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.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.