And That Happened: Sunday's scores and highlights

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Tigers 5, White Sox 3; Twins 13, Royals 4: 162 games and nothing
is decided. Before Saturday night the Twins hadn’t smelled first place
since May. They were seven games out in early September. Now it all
comes down to Tuesday. I love me these 163-game seasons we’ve been
having the past couple of years, but then again, it hasn’t been my team
in the nerve racking playoff game. Moment of shallowness: does the fact
that Jason Kubel and Delmon Young came up bigger than Mauer did over
the weekend somehow cost Joe MVP votes? Obviously that shouldn’t be the
case — and really, the stathead paranoia that Mauer won’t win the MVP
is getting pretty tired by now — but if I let my imagination run wild,
I can feature someone thinking “you know, in the end, Mauer needed
help!”

Yankees 10, Rays 2: The fact that Alex Rodriguez’s 2 HR, 7 RBI
inning put him exactly on 30 homers and exactly on 100 RBI will cause
someone somewhere to count it against him as some personal
stats-inspired performance. Really, unless he bats .500/.750/1.750 in
the playoffs, there will be a hatchet job article about me-first A-Rod
referencing this game before spring training starts.

Dodgers 5, Rockies 3: Vicente Padilla shuts down a skeleton-crew
Rockies lineup in a meaningless game. And as per his tradition in
meaningless season finales, Joe Torre let the players take over. He
chose Brad Ausmus as manager, named Mark Loretta bench coach, Jim Thome
was the hitting coach and Jeff Weaver was the bullpen coach. I suppose
he could have given those responsibilities to more boring guys if he
tried, but the Dodgers probably would have had to make some roster
moves first. I know P.R. considerations wouldn’t let him name Manny
manager for a day, but a boy can dream, can’t he? Ausmus on his future
as a manager: “There are times when I think I’d like to do it, and
there’s times when I think I’d like to walk away from a baseball
stadium and never come back. But those are usually the days when I’m 0
for 4 with three strikeouts.” So what he’s saying is that the days he
wants to walk away and never come back far outnumber the “I want to be
a manager” days.

Mariners 4, Rangers 3: Griffey singled in his last at bat, cried
a bit, tipped his cap and was carried off the field on his teammates’
shoulders to wild ovations from the Seattle crowd. I don’t believe in
fate or magic or most other metaphysical baloney, but I’m going to go
out on a limb and suggest that the universe was telling you something,
Junior. There’s no way you’ll ever have a better way to go out and you
have absolutely zero to prove. So, unless the idea of retirement is
positively poison to you, call a press conference, fly back to Seattle
next opening day for the number retirement, and take your well-earned
place in Valhalla.

And yes, that advice for Griffey is 100% calculated to make life easier
for me to deal with the end of his career. He probably does not — and
probably should not — give a crap.

Giants 4, Padres 3: Not that anyone listens to me when it comes
to end-of-career advice anyway. The other day I thought that the Unit
should take the weekend off, having his career end at his home park
with a high five, a victory, and the cheer of hometown fans. Instead he
pitches an inning on the road, blows a lead and has his bacon saved by
Jeremy Affeldt, Brian Wilson and Pablo Sandoval. Oh well, everything
ends badly, or else it would never end.

Angels 5, Athletics 3: Has a team ever bounced back from as
horrible an April as the Angels? We can’t know because the reasons for
the horribleness are partially unquantifiable, but hats off to Anaheim
for a great season regardless. I have no rooting interests in this
year’s playoffs, and when that happens I tend to adopt a team. The
Yankees and Red Sox are never going to be that team because they don’t
need me and I don’t much like them. I have some historical issues with
the Twins, and even if I didn’t, if they pull it out on Tuesday, their
bandwagon is going to be pretty full. The Tigers are an old flame, but
I can’t see myself getting involved with someone who doesn’t have their
stuff together. The Phillies are my team’s division rival, and I can’t
bring myself to root for them at any time before the World Series, and
maybe not at all. The Cardinals and Dodgers made that list of teams to whom I could conceivably sell my allegiance and I am an NL guy at heart, but the Angels are at least shaping up to be the team I’d like to see come out of the AL.

Diamondbacks 5, Cubs 2: The regular season ends for Chicago. And the what-in-tarnation-are-we-going-to-do-about-Milton Bradley season begins.

Brewers 9, Cardinals 7: The stumble-to-the-finish-line Cardinals
are set to face the stumble-to-the-finish-line Dodgers. It’s been
nearly 20 years since I took a physics class, so someone is going to
have to tell me what it is that happens when an eminently resistible
force meets a totally movable object.

Phillies 7, Marlins 6: I’m not going to say that Philadelphia
was thinking more about Colorado than Florida in this game, but they
used eight pitchers and thirteen position players, none of whom were
named Howard, Rollins or Utley. For what it’s worth, Hanley Ramirez
wins the batting title, though that was decided a while ago.

Red Sox 12, Indians 7: Clay Buchholz gives up 13 runs in eight
innings over his last two starts. In light of that, if you’re the
Angels, you gotta be thinking “split at home, and we’re sitting
pretty.” Game story: “Jason Bay did not make an error this season,
becoming the fourth qualifying Red Sox outfielder with a 1.000 fielding
percentage.” If Jason Bay finishing with a 1.000 fielding percentage
does not make every last person finally reject fielding percentage as a
legitimate measure of defensive prowess, nothing will.

Nationals 2, Braves 1: What an up and down year for the Braves.
At least they enter an offseason with the good kinds of question marks
(which of the six good starters we have will we keep? When will we call
up our stud corner outfielder?) instead of the bad ones (is this the
year Francoeur figures it out? Can anyone besides Chipper hit the
ball?).

Reds 6, Pirates 4: The Pirates got shut out 17 times this sason. But you probably didn’t need me to tell you that it wasn’t their year.

Mets 4, Astros 0: Mercifully, 2009 ends for the Mets. Even more
mercifully, no one threw their back out or pulled their hamstring while
cleaning out their locker.

Orioles 5, Blue Jays 4: For finishing the season with four straight wins and for avoiding 100 losses, the Orioles don’t
get a “Homicide” quote: “You better calm yourself down before I haul
off and smack you upside your wide, wide head. We killed your husband.
And I ain’t your maid anymore b*tch. I’m your sister in crime!” I
apologize if you haven’t seen that movie. I apologize even more if you
have.

An so our revels now are ended. I and the other guys will certainly be recapping game 163 between the
Twins and Tigers and the playoff games too, but on some level, it’s just
not the same. The playoffs bring a bothersome importance to everything.
The kid of importance that saps this unimportant little daily recap feature of all
of its fun.

Beginnings are nice. We get them every April. Endings are glorious.
We’ll have one in a few weeks. Personally, however, I prefer the
middles. A full slate of near-meaningless late-July Wednesday night
games. The day-in-day out of it all. Broadcasts without extreme
closeups and storylines. People doing things both heroic and
ignominious every night that are basically forgotten by noon the next
day because, hell, there’s another ballgame in a few hours.

The
playoffs are great in their own way, but nothing beats everyday
baseball, and I am once again sad to see it go.

It’s May 4 and Daniel Murphy is still out-hitting Bryce Harper

Washington Nationals' Daniel Murphy hits an RBI single during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Saturday, April 30, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy flirted with the cycle in Wednesday afternoon’s 13-2 drubbing of the Royals, as he went 4-for-5 with a pair of singles, a two-run double, and a solo home run. That brings his triple-slash line on the season up to .398/.449/.663. Comparatively, teammate Bryce Harper — the defending NL MVP and arguably the best player in baseball — is currently hitting .266/.372/.649.

Murphy has always been an above-average hitter, but this level of hitting is something else. Of course, he flashed it in the post-season last year when he homered in six consecutive games, helping the Mets advance past the Dodgers in the NLDS and sweep the Cubs in the NLCS.

The Nats signed Murphy to a three-year, $37.5 million contract in January. If Neil Walker, acquired from the Pirates to replace Murphy, wasn’t hitting so well, the Mets would probably be jealous. Walker is hitting .296/.330/.582 with nine home runs and 19 RBI.

Video: Jon Lester tosses his glove to get the out

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester throws against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
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It’s always fun when this happens. Cubs starter Jon Lester snagged a grounder hit back up the middle by Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli in the bottom of the second inning. The only problem was that the ball got stuck in the webbing of his glove. Rather than fight to pry the ball out, Lester just lobbed his glove over to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to get the first out of the inning.

Lester has had issues throwing baseballs to first base, so maybe it was a good thing the ball got stuck in his glove.

Lester did this last year, too, by the way.

Alex Rodriguez lands on the 15-day DL with a strained hamstring

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez follows through on a single to right off a pitch from Texas Rangers' Shawn Tolleson in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. The Yankees lost 3-2. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez strained his right hamstring running out a ground ball in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Orioles. The club announced it has placed him on the 15-day disabled list and recalled pitcher James Pazos from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Rodriguez lands on DL hitting .194/.275/.444 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 80 plate appearances.

Dustin Ackley replaced Rodriguez in Tuesday’s game, but the Yankees will likely cycle a handful of players in and out of the DH spot while Rodriguez heals.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Wednesday evening’s action

Philadelphia Phillies' Aaron Nola pitches to a Milwaukee Brewers batter during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, April 22, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)
AP Photo/Tom Lynn
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We were treated to a handful of games this afternoon but we still have eight night games left. Let’s talk about the Phillies.

I wrote this preview of the Phillies just before the season started, predicting them to win only 65 games, which would mark only a marginal improvement over their 63-win season last year. In my defense, I wasn’t alone, as almost every expert as well as the projections had them finishing under 70 wins. And yet, here they are 27 games into the season with 16 wins. That’s on pace for a 96-win season. What the heck.

Aaron Nola pitched seven shutout innings against the Cardinals in a 1-0 victory on Tuesday, marking the Phillies’ sixth shutout of the year, the best mark in the majors. Even as the Phillies prepared to draft him, Nola was described as “major league ready” but no one expected him to be quite this dominant. In his first 19 major league starts, Nola has a 3.37 ERA with a 112/26 K/BB ratio over 117 2/3 innings. This year, not only has Nola been extremely stingy with the walks, but he’s been missing bats at an elite level. He’s only 22 years old.

Nola is joined in the rotation by Vincent Velasquez, the pitcher who highlighted the return from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade. The right-hander made headlines in April with a 16-strikeout performance against the Padres and currently stands with a 1.44 ERA with a 39/10 K/BB ratio in 31 1/3 innings. Unlike Nola, Velasquez was billed as a future ace or a dominant eighth- or ninth-inning guy.

Then there’s Jerad Eickhoff, who came over in the Cole Hamels trade last year. Though he has a ho-hum 4.15 ERA, Eickhoff is occasionally dominant as evidenced by his 32/5 K/BB ratio over 30 1/3 innings. He has a pretty curve. Look at it. Eickhoff probably won’t be an ace, but he wasn’t considered to be a future mainstay in the rotation when the Hamels trade went through. All he’s done so far is exceed expectations. Nola-Velasquez-Eickhoff makes for an outstanding start to a long-term starting rotation.

The offensive tools aren’t quite where the pitching is yet for the Phillies, as third baseman Maikel Franco has wavered between looking like Mike Schmidt and looking completely lost at the plate. He has only five hits (zero home runs) in his last 37 plate appearances. Shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford isn’t there yet, nor is outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro, and outfielder Cornelius Randolph. There’s certainly a lot of hope on the horizon.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Phillies fan, but wearing rose-colored glasses isn’t a crime of which I’ve been often accused over the years. It has been one headache after another being a Phillies fan between 2012-15. The front office under former GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. was stubborn and out of touch. Now, under new president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak, the team has a goal and is seeing it through. No, the Phillies won’t win 96 games this year — they probably won’t even win 80 — but they’re certainly further along than a lot of us gave them credit for being.

The Phillies play game three of a four-game set in St. Louis tonight at 8:15 PM EDT. Lefty Adam Morgan will oppose the Cardinals’ Mike Leake.

The rest of Wednesday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Anibal Sanchez) @ Cleveland Indians (Corey Kluber), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (CC Sabathia) @ Baltimore Orioles (Tyler Wilson), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Aaron Sanchez), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Rubby De La Rosa) @ Miami Marlins (Jose Fernandez), 7:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Alex Wood) @ Tampa Bay Rays (Drew Smyly), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) @ Chicago White Sox (Carlos Rodon), 8:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Phil Hughes) @ Houston Astros (Mike Fiers), 8:10 PM EDT