Nate McLouth

Yankees, Orioles eek out one-run wins to preserve AL East tie

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The Orioles got a walkoff win over the Rays in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday, and the Yankees held on against the Red Sox to keep pace in the AL East.

Baltimore won 3-2 on a Nate McLouth “single” off the right field wall that scored Manny Machado with one out in the ninth, handing Kyle Farnsworth a loss.

Machado, a rookie still supposedly learning the ins and outs of third base after moving over from shortstop upon being promoted, made an outstanding heads-up play to help preserve the tie in the top of the ninth (video). With two outs and pinch-runner Rich Thompson on second, Evan Longoria hit a slow roller down the third-base line, one that was too slow for Machado to make a play on. However, shortstop J.J. Hardy followed the runner from second to third and was in the perfect spot when Machado whirled and fired to third, catching Thompson having rounded the bag.

The Yankees won their game 5-4 a bit later. Curtis Granderson homered twice and Robinson Cano went deep once, accounting for all five Yankees runs. The Red Sox rallied from 5-1 down with two runs in the seventh and then a Jarrod Saltalamacchia solo shot in the ninth. They weren’t far away from making it back-to-back homers off Rafael Soriano in the ninth, but Daniel Nava’s high fly to left was caught by Chris Dickerson at the wall.

New York’s win may have been costly, as Derek Jeter left with a bone bruise in his left ankle after coming down awkwardly on the first-base bag in the eighth. There was also a collision at first an inning later, with Alex Rodriguez running over James Loney after Andrew Miller’s wild throw pulled the first baseman into the baseline. Fortunately, both players were able to stay in, though Loney hurt his left shoulder on the play.

Boston’s Cody Ross was ejected from the game in the eighth for arguing a called third strike on a breaking ball that looked low and outside. Bobby Valentine backed his player and was tossed himself, giving himself a new Red Sox single-season record with six ejections in a season.

With the wins tonight, the Orioles and Yankees are both 80-62. The Rays have fallen three games back of both at 77-65.

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.