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Cardinals put Yadier Molina at third base for an inning

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No, the headline isn’t an April Fool’s Day joke.

Monday afternoon’s Cardinals-Pirates game in Pittsburgh got weird. The Pirates wasted a 4-0 lead, serving up a three-spot to the Cardinals in the seventh, then let them tie the game in the eighth. The Pirates retook the lead in the bottom half of the lead only to let the Cardinals tie it up again in the ninth.

With the teams deadlocked at five runs apiece, Matt Carpenter led off the top of the 11th against Pirates lefty Steven Brault. After working the count 2-1, Carpenter took a slider high and inside for strike two. Carpenter didn’t like the call, although the pitch did indeed appear to cross the strike zone. Brault threw another slider, outside this time, that Carpenter check-swung at. Home plate umpire Vic Carapazza sent the appeal to third base umpire Jordan Baker, who ruled that Carpenter swung for strike three. Carpenter said something that Carapazza didn’t like and was immediately ejected.

Paul Goldschmid flied out, Paul DeJong singled, pinch-hitter Matt Wieters was hit by a pitch, and Yadier Molina walked to load the bases. Nick Kingham then came in to relieve Brault. Facing Yairo Muñoz, Kingham threw a ball in the dirt that got past catcher Francisco Cervelli, allowing the go-ahead run to score. Kingham uncorked a wild pitch, but the ball took a fortuitous carom back to Cervelli, who found Molina straying a bit too far off of second base. Molina got into a rundown that eventually resulted in Wieters being tagged out at home.

That wasn’t the end of the weirdness. Because the Cardinals were now without Carpenter, the bench was short, and Wieters had to stay in the game, Molina started the bottom of the 11th at third base. It’s the first time Molina has ever appeared at a defensive position other than catcher and first base in his professional baseball career. Perhaps fortunately, the ball never found Molina. Facing right-hander John Gant, J.B. Shuck grounded out. Then, after Adam Frazier walked, Starling Marte grounded into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play. The Cardinals won, 6-5.

Braves clinch postseason spot with 10-1 win over Nationals

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The Braves clinched a postseason berth with Saturday’s 10-1 win over the Nationals. Now, the only question is whether they’ll get there with an NL East division title or via one of two wild card spots currently up for grabs.

Granted, things are looking pretty good on the division title front. After losing their second straight game to the Braves, the Nationals sit 10.5 games back of first place in the NL East, and every other division rival is at least 15 games out. The Braves, meanwhile, carry a magic number of four; should they clinch, it’ll be their 19th franchise title and 14th since they migrated to the East division in 1994.

They certainly looked like postseason contenders on Saturday. Mike Foltynewicz led the charge with six innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball, limiting the Nationals to four hits while rookie right-hander Austin Voth kept the Braves scoreless through 5 2/3 frames. Things started to tip in Atlanta’s favor in the sixth inning: Nick Markakis put the team on the board with an RBI single, and a four-run breakout in the seventh helped cement a sizable lead. Over the last three innings, the Braves found opportunity after opportunity against the Nationals’ bullpen, capitalizing on walks, throwing errors, and productive outs as they climbed toward a double-digit finish.

The win didn’t come without some sacrifice, however. The Braves lost Charlie Culberson to a facial injury after he was struck by a Fernando Rodney fastball in the seventh inning, and they’ll likely be without him for the remainder of the regular season — pending a formal diagnosis, of course. Culberson’s loss isn’t the only one the club is feeling right now, either, as Johan Camargo ended his season with a hairline fracture in his right shin and Freddie Freeman is playing through a minor bout of elbow soreness after making an early exit from Friday’s 5-0 shutout.