“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” was the theme today as Royals outfielder Justin Maxwell hit a walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning against the Rangers, clinching the AL West for the Athletics in the process. The Athletics entered the afternoon with a magic number of one, meaning that either a Rangers loss or an Athletics win today would have sealed up the division for the A’s.
The Rangers and Royals entered the bottom of the 10th deadlocked at 0-0 following outstanding pitching performances from starters Alexi Ogando and James Shields. Ogando went seven strong innings, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out five. Shields went eight, allowing six hits and a walk while striking out two. For the Royals, Greg Holland and Tim Collins each pitched a scoreless inning in support of Shields.
Rangers reliever Neal Cotts started the 10th inning because of the platoon match-up against Eric Hosmer, but Hosmer doubled to left to put the Royals in good starting position to stage a walk-off. Manager Ron Washington walked to the mound and called for Joakim Soria, the former closer for the Royals from 2007-11. Soria intentionally walked Billy Butler to set up the double play, but was then victimized by an infield single by Salvador Perez to load the bases with no outs. The Royals, though, seemed to squander their opportunities with the winning run just 90 feet away. Mike Moustakas popped out, and George Kottaras grounded out, leaving the Royals’ hopes in the inning to Justin Maxwell. Maxwell worked the count to 3-2 against Soria, then turned on a 92 MPH cutter and sent it well beyond the fence in left field for a walk-off grand slam.
With their AL West hopes officially dashed, the 84-71 Rangers now turn their attention to the Wild Card. As the Indians won 9-2 over the Astros this afternoon, the Rangers are now 1.5 games out of the second Wild Card. The Rangers are now 5-15 in the month of September.
Meanwhile, the Royals keep a faint glimmer of hope alive as they are 3.5 games out of the second Wild Card. They have also clinched their first winning season since 2003.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser reports that Athletics’ right-hander Sonny Gray will not pitch in the World Baseball Classic after failing to meet the necessary criteria for insurance coverage. He missed 70 days on the disabled list with forearm tightness and a back strain in 2016.
According to Oakland GM David Forst, Major League Baseball tried to persuade the insurance carrier to waive the requirements for Gray to pitch for Team USA, but the request was ultimately refused. Without coverage, Gray will be unable to participate in the competition, though Forst adds that the 27-year-old is still in perfect health as Opening Day approaches and should benefit from a slower spring training schedule without the added commitment on his plate.
Injuries complicated a down year for Gray, who pitched to a career-worst 5.69 ERA, 3.2 BB/9 and 7.2 SO/9 rate through 117 innings in 2016. His 1.4 HR/9 and 17.8% HR/FB rates suggested that he felt the effects of the home run spike more than most, capping a disappointing follow-up to his All-Star campaign during 2015.
While Gray works up to a healthy and productive start to the 2017 season, the Athletics will still see two players on WBC rosters next month: right-handed reliever Santiago Casilla, who is scheduled to pitch for the Dominican Republic, and fellow righty John Axford, for Team Canada.
Rangers’ outfielder Josh Hamilton is scheduled for another knee exam on Monday, according to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Hamilton left camp last week after feeling some pain in his left knee and received a PRP injection to alleviate the symptoms. Wilson notes that both Dr. Walt Lowe and Rangers’ assistant general manager Mike Daly noticed little improvement in the days following the injection.
More drastic measures could be necessary if the 35-year-old intends to return to the field this year. MLB.com’s TR Sullivan adds that the Rangers are considering arthroscopic surgery for Hamilton, which would set him back at least 4-6 weeks and eliminate any real chance of his making the Opening Day roster in April. Until they see the results of the surgery, however, the Rangers won’t rule out Hamilton’s potential return to the big leagues in 2017.
Hamilton is looking at his third major procedure since the end of the 2015 season. He missed all of the Rangers’ 2016 campaign after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery last spring and has not seen a full workload in the majors since his 2013 run with the Angels. Should he make a full recovery this season, he figures to see some time at first base/DH or the corner outfield.