And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

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Pirates 2, Cubs 1: And with that the Pirates are going to the playoffs. It’s so strange, though, how even though it’s the franchise that has lost for the past 20 years — even though it’s just the laundry which has been shut out so long — that we sort of passively put all that weight on the current members of the Pirates too. Weight that Andrew McCutchen talked about after the game:

“Even though I didn’t lose for the last 20 years, they make you feel like you are. You feel like you lost those 20 years”

That’s pretty remarkable when you think about it. McCutchen was six years old when Sid Bream slid into home plate in the 1992 NLCS, yet pressure has been put on him simply because he got drafted by the Pirates instead of, say, the Giants. The Reds clinched yesterday too and are back to the playoffs. No one asks, say, Shin-Soo Choo about any weight being removed even though he’s just as much of a playoffs newbie as McCutchen is. Oh well.

Reds 3, Mets 2: Like I said, the Reds clinched too, this on a Shin-Soo Choo single in the 10th, but it was a very different scene afterward. No champagne or anything, as they want the division title and seeing the Cardinals beat the Nats a bit after their game ended made that a half game harder to do.

Cardinals 4, Nationals 3: The Nats get eliminated. Proof that you can’t just sleepwalk for four and a half months and then step on the gas for a while and expect it all to be OK. Proof that preseason expectations and predictions mean nothing. Proof that when someone — like a lot of us around here — adds “on paper” to comments about how good a team looks in March it’s probably close to meaningless. Meanwhile the Cardinals are tied with the Braves for the best record in the National League. Whichever of those teams prevails in this regard gets to avoid the Dodgers in the NLDS, so yeah, there are still things to be decided in the NL.

Rays 5, Orioles 4: What an awful day for the Orioles. They lost on a James Loney walkoff homer, get swept in four games and lose Manny Machado and Alexi Casilla to serious injuries. The Rays are a game up on Cleveland for the top wild card spot. The O’s are all but eliminated.

Twins 4, Tigers 3: The Tigers could’ve clinched the central but the wheels fell off late. Lots here which suggests what kind of trouble the Tigers could have in the playoffs, though. Justin Verlander had a dominant stretch of strikeouts — he finished with 12 in six innings — but inefficiency prevented him from going deep into the game. This exposed the Tigers bullpen for too many innings and led Jim Leyland to go to closer Joaquin Benoit for a five-out save which just wasn’t happening. Today is another day to clinch, but I feel like there are reasons to be concerned.

Brewers 5, Braves 0: Atlanta played much like a team that had spent the previous night shooting champagne into each others’ faces. Marco Estrada tossed seven shutout innings and Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy homered.

Athletics 10, Angels 5: Not all teams which celebrated Sunday looked flat on Monday. Five wins in a row for Oakland, which benefited from Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss homers and RBI from seven different A’s.

Rangers 12, Astros 0: Alex Rios hit for the cycle and drove in four runs. Texas is a game behind Cleveland for the final wild card spot. All of their remaining games are at home.

Royals 6, Mariners 5: Alex Gordon keeps the Royals’ hopes alive. He gunned down a runner at the plate in extra innings and then scored on Salvador Perez’s two-out double in the 12th to put KC ahead for good. The Royals are still a longshot, though. Three back with six to play and, unlike the Rangers, all of their remaining games are on the road.

Marlins 4, Phillies 0: This could’ve been Roy Halladay’s final start for the Phillies. And, though he has said he will pitch again next year, the way he looks it could be his final start in major league baseball. He faced only three batters, walking two, and couldn’t break 83 on the gun. This is pretty sad to watch.

White Sox 3, Blue Jays 2: Tiger got to hunt, Bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?” Sox got to pitch, Jays have to bat, Man got to Jays fans have to ask where their Leafs’ schedule’s at. Why no, I didn’t read Charles J. Shields’ quite excellent biography of Kurt Vonnegut over the weekend. Why do you ask?

Padres 4, Diamondbacks 1: My Friday and Monday absences were occasioned by a trip to San Diego for a wedding. While there I got to take in Sunday’s game at Petco. And hang out and walk on the beach and eat In-N-Out Burger and good tacos and drink good beer at Karl Strauss and see my brother and enjoy all of the good things Southern California has to offer while avoiding just about all of the bad things it has to offer, mostly because I didn’t go up near Los Angeles. Starting about 8AM yesterday, as I was enjoying a wonderful breakfast, I began my usual “wait, why don’t I live here again?” musings. I’ve been back in Ohio for about eight hours now and I’m still musing. Sigh. Oh, Padres beat the Dbacks. Apologies for the non-recap of that one. I was busy consulting real estate listings.

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.