Orioles win in 12, Yankees prevail in 14 versus A’s

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With the Orioles already having dispatched the Red Sox in 12, the AL East appeared on the verge of being knotted at the top again. However, the Yankees overcame a 9-5 deficit in the 13th and beat the A’s 10-9 in 14 innings Saturday.

Baltimore improved to 4-0 in extra-inning games at Fenway Park this year by beating the Red Sox 9-6. Jim Thome’s ground-rule double broke the tie in the 12th, and the Orioles were able to add on from there. Incredibly, the Red Sox are 0-7 in extra-inning games at home this season.

The A’s got homers from Jonny Gomes, Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Carter to take a commanding 9-5 lead on the Yankees in the top of the 13th. However, the Yankees came right back afterwards, loading the bases with none out and getting a game-tying two-run homer from Raul Ibanez with one out.

The Bombers went on to win it in 14 after another wild sequence. Alex Rodriguez appeared to hit a game-winning single with one out and the lead runner on second, but pinch-runner Melky Mesa, making his major league debut, missed third base on the turn and had to go back to the bag.

That loaded the bases for Robinson Cano. Cano hit a comebacker to Tyson Ross that bounced out of and back into the pitcher’s glove, leading to an awkward but successful throw home for the force. Catcher Derek Norris could have chanced turning it into an inning-ending double play since Cano hardly busted it out of the box, but he decided not to risk throwing it into the runner and giving the Yankees a win that way. Eduardo Nunez then came up and his a spinning grounder to first that Brandon Moss failed to glove, ending the game. It was ruled an error on Moss, though it was hardly an easy play with the way the ball was moving.

The game featured a controversial call in the bottom of the first. Travis Blackley picked  Rodriguez off first, but second base umpire Larry Vanover decided to call it a balk only after watching the play unfold and seeing A-Rod tagged out. The implication being that Vanover would have let it go had A-Rod made it back safely. Whether it was a balk or not (and that really could have gone either way), that’s not the way the game is supposed to be umpired and Vanover should get a talking to over it. The Yankees went on to score two runs after the play, contributing to an early exit for Blackley.

Helped out by that play, the Yankees really should have won in regulation. That they didn’t was due in part to a lack of effort. Cano initially gave up on a Moss grounder into the hole in the seventh because he thought first baseman Nick Swisher would grab it. When Swisher’s dive came up short, Cano made his own half-hearted dive and missed the ball, giving Moss a single. He later came around to score the tying run. Also, in the bottom of the seventh, Swisher opened the frame with a popup to shallow right. Disappointed, he didn’t run out of the box, and he ended up on first instead of second when the ball fell in. The Yankees failed to score in the inning, even though Swisher advanced to third with one out because of a HBP and a sac bunt.

The Yankees again almost won it in the 12th, but Ibanez was thrown out at the plate on a grounder to second.

Ibanez turned a single into a double with some great hustle in the frame, which is perhaps why he wasn’t removed for a pinch-runner after reaching. He then went to third on a wild pitch, forcing the A’s to pull the infield in. Unfortunately, Russell Martin’s grounder was hit right to second baseman Cliff Pennington, who threw home. Ibanez tried to bowl Norris over, and when that didn’t quite work, he gave up a little push to finish knocking him to the ground. Norris held on, though, and the A’s got out of the inning.

With the win, the Yankees maintained a one-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East. The A’s are three games up on the second wild card, pending the Angels’ result tonight.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.