And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Cardinals 9, Pirates 2: And the sweep. Four losses in a row overall for Pittsburgh which is back in wild card territory, looking up at the Cards, still stuck on 81 wins.  Michael Wacha pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits, and drove in two runs to boot. He hasn’t allowed a run in 19 and two-thirds consecutive innings.

Yankees 4, Red Sox 3: Just your standard walkoff wild pitch after the best closer in history blew a save. Is it rude of me to note that he’s blown a lot of saves for him lately and that, just maybe, the “never retire, you’re invincible, Mo!” stuff is probably a bit overstated.  Moving on … nice for the Yankees to salvage one. It was pretty dreary for them, I presume, losing three straight games in which they scored eight or nine runs.  To lose a lower scoring one too woulda been hard to take. As it was they didn’t lose too much ground to the Rays this weekend. Problem was, they got passed up by Baltimore and Cleveland.

Royals 5, Tigers 2: Eric Hosmer had three hits including a three-run homer and Bruce Chen baffled the Tigers. And, by extension, continued to baffle all of us. The guy has pitched in 15 major league seasons. If you lined up every pitcher in the big leagues in 1999 or 2000 or so and said “which of these guys is gonna pitch in 15 major league seasons,” I’m guessing Chen would not have been on many folks’ list.

Reds 3, Dodgers 2: Clayton Kershaw and Homer Bailey were pretty close to even for seven innings but then the Reds got to Ronald Bellisario in the ninth, with Zack Cozart singling and Ryan Hanigan doubling him in.

Phillies 3, Braves 2: Nice day for Evan Gattis — he hit two homers including an absolute moon shot — but that’s all the Braves could do against Cole Hamels. Literally, those were the only two hits he gave up in eight innings. Meanwhile Darin Ruf broke the tie with an eighth inning homer of his own after driving in a run earlier.That’s four straight losses for Atlanta. Guess that’ll put the kibosh on any of that “maybe they peaked too soon” talk.

Athletics 7, Astros 2: A seven-run third gives Bartolo all the run support he needed, as he held the Astros to one run in six. It was big Bartolo’s first win since July 26.

Rangers 4, Angels 3: Texas avoids a sweep and stays one and a half back of the A’s. Alex Rios homered in the first and drove in the go-ahead run with a seventh inning double.

Brewers 3, Cubs 1: Yovani Gallardo with another nice start. He’s strung a few of those in a row since coming off the DL last month. Too bad he couldn’t have done this in June and July and gotten Doug Melvin some prospects in a deal.

Padres 5, Rockies 2: Three game sweep for the Padres, all three games with late-inning runs. Here Nick Hundley cleared the based with a double in the Pads’ four-run seventh.

White Sox 4, Orioles 2: The Pale Hose end a nine-game losing streak. Game ended with a nice deke on baserunner Chris Dickerson too. He was trying to steal second when Brian Roberts fouled out. Alexi Ramirez made Dickerson think the ball was on the ground in play so Dickerson made no effort to turn around and head back to first. Double play and ballgame.

Mets 2, Indians 1: Only one run on three hits in five and two thirds innings for Daisuke Matsuzaka, and that run was an inherited run that Vic Black allowed in when he plunked a guy with the bases loaded. Not too shabby for him, and probably satisfying too given that it came against the team that kept him in the minors all year and then cut bait.

Nationals 6, Marlins 4: A hot mess of a day for Stephen Strasburg — he balked in two runs, hit a guy and threw a wild pitch — but he also struck out seven and got his first win in close to a month. Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond each had three hits and drove in two.

Giants 3, Diamondbacks 2: Angel Pagan singled home the winning run in the bottom of the 11th. Madison Bumgarner tossed six shutout innings but was denied a win yet again. Run support is not always an abundant commodity in San Francisco.

Rays 4, Mariners 1: The Rays rally for all four of their runs in the eighth and ninth and, thanks to losses by the Tribe, Orioles and Yankees, up their lead in the wild card race. Still, this road trip started with a four-game lead, now it’s two. And given how badly they’ve played lately, they’re lucky it’s two.

Blue Jays 2, Twins 0: Blue Jays sweep the Twins in the series that was neck-and-neck with the Brewers-Cubs for the “who friggin’ cares?” series of the weekend. At least Brewers-Cubs is a division and geographic rivalry, so I think this one takes the crown.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.