Wednesday, September 28, 2011

AL, NL Wild Card Races Tied with One Game Left

Players of the Day for Tuesday, September 27, 2011

American League

Undeniably, the wild card has been good for baseball, but for the Red Sox this season, it's been less fun than most pennant races.

Boston, which led the AL wild card standings by as many as nine games at the start of September, remained in a tie with Tampa Bay after both teams won Tuesday night. The Red Sox barely hung on in the late innings to shave Baltimore, 8-7, while the Rays made a triple play that turned their team around and may have saved the season.

Lavarnway: 4 RBI
Third string catcher, Ryan Lavarnway, who spent most of his season in AAA at Pawtucket, delivered a pair of home runs for the desperate Red Sox, the first a three-run shot in the 4th inning that put the Sox up 5-1, and a solo jack in the 8th that turned out to provided the margin of victory. The Orioles dinged the beleaguered Boston relief corps for two runs in the 8th and another in the bottom of the ninth, leaving the tying run on second base as Jonathan Papelbon retired Adam Jones on a ground out to third to end the game.

Boston got all of its runs via the long ball as Jacoby Ellsbury and Marco Scutaro also homered. The Red Sox staved off defeat on the strength of 3 1/3 solid innings of relief work by Alfredo Aceves, who's been their most reliable reliever. Aceves came on in the 4th in relief of Eric Bedard, who had thrown 84 pitches and given up three runs to the O's. Aceves limited the Orioles to just one run on three hits, the run coming on Jones' 6th inning homer.

With the regular season ending Wednesday, Boston sends Jon Lester (15-9) to the mound on three days rest, knowing that Aceves will be unavailable should he falter. Baltimore will start Alfredo Simon, a hard-throwing right hander who's gone 4-9 in fifteen starts this season. Simon spent part of last season as the Orioles' closer, picking up 17 saves in 21 chances.

In Tampa, the Rays survived a bases-loaded threat in the 6th inning that might have ended their post-season hopes if not for the quick hands of Tampa's infielders. Russell Martin smashed a hot grounder at third baseman Evan Longoria, who touched third and whipped a throw to Ben Zobrist for the force at second. Zobrist gunned the ball to Sean Rodriguez at first, nipping the diving Martin for a triple play. The Yankees had already taken a 3-2 lead in the inning on Nick Swisher's RBI double and loaded the bases when starter Jeremy Hellickson intentionally walked Jorge Posada.

Joyce: 3-run HR
The triple play ignited the crown and the Rays. In the bottom of the 7th, Matt Joyce turned on a Rafael Soriano fastball and deposited it in the right field stands for a three-run homer that completed the scoring in Tampa's 5-3 win, keeping the wild card knotted with one game left to play.

The Rays host the Yankees on Wednesday night, sending David Price to the mound, who will also be working on three day's rest. The Yankees have not named a starter, though manager Joe Girardi has said that he will not use any pitchers on the post-season roster, as the Yankees have already clinched the division with the best record in the league and will face either Detroit or Texas in the opening round.

Should Boston and Tampa Bay remain tied at the end of Wednesday's activities, the Rays would host a one-game playoff Thursday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

National League

Oswalt: 6 scoreless
St Louis has been gunning for the Atlanta Braves the entire month of September, and on Tuesday, they finally caught them. Cardinal bats caught fire in the late innings and routed the Houston Astros, 13-6, after the Phillies dusted off the Braves, 7-1. Roy Oswalt pitched six innings of shutout ball for the Phillies, allowing just three hits and a walk, striking out four.

In Houston, the Cardinals battled back from a five run deficit, scoring five times in the 4th inning, then putting the game away with four runs in the 7th, three in the 8th and one more in the top of the 9th. Nick Punto went 4-for-5 with a solo homer and two RBI and rookie Allen Craig blasted a three-run bomb in the eighth inning to seal the win. Craig was 2-for-3, scored three times and drove in four runs.

Craig: 3-run HR
The Braves have struggled all through the month of September. Atlanta has gone 8-17 in the season's final month, while the Cardinals are 17-8 over the same span.

Punto: 4-for-5
For the final regular season game, the Cardinals will start their ace, Chris Carpenter (10-9) against the Astros' Brett Myers (7-13), Myers has won his last four starts and is 6-5 lifetime against St. Louis with a 4.54 ERA. Career-wise, Carpenter is 7-5, with a 2.79 ERA, but he's 0-3 with a 4.62 ERA in his last five starts at Minute Maid Field and hasn't won there since 2005.

Atlanta will throw Tim Hudson (16-10) in their season finale at home against the Phillies. Hudson has a 7-8 mark lifetime against Philadelphia with a 3.75 ERA. Joe Blanton goes up the bump for the Phillies. Blanton is 1-4 with a 5.47 ERA against the Braves lifetime and is 1-2 in ten starts this season.

The Braves' game begins at 7:10 pm EDT, while the Cardinals and Astros get underway at 8:05. If the Braves and Cardinals are tied after Wednesday, St. Louis would host a one-game playoff Thursday night.

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