Henderson Alvarez

Henderson Alvarez with the unlikeliest of no-hitters

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Actually, it was prime no-hitter time: a meaningless game on the final day of the season. The opposing team had nothing to play for and thus started several backups. The umps were also looking to get things over with in a hurry. If there was ever a day for Henderson Alvarez to throw a no-no, this was it.

It was the ending that made this one unique. The Marlins, like the Tigers, couldn’t put a run on the board. At the end of 8 1/2 innings, Alvarez had his no-hitter ready to go, he just needed some help.

And if he didn’t get it, he was going back out for the 10th.

For Alvarez, it was his first start against an American League team since the Blue Jays traded him to Miami in the big Jose Reyes-Josh Johnson deal last winter. In 2012, he went 9-14 with a 4.85 ERA for the Blue Jays, allowing 216 hits in 187 1/3 innings. Rick Porcello was the only pitcher in the AL to give up more hits last year.

Alvarez, though, has found things quite a bit easier in the NL; he entered the day with a 3.94 ERA in 16 starts. His batting average against was down from .290 to .256. And today he was essentially facing an NL lineup. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson were all on the bench. Opposing starter Justin Verlander actually came the closest of anyone to picking up a hit for the Tigers. Prince Fielder left after one at-bat.

Alvarez ended up getting 13 groundouts, four of them taken care of himself. The last of those, off the bat of Don Kelly in the ninth, may well have gotten into center field if not for an athletic play from Alvarez. It definitely helps having that fifth infielder out there.

After that, the Marlins finally did their part in the ninth. Giancarlo Stanton came out of his spikes in his first two swings against Luke Putkonen, then lined a single to center on his third try. Logan Morrison followed with a single back up the box, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch.

It looked like things might go wrong when Stanton froze on Adeiny Hechavarria’s one hopper that went past the pitcher to be handled by shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Stanton, perhaps thinking the pitcher would field it, froze at third. He should have gone regardless, given that there wasn’t going to be a double play either way. If Stanton had bee thrown out, it still would have left the winning run on third in the form of Morrison. And there’s a good chance that Stanton would have made it. As it was, the out was made at first.

The mistake wasn’t fatal. Chris Coghlan walked. Putkonen uncorked a wild pitch on his first offering to Greg Dobbs, allowing Stanton to score without a play. Alvarez was on deck at the time, even though with two outs and the bases loaded, there’s no way he could have hit in the inning. The wild pitch meant the Marlins didn’t face the awkward situation of mobbing the pitcher instead of the guy who delivered the game-winner.

Alvarez’s no-hitter was the fifth in Marlins history. He threw just 99 pitches, and it was clear that he would have come back out for the 10th. Conceivably, he could have turned in just the third no-hitter of 10 innings or more since 1916. The two previous were both thrown by Reds: Fred Toney in 1917 and Jim Maloney in 1965. That would have been pretty awesome, too, but the wild-pitch, walkoff no-no was memorable enough on its own.

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.