On a night when the Reds, Yankees and Bay Rays needed a win to seal their playoff spots and the Braves needed a win to keep them in charge of the wild card spot, stud pitchers stepped up and carried the day. But they weren't alone. Seattle got another ace performance from their Cy Young candidate, the Phillies got an excellent tune up outing from their trade deadline stud in a game the Phillies eventually lost because a veteran pitcher for the Nationals had a sensational start after a disappointing season and two young relievers were lights out after his night was done. Let's recap.
The Reds have been dancing around that clinching game for several days now. They simply needed to get the job done so they can start figuring out their playoff match ups. But until they slammed the door on the Cardinals, they had to keep throwing their A-game out there. Edinson Voquez is peaking at just the right time. The erstwhile ace has had a tough year returning from a long-term injury. He still had the power stuff of the past, but his command was all over the place. But he's had four good games in a row now and his efforts on Tuesday night helped his team to its clinching win.
Volquez matched the tough Wandy Rodriguez for six innings. Both pitchers only gave up two runs before departing for pinch hitters. Volquez struck out eight and more importantly, only walked one. The game became a bullpen battle after that and the Reds' bullpen was one run better than Houston's. First, the Amazing Arthur Rhodes did his thing and pitched a scoreless inning. Then Rhodes' young student, Nick Masset threw a perfect eight and then the Reds turned to their secret weapon. Aroldis Chapman pitched the ninth and struck out two to give the Reds' offense a chance to win the game.
Jay Bruce won the game in walk off fashion with a homer in the ninth (more on him in the next post). It was a game the Reds needed to set their house in order and Voquez, Rhodes, Masset and Chapman made it happen. Congratulations Reds on your first division title in many years.
The Yankees seemed to be playing rope-a-dope for the previous three weeks and things got a bit surreal after A. J. Burnett again went up in flames on Monday night. In stepped Sabathia like the ace he is supposed to be and pitched eight and a third innings of three-hit, one-run ball against the mighty offense of the Toronto Blue Jays in their home ballpark. Sabathia's performance allowed the Yankee hitters to relax, take control of the game and win it easily. It also allowed Mariano Rivera to get some work in during the ninth as he came in to get the final two outs in a non-save situation. The Yankees can't relax because they are still in a dogfight for the division title and the best record in the AL is at stake. But Sabathia at least put the playoff berth to bed in a performance that the Yankees really needed to have.
David Price did the same thing for the Bay Rays. Price pitched eight scoreless innings on six hits and no walks. Price struck out eight and then Soria came in and pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two more. If it wasn't for King Felix, Price would have an excellent argument for Cy Young and won his 19th game. The win clinched a playoff spot for the Bay Rays and kept them ahead of the Yankees in the AL East. The Bay Rays only had nine base runners the entire game but scored five of them in a clutch offensive performance.
The two wins by the Bay Rays and Yankees means that the Red Sox hopes are finally dashed. You have to have much respect for the Red Sox as they battled everything under the sun and still stayed relevant right up until the last week of the season. All due credit must go to Terry Francona and David Ortiz for keeping that team from hanging their heads. They kept plugging along and came up short.
Meanwhile, Bobby Cox, manager of the Atlanta Braves, bit the bullet and all of his best starters are pitching on three days rest this week. He has no choice if his team is to get into the promised land. Tim Hudson, who is the Braves ace in heart (if not in stuff, that goes to Hanson) took the ball and gave Cox six gutty innings. They weren't spectacular innings as he allowed eleven base runners, but somehow managed to allow only one of them to score. Gaby Sanchez stranded six Marlins all by himself, Corbin Maybin got himself picked off by Hudson and Bonifacio, who shouldn't be playing, hit into a crucial double play.
The Braves' bullpen again got the job done. The amazing Billy Wagner closed the door with 36th save by striking out the side in the ninth. Wagner now has a 1.34 ERA. This may be the finest season of his stellar career and maybe he'll reconsider his retirement announcement.
The Phillies are living the high life these days as they are assured the top spot in the NL playoff pole. But they have to play out the rest of the season. Roy Oswalt got a tune up for the playoffs and pitched his obligatory five innings. He only gave up one run and was as sharp as he's been since his second start for the Phillies. On the other side, Jason Marquis, who has had nothing short of a disastrous first season with the Nationals due to injury and ineffectiveness, was juat as good for the Nationals and kept the mighty Phillies (who played most of their regulars) to just one run. He handed the ball off to young Tyler Clippard, who pitched two scoreless innings, striking out two. Drew Storen, the other Nationals phenom, pitched a perfect inning to get the win when Donkey Dunn hit his 38th homer of the season in walk off fashion off of the ancient LOOGY, Tim Byrdak.
Down in Texas, Felix Hernandez might just have sealed his Cy Young Award with another dominating performance. He pitched eight innings, allowing only seven base runners while striking out five. He only gave up one run and lowered his ERA to 2.27. With Price hitting all cylinders and Sabathia pitching the Yankees into the post season, it was a performance that Hernandez really needed to put him over the top. And over the top he should be. King Felix has to be the league's Cy Young. Forget his 13-12 record. He's just been a head above anybody else in the American League.