Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Salty’s slam sends Sox surging to 90th victory

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Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a seventh-inning grand slam against Yankees reliever Preston Claiborne to break a 4-4 tie. The blast, which came on an 0-1, 92 MPH fastball, cleared the fence in right field at Fenway Park with plenty of room to spare.

The Yankees, despite massive bullpen issues, had won their last three and entered tonight just one game behind the second Wild Card in the American League. Starter Hiroki Kuroda allowed four first-inning runs to the Red Sox, but the Yankees fought back, scoring once in the second, once in the sixth, and twice in the seventh to tie the game at four apiece.

Kuroda took the mound for the seventh, but was quickly removed after allowing a lead-off single to Shane Victorino. Manager Joe Girardi brought in lefty Cesar Cabral to face David Ortiz with the platoon advantage, but Cabral hit Ortiz to put runners on first and second with no outs. Sox manager John Farrell pinch-hit Jonny Gomes for Mike Carp, prompting Girardi to call on Claiborne. Claiborne walked Gomes to load the bases, then rebounded and struck out Daniel Nava to give himself some light at the end of the tunnel as Saltalamacchia came to the plate. Charged with two of the four runs on the grand slam, this marks the third consecutive appearance in which Claiborne has allowed multiple runs. He allowed three runs on September 5 and 6, also against the Red Sox.

For the Sox, starter John Lackey allowed four runs in six and one-third innings. Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara each tossed perfect innings in the eighth and ninth, respectively, to close out the 8-4 victory. They improve to 90-59, becoming the first team this season to reach the 90 plateau. They temporarily extend their first-place lead in the AL East to nine games over the Rays. The Yankees drop to 79-69, 1.5 games behind the Rays for the second AL Wild Card, pending the result of their game against the Twins.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.