton returned to the lineup for the Texas Rangers for the first time since the beginning of September after suffering broken ribs. Hamilton went 0-for-3 in his return and played six innings in centerfield. The plan is for him to play all weekend against the LA Angels to get him ready for the postseason. However the night belonged to Mitch Moreland, who homered twice off Angels starter Jered Weaver, the only runs he would allow in seven innings. The Rangers would tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the 9th inning when Moreland stole home on a double steal (as Esteban German stole second base). Unfortunately for the Rangers, Juan Rivera of the Angels hit s solo homerun in the top of the 11th inning off Matt Harrison to give the Angels a 5-4 lead and they would win the game by that score.