Hank Blalock changes mind, accepts assignment to Triple-A

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Last week, when the Rays were still deciding whether or not to keep him around, Hank Blalock made it abundantly clear that he would not accept an assignment to the minors.

I don’t have any plans on playing minor-league baseball this year. At this time in my life, if there’s no major-league opportunities for me then I’ll find something else to do.

Two days later the Rays Bay opted to keep Reid Brignac over Blalock as their final bench player and Blalock reportedly spent the weekend searching for one of those “major-league opportunities.” Apparently he came up empty, because today the 29-year-old former two-time All-Star indeed accepted an assignment to the minors and will try to work his way back to the majors with an impressive stint at Triple-A Durham.

The reason that I would go and play in Durham, if no other team wants to pick me up right now, is because I love baseball and I’m going to continue to play and not going to do that would be quitting. And that’s not an option for me. I’ve changed my mind about that. Mentally, I feel very positive regardless of the fact I was told I’m not going to be on the Opening Day roster. I’m staying focused and I’m going to keep playing baseball.

I give Blalock some credit for not simply opting out of his contract with Tampa Bay after not making the Opening Day roster, because while his pride was no doubt damaged remaining in the Rays organization is likely his best shot to make it back to the majors for good. They obviously have some level of interest in him, whereas clearly no other teams feel strongly about giving him a chance right now, and a strong month or two at Triple-A could get him into their plans as a designated hitter option or backup corner infielder.
Of course, Blalock hasn’t been healthy and produced an OPS above .750 since way back in 2004, so his name is definitely much bigger than his actual upside at this point. He also hasn’t played regularly at Triple-A since 2002, when he hit .307 with an .821 OPS in 95 games as a 21-year-old to help cement his status as a top prospect in 2002. In fact, that year Baseball America ranked him as the third-best prospect in all of baseball, behind only Josh Beckett and Mark Prior.

Red Sox set a new major league record with 11 strikeouts in a row

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 20: Starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez #52 of the Boston Red Sox works the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 20, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Lost in the nifty base running by Dustin Pedroia that won Sunday’s game against the Rays, the Red Sox set a new major league record by striking out 11 batters in a row, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. Starter Eduardo Rodriguez struck out the final six Rays he faced and reliever Heath Hembree struck out five Rays in a row after that. Tom Seaver had the previous consecutive strikeout streak of 10, set on April 22, 1970 against the Padres.

The Red Sox also set a team record with 23 strikeouts in total: 13 by Rodriguez, five by Hembree, one by Matt Barnes, and four by Joe Kelly. Per Abraham, that’s the most strikeouts in a 10-inning game since at least 1913 and the most in a game of any length since 2004.

For Rodriguez, Sunday marked the first double-digit strikeout game of his career. He has pitched quite well since returning to the rotation at the start of the second half. Over 13 starts, the lefty has a 3.10 ERA with a 70/23 K/BB ratio in 72 2/3 innings.

Dodgers clinch NL West on Charlie Culberson’s walk-off home run

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: Charlie Culberson #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers runs to first base after hitting a single RBI in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
Matt Hazlett/Getty Images
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Dodgers second baseman Charlie Culberson delivered a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the 10th inning, clinching the NL West for the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon. What a way to celebrate Vin Scully’s final home game behind the microphone.

The Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, but shortstop Corey Seager tripled in a run to tie the game. Rockies outfielder David Dahl untied the game in the top of the ninth with a two-out solo home run off of Kenley Jansen. But Seager once again rose to the occasion, blasting a game-tying solo shot in the bottom half of the ninth against Adam Ottavino. That would set the stage for Culberson in the next frame.

Culberson, a former Rockie, came into the afternoon with a .591 OPS and zero home runs in 53 plate appearances. He finished the afternoon 3-for-5 with the homer.

It’s the fourth consecutive season in which the Dodgers have won the NL West. The Cubs have clinched the best record, which means they’ll play the winner of the Wild Card game. The Dodgers will play the Nationals in the NLDS. The Nationals have a 1.5-game lead over the Dodgers for home-field advantage, so both teams are still playing for something of importance in the regular season’s final week.