Mitch Moreland strikes early, Rangers hold on to win Game 3

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The Rangers started the season with Chris Davis at first base, then went to Justin Smoak when he didn’t pan out. In July, after Smoak was used as the key piece in the Cliff Lee deal, they went back to Davis. Finally, at the end of the month, they acquired Jorge Cantu from the Marlins to start against lefties.

Yet there was Mitch Moreland penciled in at first base and as the No. 9 hitter in Game 3 against southpaw Jonathan Sanchez with the Giants up 2-0 in the World Series.

One of only two left-handed hitters in the Texas lineup.

And he proved to be the hero.

Moreland, who had been 1-for-8 against lefties, launched a three-run homer off Sanchez in the second inning Saturday to give the Rangers a comfortable early lead in a game they won 4-2.

The liner to right ended a masterful nine-pitch at-bat. Moreland was backed into a corner early, when a borderline fastball was called a strike to even the count at 2-2. He then fouled off four straight before connecting with a low fastball that caught a bit too much of the plate. The bullet was a no-doubter, and Sanchez, who had held left-handers to a .181 average during the regular season, found himself in an early deficit for the second time in two starts.

Sanchez seemed to pitch around Bengie Molina to get to Moreland with two outs. Nelson Cruz led off the frame with a double, advanced to third on Ian Kinsler’s grounder and then stayed put when Jeff Francoeur hit a first-pitch grounder right at third baseman Juan Uribe. With Molina having driven in eight runs in the postseason, Sanchez worked him carefully and walked him even after getting him to swing wildly at a curveball for a strike. He didn’t imagine Moreland hanging so tough. He certainly didn’t see Moreland hitting his first career homer versus a lefty.

Moreland, who was platooned after being called up at the end of July, had just 20 regular season at-bats against southpaws, hitting .200.

With the blast, Moreland is batting .341 in 41 postseason at-bats. His surge at the end of the regular season, which included a pair of two-homer games on Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, helped earned him the nod over Cantu against lefties this month, but it certainly hasn’t hurt that he’s the superior defensive first baseman.

At the end of September, it was still up in the air whether he’d get a chance to retain a starting job headed into 2011. There will be several established first basemen available in free agency this winter, and at least a couple of them will end up coming fairly cheap. Moreland, though, has made a great case for holding on to the job. Often an outfielder in the minors, he’s improved defensively since he’s gotten the chance to concentrate on playing first, and he has a very good approach at the plate. Power has been the question mark, but tonight, he kept the Rangers in the World Series with an exclamation point.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.