Monday Night Football will key the daily sports agenda for a lot of fans today, as the Oakland Raiders go to Denver in an 8:30 PM ET kickoff. TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis will return tomorrow with a look at everything that went down in Week 3. But another Oakland team has captured the hearts of its fans today, and the A’s—along with the Atlanta Braves clinched divisions.
The two teams join the Red Sox and Dodgers, and the Tigers, with a magic number of two, won’t be far behind. Here’s a look back at everything of consequence in the MLB playoff race on Sunday…
Oakland 11 Minnesota 7: Officially, Oakland clinched in the early part of this game, when they got word of Texas’ loss, of which there is more on below. The A’s still made sure they did their own part to earn the party. Oakland got six runs in the second inning, thanks primarily to a three-run bomb from Coco Crisp. Daric Barton also homered in the inning, and ended up with three hits and three RBIs.
Atlanta 5 ChiCubs 2: Andrelton Simmons hit two home runs, the last of which opened up some breathing room in the 8th, and a clinching that’s taken longer than expected—in part because Washington got hot after the race was over—finally went down on Sunday afternoon in Wrigley Field. Like Oakland’s, there was some anti-climax, because the Braves had gotten word midway through the game of Washington’s loss that clinched.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD-CARD RACE LOOKS SET TO NARROW
The American League wild-card race that’s been a six-team fight for two spots is perilously close to being a four-team race for those spots, and a lot of people would say that’s overly generous. The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles need almost everything to go right in this final week of play, and the Kansas City Royals are also hanging on by the skin of their teeth.
Here’s the rundown on what happened Sunday. We’ll start with the Royals, because they were oh-so-close to being all but eliminated.
Kansas City 4 Texas 0 (10): James Shields moniker “Big Game James” has resulted in an overrated reputation for clutch performance—in reality Shields got the nickname in Tampa because a teammate had been a fan of the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers and that was James Worthy’s nickname, which the teammate then casually applied to Shields. After Sunday, the Kansas City pitcher put his own imprint on the tag.
Shields went eight shutout innings, allowing just six hits and keeping pace with Alexi Ogando who threw seven innings of two-hit ball. Finally in the 10th, an old friend—former KC closer Joakim Soria—came out of the pen for Texas, and Justin Maxwell got him for a two-out grand slam.
The Royals are still 3 ½ out, but at least they control the half-game, have a manageable schedule, and are still breathing.
Tampa Bay 3 Baltimore 1: It was in the aftermath of Tampa’s 18-inning win over the Orioles on Friday night, that minor leaguer Enny Romero put out on Twitter that he was ready to pitch on Sunday and help a depleted staff. The organization took him up on it, and Romero threw 4.2 innings of shutout ball. Baltimore mustered only three hits and is now 4 ½ out, with only today’s wraparound series finale left as a game against a leader.
San Francisco 2 NY Yanks 1: Andy Pettite pitched his final game in the Bronx and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Mariano Rivera made his final appearance in Yankee Stadium and gave the team five outs. But the Giants got Pettite and David Robertson for a couple runs to get the lead. New York is now four back, but they at least get a chance to play Tampa Bay in the early part of this week.
Cleveland 9 Houston 2: It took the Tribe until the fifth to break through against Erik Bedard, but once the runs started it turned into an avalanche. Michael Brantley and Mike Aviles combined for five hits out of the 8-9 spots in the order. With Texas’ loss, Cleveland is now a game and a half up for the final wild-card berth.
Baltimore and Tampa will play their series finale this afternoon in a 4 PM ET start on MLB Network. Texas starts a three-game series with Houston, while Kansas City goes to Seattle. Both teams need to get sweeps, considering both the quality of the opponent and how little time is left.
New York is awaiting a visit from Tampa tomorrow, while Cleveland will host Chicago.
NATIONAL LEAGUE: WILD-CARD & CENTRAL
Miami 4 Washington 2: This wasn’t the only game these two teams played yesterday, but it was the one that mattered. The Nationals won the other end of the doubleheader 5-4, but Washington needed a sweep to stay with any realistic hope and that one took hit in the early portion of the day-night twinbill. Giancarlo Stanton hit a two-run shot in the first and Washington never mounted any offense.
The Nats now trail by five games and could be eliminated as early as tonight, if they lose to St. Louis and both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati win their games, over the Cubs and Mets respectively.
Cincinnati 11 Pittsburgh 3: Billy Hamilton can not only run, he can hit. The outfielder who’s so fast that he looks pulled directly from a cartoon, was put at the top of the order and got three hits. He also stole two bases, and as fast as this guy is, you wonder why he stopped at two. Jeff Locke has pitched well for Pittsburgh all year, but yesterday wasn’t his day. The Reds got him for five runs.
Both teams are tied in the race to host the wild-card game, which might not be a huge deal in deciding who advances, but it’s a big deal to the local fan bases, who otherwise risk not getting any games in their backyard. Each team is two back of St. Louis for the NL Central title.
Milwaukee 6 St. Louis 4: The Cards played some very sloppy baseball last night in Miller Park, committing three errors and digging an early hole. They got big Mike Adams to the plate as the go-ahead run in the ninth, but he looked at two good pitches and the game was over. It was less than vintage St. Louis baseball.
St. Louis-Washington tonight is a part of split MLB Network coverage at 8 PM ET, also including Texas-Houston.
THE PLAYOFF BRACKET WITH A WEEK LEFT
Cleveland at Tampa Bay
Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati—homefield unknown. Teams are tied in the standings and in head-to-head play, but have a three-game series on the weekend that at least settles the latter.
Wild-Card at (1) Boston
(3)Detroit at (2) Oakland
Wild-Card at (1)Atlanta
(3)LA Dodgers at (2)St. Louis