Pittsburgh Pirates v St. Louis Cardinals

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.

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.