Monday, September 26, 2011

Ellsbury Saves Boston for Now; Cardinals Fly to Within One Game of Braves

Players of the Day for Sunday, September 25, 2011

American League

For most teams, playing a double-header is a little extra work. Staying focused, trying to give 100% through a long day of baseball requires discipline, perseverance and determination. Having to play a twin bill on the road against a potential playoff opponent which just happens to have the best record in the league, with only five days left in the season, requires something more.

Jacoby Ellsbury
And when you've dropped the first game and the second game goes into extra innings with maybe your whole season on the line, it requires a conclusion, and that's exactly what Jacoby Ellsbury provided with a three-run, 14th-inning home run that secured a 7-4 victory over the Yankees to kept Tampa Bay from tying the Red Sox in the wild card standings.

Ellsbury came to the plate just 1-for-6 in the nightcap, with two men aboard and two outs, but ended up 2-for-7 with three RBI, and maybe the biggest hit of Boston's entire season.

In the first game, Ellsbury provided all of Boston's offense, going 3-for-4 with a pair of homers and two RBI, but it wasn't nearly enough, as the Yankees won, 6-2. Combined with Tampa Bay's 5-2 win over Toronto, Boston's wild card lead had shrunk to a tiny 1/2 game. A loss in the nightcap would have had the Rays and Red Sox in a flat-footed tie with just three games left. Ellsbury's late-night homer at least gave the Red Sox a one game cushion - a little breathing room - as they head to Baltimore for a three game series to close out the regular season.

Tampa Bay will have to contend with the Yankees for the final three games of the season at Tropicana Field in Tampa. The Red Sox dropped three straight to the Orioles, a team that is loose and has nothing to lose, last week in Boston. The Rays dropped three of four to the Yankees last week in New York. Whichever team emerges with the wild card will have earned it.

Edwin Jackson
There is one more team in the race, though the best the LA Angels can do now, after dropping a 6-5 decision to the A's on Sunday, is force a tie. They trail the Red Sox by three games; Tampa by two.

National League

Rafael Furcal
The Cardinals moved to within one game of Atlanta in the NL wild card race, but they're hanging on by a thread and giving their fans heart attacks. After winning Saturday's game with the Cubs with a dramatic two-run rally in the bottom of the 9th, the Cardinals only waited until the 8th to take a 3-2 win from Chicago.

Randy Wells and the Cardinals' Edwin Jackson, locked into a pretty heated pitcher's duel. The Cubs only got to Jackson for five hits while the Cardinals got six off Wells, the last one a Rafael Furcal solo home run to right in the bottom of the 8th that snapped a 2-2 tie and led to victory.
Yadier Molina

The Cardinals played from behind most of the game. Jackson, in addition to his seven innings of mound duty (five hits, two walks, two runs, six Ks) drove in the first Cardinal run with a bases loaded sac fly in the 5th that tied the game at one. Starlin Castro singled in Marlon Byrd in the 7th to put the Cubs up, 2-1, but Yadier Molina got the Cardinals back to a tie with a bases empty blast in the bottom of the frame, setting the stage for Furcal's game winner.

With Atlanta losing 3-0 at Washington, the Cardinals are just one game behind the Braves in the wild card chase with three games to play. St. Louis will finish up with three at Houston. The Braves host the Phillies, who've already clinched the NL East, for their last three games. The regular season ends on Wednesday, September 28.

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