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Italy invades Phoenix, Mike Piazza handicaps the papal election

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Today’s matchup pits Team Italy against the A’s. The Italian team got here about an hour or so ago and is working out and taking BP now. They look like every other baseball team you’ll see. Except on this one, Nick Punto is probably the second best player. That doesn’t happen very often.

Oh, and one of their coaches might be their third best player:

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Piazza seems to be in a good mood. He’s got a son on the way. He’s got a book out. Life is good. He’s also, apparently, a man of the world. I was talking to A’s broadcaster Vince Cotroneo when Piazza came over. They’ve known each other a while, and they began a friendly chat about things Italian. The subject of the new pope came up and Vince asked him “who he has in the pool.”

“I sort of like the old guy from Ghana,” Piazza said.  I guess he means Peter Turkson. “Old guy from Ghana” pretty much saps HBT’s knowledge of the higher reaches of the Catholic church.

I watched Italian BP for a while. This is probably my favorite BP pitcher in the history of forever:

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I don’t know who he is. He’s wearing number 15 but the press information doesn’t list a player or coach on the Italian team with that number. I’m just going to pretend he slid here from another dimension. A dimension in which some baseball player suddenly found himself in a Fellini movie.

If you’re scoring at home here is the Italian lineup:

Nick Punto, 2B
Chris Denorfia, CF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Alex Liddi, 3B
Chris Colabello, DH
Mike Costanzo, LF
Mario Chiarini, RF
Drew Butera, C
Anthony Granato, SS

The starting pitcher is John Mariotti. Earlier it was listed as Luca Panerati. During his presser this morning, A’s manager Bob Melvin was asked if he knew anything about Panerati. Melvin paused for a few seconds and said “… I know he’s a pitcher.”

This should be a fun game. Can’t wait until the national anthems.

Mets beat Phillies to clinch wild card tie

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 30: Jose Reyes #7 and Curtis Granderson #3 of the New York Mets celebrate their win against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on September 30, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Mets defeated the Phillies 5-1. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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The magic number to clinch a wild card spot is still 1, but the Mets have at least secured a wild card tie after defeating the Phillies 5-1 on Friday night.

Jay Bruce powered the offensive drive, going 3-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and his 33rd home run of the season, ripped from an Alec Asher fastball in the seventh inning. On the mound, right-hander Robert Gsellman limited the Phillies to seven hits and one run over six frames, striking out seven batters in his eighth appearance of the year. Behind him, a cadre of Mets relievers turned out three scoreless innings to preserve the lead and anchor the Mets in the wild card standings.

The Cardinals aren’t out of the race quite yet, and can still force a tiebreaker with the Mets if they manage to win the remainder of their games this weekend and the Mets lose the rest of theirs. Any other scenario will ensure the Mets’ exclusive rights to a wild card spot next week. While a wild card clinch is unlikely to happen tonight, with St. Louis leading Pittsburgh 7-0 through 7.5 innings and just entering a rain delay, it remains a distinct possibility over these next two days.

Carlos Rodon strikes out 10 consecutive batters

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 30: Carlos Rodon #55 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning on September 30, 2016 at U. S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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In a season that boasts the likes of Max Scherzer (he of the 20-strikeout masterpiece) and Clayton Kershaw (he of nine separate games with at least 10 strikeouts), there hasn’t been anyone who’s done exactly what Carlos Rodon did this week.

During Friday’s series opener against the Twins, Rodon retired seven consecutive batters via strikeout. His streak — and the beginnings of a perfect game, if you can call it that after just 2 ⅓ frames — ended on a Logan Schafer double that found right field well before Rodon managed to put up two strikes. With seven consecutive strikeouts, Rodon became the first American League pitcher to strike out seven batters to start a game since right-hander Joe Cowley did it for the Sox back in 1986. Had Schafer whiffed on a couple more fastballs, Rodon would have tied Mets’ starter Jacob deGrom for most strikeouts to start a game in major league history.

Not only did Rodon manage to quell the first seven batters in Minnesota’s lineup, but he extended his strikeout streak to 10 consecutive batters dating back through his last start against the Cleveland Indians. Per MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger, the last major league pitcher to do so was reliever Eric Gagne, who accomplished the feat for the 2003 Dodgers during his first and only Cy Young Award-winning season.

Any way you slice it, this is an impressive look: