A Jordy Mercer error on a routine grounder to shortstop opened the door for the Reds to score three runs in the ninth, and Joey Votto hit a go-ahead homer in the 10th as Cincinnati won in Pittsburgh 6-5 on Friday.
The result leaves the two teams with identical 88-66 records behind the soon-to-be 90-64 or 89-65 Cardinals in the NL Central.
The Pirates were up by three headed to the top of the ninth, but Mark Melancon couldn’t pitch around the Mercer error, which came with one on and two outs. Ryan Ludwick scored from second on the play and two more singles followed. The last, from Devin Mesoraco, went off third baseman Pedro Alvarez’s glove and bounced past Mercer at shortstop, allowing pinch-hitter Billy Hamilton to score the tying run from second.
Votto’s go-ahead homer off Kyle Farnsworth barely sliced over the low wall in left field, eluding Starling Marte.
It’s not in Pirates manager Clint Hurdle’s nature to use defensive replacements, but he might rethink that strategy in light of Mercer’s 14th error tonight. Clint Barmes, who shares time with Mercer, is still the Pirates’ best defensive shortstop. Mercer offers more offense, though pretty much all of his production comes against left-handers. Versus righties, the Pirates are likely better off with Barmes in there anyway.
Mercer, who was 2-for-3 with an RBI in the contest, ended up being removed from the game anyway, as Travis Snider was called on to pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the ninth.
The loss overshadowed a fine performance from Francisco Liriano, who allowed two runs over eight innings and picked up his 1,000th career strikeout.
Lost in the nifty base running by Dustin Pedroia that won Sunday’s game against the Rays, the Red Sox set a new major league record by striking out 11 batters in a row, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. Starter Eduardo Rodriguez struck out the final six Rays he faced and reliever Heath Hembree struck out five Rays in a row after that. Tom Seaver had the previous consecutive strikeout streak of 10, set on April 22, 1970 against the Padres.
The Red Sox also set a team record with 23 strikeouts in total: 13 by Rodriguez, five by Hembree, one by Matt Barnes, and four by Joe Kelly. Per Abraham, that’s the most strikeouts in a 10-inning game since at least 1913 and the most in a game of any length since 2004.
For Rodriguez, Sunday marked the first double-digit strikeout game of his career. He has pitched quite well since returning to the rotation at the start of the second half. Over 13 starts, the lefty has a 3.10 ERA with a 70/23 K/BB ratio in 72 2/3 innings.
Dodgers second baseman Charlie Culberson delivered a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the 10th inning, clinching the NL West for the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon. What a way to celebrate Vin Scully’s final home game behind the microphone.
The Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, but shortstop Corey Seager tripled in a run to tie the game. Rockies outfielder David Dahl untied the game in the top of the ninth with a two-out solo home run off of Kenley Jansen. But Seager once again rose to the occasion, blasting a game-tying solo shot in the bottom half of the ninth against Adam Ottavino. That would set the stage for Culberson in the next frame.
Culberson, a former Rockie, came into the afternoon with a .591 OPS and zero home runs in 53 plate appearances. He finished the afternoon 3-for-5 with the homer.
It’s the fourth consecutive season in which the Dodgers have won the NL West. The Cubs have clinched the best record, which means they’ll play the winner of the Wild Card game. The Dodgers will play the Nationals in the NLDS. The Nationals have a 1.5-game lead over the Dodgers for home-field advantage, so both teams are still playing for something of importance in the regular season’s final week.