Cardinals take opener of series versus Dodgers

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In a lineup with Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina, it’s Allen Craig who has been chosen to hit cleanup of late. He showed why yet again Thursday, singling home the go-ahead run in the seventh as the Cardinals took the opener of a four-game series against the Dodgers 2-1.

Both the Cardinals and Dodgers had lost three straight entering the night, leaving St. Louis with the one-game edge as they battle for what will likely be one wild card spot. The Cardinals jumped further ahead in the competition thanks in part to a strong effort from All-Star Lance Lynn, who was filling in for the injured Jake Westbrook and making his first start since being bounced from the rotation last month.

Lynn allowed one run in six innings and struck out seven on the night. He and Josh Beckett pitched to a draw after Beckett allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings.

Beckett’s night will be better remembered for the single that wasn’t, as he was thrown out at first by Carlos Beltran on his hard shot into right field in the third inning.

The Dodgers got their only run on an Adrian Gonzalez single in the first. The Cards came right back and tied it in the top of the second on a Skip Schumaker single.

The Cardinals, who racked up 10 hits and five walks (two intentional), wasted several opportunities after that. They had 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position, yet only twice converted (though they had four hits; two of them didn’t score runs). Before Craig’s single in the seventh, the Cards got leadoff hitter Shane Robinson on via a walk from Paco Rodriguez in his third major league appearance. Instead of remaining patient, Jon Jay decided to sacrifice him along, only to pop up the bunt. Fortunately, Matt Carpenter singled afterwards and Craig delivered his hit with two outs.

For Craig, it was his 77th RBI in 102 games this season. He’s driven 37 runs in 47 games as a cleanup hitter. Obviously, that’s less than one-third of a season worth of action. However, it’s a better rate of driving in runs than Albert Pujols maintained in either of his last two seasons with St. Louis.

Red Sox beat Yankees 11-6 to clinch AL East for third consecutive season

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The Red Sox have clinched the AL East for a third consecutive season, beating the Yankees 11-6 in the Bronx on Thursday night. It’s the third consecutive season in which the Red Sox have won the division, the first time that’s ever been done in club history. In fact, the only other times the Red Sox won the division in back-to-back years were 1903-04 and 1915-16.

AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts went 4-for-5 with a two-run single in the second inning off of Masahiro Tanaka and a three-run homer in the eighth against Aroldis Chapman to put the game out of reach. Jackie Bradley and Brock Holt also hit homers. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez was on the hook for five runs in 3 2/3 innings, but three of them scored when Heath Hembree inherited a bases-loaded situation, then served up a grand slam to Giancarlo Stanton in the fourth. The rest of the bullpen combined to fire five scoreless innings. Steven Wright had three of them followed by zeroes from Ryan Brasier and Craig Kimbrel.

With the loss, the Yankees’ lead over the Athletics for the first Wild Card slot shrinks to 1.5 games. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will try to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. With a 104-49 record, their closest competitor is the 95-57 Astros. With nine games remaining in the regular season for the Red Sox, they would have to lose every game remaining in the regular season and the Astros would have to win their 10 remaining games in order to fail to claim home field advantage.