Robbie Ray dominant as Mariners top Guardians 4-0

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SEATTLE – While Robbie Ray was again dominant against a potential playoff foe, there was a more important development for the Seattle Mariners on Sunday.

Perhaps All-Star Ty France is on the verge of breaking out of his extended slump and rediscovering the swing that made him one of best hitters in the American League during the first half of the season.

“We need Ty France’s bat back and it showed up today,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “I’m really excited about that.”

Ray tossed seven dominant innings, Dylan Moore and France homered and the Mariners beat the Cleveland Guardians 4-0 on Sunday.

Seattle took three of four from Cleveland in a potential postseason preview. All four games were tight and well-pitched, and the Mariners squeezed out just enough offense to earn a series victory.

The teams will run it back with a three-game set in Cleveland next weekend and perhaps again in October.

“We knew their games were going to be tight. We needed to play good defense and pitch well and we exceeded my expectations pitching-wise,” Servais said. “That’s about as good as you can pitch.”

The Guardians’ lead in the AL Central was trimmed to two games over Minnesota, which completed a sweep at home against San Francisco. Cleveland manager Terry Francona was complimentary of Ray’s performance and Seattle’s entire staff.

“Their entire staff is impressive. I mean, you’ve got your work cut out for you,” Francona said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t win, but you got your work cut out for you.”

Ray, last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner with Toronto, continued his August surge by winning his third straight start.

But Seattle’s offense has been meager of late in part due to France’s slump. He started the day hitting just .122 in August and was in an 0-for-21 slump when he singled in the fifth off Cleveland starter Aaron Civale.

France came back two innings later and hit the second pitch of the seventh inning out to left field for his 15th homer of the season.

“After the first hit, definitely felt like a weight was lifted off,” France said. “This whole series I felt like I was seeing the ball well, put a couple of good swings on balls and then today it was nice.”

Ray (11-8) scattered three hits, struck out seven and walked none. For the month, he allowed six earned runs and struck out 41 over 33 innings. He threw at least six innings in all five starts and permitted two earned runs or less in each one.

The left-hander escaped the one jam he faced. Andres Gimenez doubled and Austin Hedges followed with a bloop single to open the sixth. With runners at the corners and no outs, Ray got a fly ball from Myles Straw that wasn’t deep enough for Gimenez to score, an infield popup from Steven Kwan and then struck out Amed Rosario for the third time to end the threat.

Cleveland was blanked for the eighth time this season, while Seattle posted its seventh shutout. During the Mariners’ six-game homestand, their starting pitchers went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA. They had four walks and 39 strikeouts in 39 innings.

“Putting up zeros is the name of the game,” Ray said. “I feel like we’ve been doing a really good job of feeding off each other’s energy in our bullpen sessions and in the game. We’ve got a really good group.”

Moore broke the game open for Seattle with a three-run homer with two outs in the sixth off Civale. France hit a solo shot on the second pitch of the seventh.

Seattle also got a break just before Moore’s long ball. Moore fouled a 2-2 pitch wide of first base where Owen Miller made a leaping attempt into the protective netting to make the catch. But he bobbled the ball against the net and it was ruled out of play.

On the next pitch, Civale (2-6) left a curveball in the middle of the plate and Moore’s towering drive carried into the left field stands for his first homer since July 7.

Civale matched Ray into the sixth but has gone nine starts since his last victory back in late May. Civale allowed four hits and struck out five.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mariners: SS J.P. Crawford was out of the lineup with an injury to his left pectoral muscle. Servais said after the game that Crawford had an MRI, but nothing major was discovered and he is day-to-day. Crawford had appeared in 115 of 127 games entering Sunday.

UP NEXT

Guardians: Cleveland returns home and, after a day off, will open a series against Baltimore. RHP Cal Quantrill (10-5, 3.59 ERA) starts the opener. Quantrill has won six straight decisions and threw seven shutout innings in his last start against San Diego.

Mariners: After an off day, rookie RHP George Kirby (5-3, 3.32) will make his 19th start Tuesday against Detroit. In August, Kirby is 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA and 29 strikeouts over four starts. He allowed one run over seven innings in his last outing.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.