Sunday was all about the sweeps, as the Rays finished sweeping the Jays, the Angels finished sweeping the White Sox, and the Tigers got swept in a doubleheader by the Twins in excruciating fashion ... and in front of huge home crowds, no less.
Red Sox 2, Orioles 1: You thought the Orioles were going to fade down the stretch? Hardly. The entered Sunday's game at Fenway Park with a six-game losing streak and a wild-card lead, thanks to a 27-8 record in one-run games and a 16-game winning streak in extra-innings games. And they almost added to those gaudy records against the Red Sox. But despite loading the bases in the top of the ninth with one out, they couldn't score as closer Andrew Bailey somehow managed to nail down the save. Red Sox starter Felix Doubront struck out 11 Orioles in seven innings, but the pitching highlight was the debut of Baltimore's 19-year-old phenom Dylan Bundy, who faced two batters in the eighth inning and retired both on fly balls.
Athletics 5, Yankees 4: After losing the first two games of the series in New York, the A's squeaked past the Yankees in the finale to preserve their slim lead for the American League's second wild card. It wasn't easy, though. In the second inning, the A's took a 3-0 lead on Cliff Pennington's two-run homer, which came moments after a missed call at first base gave his club an extra out and an extra baserunner. In the fourth, though, Nick Swisher hit a two-run homer, Ichiro Suzuki a run-scoring double, and Eduardo Nunez an RBI ground-out to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead. Yoenis Cespedes tied it with an RBI single in the fifth. And in the sixth, the A's took advantage of second baseman Nuñez's throwing error to score an unearned run, Pennington driving home Josh Donaldson with a single. The Yankees mounted error-aided threats of their own in both the sixth and eighth innings, but were thwarted both times. And in the ninth, Grant Balfour retired all three Yankees he faced to preserve the 5-4 lead and earn the save.
Twins 10, Tigers 4; Twins 2, Tigers 1 (10 innings): Sunday, the Tigers could have actually taken first place in the Central for themselves, by sweeping the lowly Twins in a split doubleheader. But instead the Tigers got swept, including a tough extra-innings loss in the nightcap.
In the opener, the Tigers actually led 2-0 after five innings, with Max Scherzer -- who left his last start after two innings, with shoulder fatigue -- spinning a nifty shutout. Until the sixth. Ben Revere led off with a triple, Joe Mauer reached on an infield single, and Josh Willingham doubled to knock Scherzer out of the game. The bullpen didn't fare any better, though, as the Twins wound up scoring five runs in the inning for a 5-2 lead. And after scoring another in the seventh, the Twins picked up four more in the eighth, with Mauer's two-run double capping the outburst and giving the Twins a 10-2 lead. The Tigers did pick up a couple of runs in the ninth, but fell well short of scaring anyone. Rookie Scott Diamond pitched seven innings to earn the win.
In the nightcap, it took the Tigers three batters to get on the board ... before a few hours of abject frustration. Austin Jackson led off the bottom of the first with a single, and scored moments later on Miguel Cabrera's double. And that was it. In the fifth, the Twins made it 1-1 on one of the more bizarre plays you'll ever see. After Trevor Plouffe's leadoff walk and Matt Carson's single, Pedro Florimon laid down a sacrifice bunt, but all hands were safe when pitcher Drew Smyly's throw went awry. With the infield drawn in, Ben Revere shot a grounder toward first base; Prince Fielder threw home to force out Carson, but bases were still loaded with one out. Jim Leyland summoned Al Alburquerque from the bullpen. With the infield still in, Jamey Carroll hit a grounder right to the third baseman, who threw home for another force-out. Which would have left the Tigers in a pretty good position to escape the inning, except catcher Alex Avila got greedy and, hoping for an inning-ending double play, threw wildly over first base an into right field. He actually got his double play, as Revere was ultimately tagged out trying to reach third. But not before Florimon had scored the tying run. (Here's the video of that weirdness, if you want to see for yourself.)
The score was still 1-1 after nine innings. With Tigers closer Jose Valverde on the mound, Denard Span led off the 10th with a pinch-hit single, then moved to second base on a ground-out. Jamey Carroll followed with a line-drive hit into center field, with Span scoring the tie-breaking run. Carroll was out trying to reach second and Valverde retired the next batter, but that one run was enough. In the bottom of the 10th, Glen Perkins retired the Tigers in order to complete the day's sweep. And so the Tigers remained one game behind the first-place White Sox.
Angels 4, White Sox 1: It was a good day for the Angels and Jered Weaver, as the former completed a three-game sweep to keep their wild-card hopes alive, and the latter improved his Cy Young chances, pitching 6⅓ innings and running his record to 19-4. The Angels did all their scoring in the sixth inning and they did it quickly; first Albert Pujols drove home Mike Trout and Vernon Wells with a double, and then Kendrys Morales hit a two-run homer, with all the runs coming against White Sox starter Gavin Floyd. The Sox picked up their lone run in the seventh, on Dayan Viciedo's sacrifice fly. That knocked Weaver out of the game, but the Angels' bullpen wasn't seriously rattled from there, and Ernesto Frieri came on in the ninth to record the contest's final out.
Rangers 3, Mariners 2: After losing two games in Seattle, the Rangers took a close one Sunday afternoon, and came just a step closer to clinching their third straight American League West title. All the scoring in this one came in two innings. In the top of the fourth, Mike Napoli hit a solo homer and, two batters later, Geovany Soto hit a two-run shot to give the the Rangers a 3-0 edge. In the bottom of the seventh, with Texas starter Ryan Dempster still on the mound, Eric Thames led off with a home run. After Dempster retired the next two M's, Brendan Ryan muscled up for a 418-foot homer to make it 3-2. The M's loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn't score. And in the bottom of the ninth, Michael Saunders got to second base but was stranded when Joe Nathan struck out Franklin Gutierrez for his 35th save.
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Rays 3, Blue Jays 0: After a rough stretch last week that dropped them well behind the wild-card contenders, the Rays shut out the Jays to complete a three-game sweep in which the Rays outscored the Jays 26-6. Sunday, Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson left in the sixth inning, but a quintet of relievers completed the team shutout, with Fernando Rodney earning his 45th save. The Rays got on the board early, when B.J. Upton hit his 26th home run in the bottom of the first inning. It was still 1-0 until the eighth, when Evan Longoria's two-run double made it 3-0. Which was more than enough for Rodney, whose scoreless ninth lowered his ERA to 0.64.
Up next: The Rays and Angels have Monday off, but the A's visit the Rangers for the start of a four-game series that will go a long way toward determining the winner of the West, and could do some real damage to Oakland's wild-card prospects. The Tigers begin a four-game series at home against the Royals, while the White Sox will host the woeful Indians in a four-game set. Speaking of woeful, the Yankees open a three-game road series against the Twins.