October 3, 2012
What You Need to Know
Wednesday, October 3
The Tuesday Takeaway
After watching Baltimore overcome a 15-strikeout masterpiece from James Shields—arguably the best nine-inning effort in a Live Ball Era defeat—and win 1-0 at Tropicana Field, New York came to the brink of losing its East division lead, trailing Boston 3-1, in the bottom of the ninth. But 40-year-old Raul Ibanez rescued the Yankees with a two-run blast off Andrew Bailey, sending the game into extra innings by lining a grooved, 1-2 fastball just over the W.B. Mason sign in right field.
Three innings later, with nobody on base and a 13th frame seemingly inevitable, Andrew Miller gift-wrapped a two-out rally for the home team. Miller dug Francisco Cervelli, who was making his first major-league plate appearance of the season, an 0-2 hole, but then put the backup catcher aboard with four straight balls. He missed with his next four pitches, too, issuing a free pass to Curtis Granderson and moving Cervelli into scoring position. That set the stage for Ibanez, who brought Cervelli home with a ground-ball single through the Red Sox’s mild overshift, securing a 4-3 win and preserving the Yankees’ hold on first place.
All that now stands between New York and a second straight East division title is a battle with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has been a veritable piñata since returning from Tommy John surgery in June. Matsuzaka carries a 7.68 ERA into Wednesday’s outing, and he has coughed up at least five runs in each of his past four starts. His countryman, Hiroki Kuroda, will be tasked with wrapping things up, and a Yankees win would also give Joe Girardi’s team the number-one seed (7:05 p.m. ET).
Meanwhile, 1,000 miles to the south, the Orioles must win to either force a tiebreaker with the Yankees at Camden Yards or earn a chance to host the one-game wild-card playoff against either the Athletics or Rangers. Baltimore, Oakland, and Texas are all knotted up at 93-68, but both the A’s and Rangers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the O’s, so home-field advantage in the playoff is at stake. Buck Showalter’s squad has won five of its last six behind Chris Tillman, who beat the Rays on July 26 and has allowed exactly one run in each of his last three starts (7:10 p.m. ET).
On the West Coast, it’s two down, one to go for the A’s, who clinched a wild-card spot on Monday night but are now just one win away from an improbable upset and the West division crown. Travis Blackley, who was shelled for five runs in just one inning of work in Arlington on Sept. 27, limited the Rangers to one run in six innings on Tuesday, paving the way for Oakland’s 3-1 win.
The greatest challenge for A’s manager Bob Melvin, who sends A.J. Griffin to the mound to oppose Ryan Dempster, may be navigating his bullpen, which has been taxed heavily in recent days. Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, and Grant Balfour worked the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, respectively, in the first two games of the series, and Balfour—who is 17-for-17 in save opportunities since resuming the role—has been used in four consecutive games. Rangers skipper Ron Washington has a deeper stable of relievers at his disposal, including closer Joe Nathan, though the Rangers are without primary setup man Mike Adams, who's suffering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
But the A’s have overcome much more formidable obstacles on their way to first place, which the Rangers—who led by five games with only 10 left to play—had all to themselves from April 9 until last night. Tuesday’s game marked the 100th time that Melvin has deployed a rookie starting pitcher in 2012, and Blackley’s victory was the 53rd by an Oakland rookie this season, breaking a league record.
Griffin blanked the Rangers for six innings in a 4-3 loss in Texas on June 29, one of only three defeats the A’s have suffered in the 24-year-old’s 14 assignments. Oakland is 6-1 with Griffin on the hill at the Coliseum, and the University of San Diego product has amassed a 2.52 ERA in 39 1/3 innings at their home park, though he has not completed the sixth inning in any of his last three tries. (3:35 p.m. ET).
Amid all the excitement we have enjoyed over the past week, from the stunning campaigns of the A’s and O’s to the down-to-the-wire races across the junior circuit, perhaps no fact sums up the chaotic finish better than this: The Rangers, who just two games ago stood alone atop the American League, are two defeats away from watching the rest of the postseason from home.
What to Watch for on Wednesday