Tigers open the floodgates after lucky bounce and hang on to beat Rangers, forcing Game 6

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It started with a lucky bounce and ended with the Tigers knocking around C.J. Wilson to stave off elimination and force a Game 6 with a 7-5 victory.

Texas missed a big opportunity to break the game open with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning, as Ian Kinsler helped Justin Verlander wriggle out of a jam by grounding the first pitch he saw to third base for an inning-ending double play.

In the bottom of the inning Miguel Cabrera’s grounder to third base looked likely to become a double play as well, but instead the ball hit the bag and bounced over Adrian Beltre’s head for a run-scoring double. And then the floodgates opened, as Victor Martinez tripled past a diving Nelson Cruz in right field and Delmon Young crushed his second homer of the game–and fifth of the postseason.

Two ground balls to third base in the same inning having such wildly different outcomes may ultimately have decided the game, although things also would have been much different had Beltre not narrowly missed a three-run homer that would have given the Rangers a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning. Twice during the same at-bat, in fact, as his opposite-field drive off Verlander’s triple-digit fastball went foul by a few feet and then his 400-foot blast to straightaway center field came up just short of the wall.

Even with those breaks going Detroit’s way things still got interesting when Verlander coughed up a two-run homer to Cruz on his 133rd pitch and then again when Phil Coke allowed the tying run to reach base in the ninth inning. Jim Leyland said before the game that setup man Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde were unavailable after pitching in three straight games and he was true to his word, sticking with Coke even against the right-handed middle of the Rangers’ lineup as righties Brad Penny and Ryan Perry threw in the bullpen.

It worked–just barely–and now the highly entertaining ALCS is headed back to Texas. And the Tigers may want to bring third base with them or at least vote the bag a full playoff share.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

Associated Press
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Red Sox 11, Yankees 6: The Red Sox clinch the AL East and they do it as Mookie Betts, I presume, clinches the AL MVP Award. He has a strong case for it on the merits, but his three-run homer in the eighth in the division-clinching game, in a week in which he was hobbled by an injury, are the sprinkles the voters like to see on top of that MVP cake. (See Jones, Chipper, 1999). Jackie Bradley and Brock Holt each hit homers as well. Giancarlo Stanton hit a grand slam in a losing cause. The Yankees loss also drops them to a mere game and a half above the A’s for the top Wild Card slot because . . .

Athletics 21, Angels 3: . . . Oakland romped in a game that was . . . something less than competitive. Marcus Semien had three hits and drove in five while Stephen Piscotty homered and drove in four. Angels Catcher Francisco Arcia pitched the last two innings. He gave up three runs but he also hit a homer, which I’ll call a “net two” in my wholly invented plus/minus system for two-way players. That made him better than three of the other Angels pitchers yesterday, none of whom had the chance —  or the guts! — to bat. Look for the Calcaterra Plus/Minus System to be adopted widely in the coming years. It’ll come in handy literally tens of times. Maybe.

Blue Jays 9, Rays 8: The Rays led this one 9-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth, but Jaime Schultz and Sergio Romo could not hold that lead, giving up three home runs in the final frame, including Justin Smoak‘s walkoff blast. Danny Jansen hit a three-run shot in the ninth and Lourdes Gurriel hit a two-run shot. As I noted the other day, Tampa Bay has been surging in the past month or so. Surging so much that they had even entered the fringes of the Wild Card discussion, pulling to within five and a half games as of yesterday morning. This gut-punch loss, however, drops them back to six and a half back with ten games to play.

Braves 8, Phillies 3Kevin Gausman allowed three runs in six and a third innings and Lucas Duda hit a pinch-hit double to drive in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning and give Atlanta the win. Coming into yesterday’s action, the Braves led the Phillies by five and a half. Daunting, but since the two teams had seven matchups against one another in the season’s final eleven days, Philly had a puncher’s chance. They needed to win most of these matchups and otherwise hold serve, but it could be done. Now, one day later, it’s that much harder. Indeed, If Atlanta takes two of three this weekend, it’s all over.

Mets 5, Nationals 4: The Mets blew an early three-run lead, built thanks to homers from Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce. Max Scherzer settled down after that, however, and ended up striking out 13 Mets in seven innings of work. The Nationals still trailed but came back from a two-run deficit in the eighth inning to force extras. That’s all the scoring they’d do, though, and their old friend Jose Lobaton hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the top of the 12th to give New York the win. Between him, Dusty Baker and a bunch of relievers they case off, the Nationals have a whole army of departed Force Ghosts watching them from the sidelines like Yoda and Obi-Wan watched Luke. Except, of course, they’re watching the Nationals face plant as opposed to triumph.

White Sox 5, Indians 4Matt Davidson hit a run-scoring single with two out in the 11th to give the White Sox the win. Sox reliever Hector Sanchez pitched three scoreless innings to end the game. It was the White Sox’ first win in Cleveland this year in nine tries.

Tigers 11, Royals 8: Christin Stewart hit two homers — career homers number one and number two — drew a bases-loaded walk and drove in six in all. It was the most RBI a Tigers player has had in a game in 11 years. Given that those 11 years covered Miguel Cabrera‘s prime, that’s quite a trick. It was only Stewart’s 11th career game. He’ll remember it for the rest of his life.

Reds 4, Marlins 2: Cody Reed pitched six shutout innings — picking up his first win as a starter — and Scooter Gennett homered and doubled as the Reds take the first game of a four-game series in Miami. Question: will this be the least-attended four-game series in baseball this year? It’s gotta be in the top five.