It’s been a long time now since I used to wile away sleepless nights playing online poker. When I did, I knew 3 jacks wasn’t a hand you could trust to win. But in baseball, 3 jacks in 3 cities brought joy to some and heartbreak to other baseball fans. A jack is baseball player slang for a home run. So is a bomb. Pitching coaches have a phrase for a home run that I can’t put in a family column. Last night, in Toronto, New York and Washington, late-inning jacks were hit that decided the games.
We’ll start north of the border. With the score 1-0 Toronto in the last of the 7th, former Yankee catcher Russell Martin launched a 3-run home run which provided the winning margin, 4-0. Joe Girardi has to take the heat for this loss. He took out starter Ivan Nova who was cruising along with two out in the sixth, after a walk to Martin. The bull pen took over and promptly allowed the base runner to score by giving up two hits. An inning later came Martin’s home run off Andrew Bailey and the game was gone, along with the Yankees’ chances of winning the division. They probably will back into a wild card, but that hasn’t been satisfactory for Yankee fans since the first wild card they took in 1995. If they do claim the top wild card spot they would face either Houston or the Angels at the new Yankee Stadium, and I can’t name one starting pitcher they have who I would trust to win one game with everything on the line. Whoever starts, Girardi can’t pull him as quickly as he pulled Nova last night given the battered state of the Yankee bull pen in recent weeks. I’d like to hope James Pazos, Caleb Cotham and Andrew Bailey, the 3 relievers who worked last night, will be polishing their golf game the first week of October, leaving bull pen duties to the likes of Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. However, between the damaged state of the starting rotation and Girardi’s propensity for the quick hook, he will need all the warm bodies he can get in the bull pen when the playoffs start.
In New York, it was Freddie Freeman’s 3-run 9th-inning home run breaking open a tie game and giving the Braves a 6-3 win over the Mets. Had the Mets executed early on, Freeman might never have hit in a clutch situation. Daniel Murphy launched a home run in the first, making it 1-0 Mets. The home team could have put the game away early in the second. Ruben Tejada singled home Lucas Duda with Travis D’Arnaud to third. Two on, one out. Oddly, instead of trying for a scoring fly ball and his fifth RBI of the season, pitcher Bartolo Colon sacrificed Tejada to second. Second and third, two out, leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson up. A hit here and the Braves, already sporting 91 losses on their record might have mailed this game in. But Granderson fouled out. From there Atlanta starter Williams Perez was on his game. No Met scored until the 7th. By then the Mets were behind 3-2. In the top of the inning with the bases loaded, Addison Reed relieved Bartolo Colon. Michael Bourn singled a run home and Freddie Freeman as a pinch-hitter doubled home two more to make it 3-2 visitors. David Wright tied it with an RBI single in the 7th, setting the stage for Freeman’s game-winning shot in the top of the 9th. As a result, the Mets finished their home stand 3-6 against two of baseball’s worst teams, the Marlins and Braves. For Mets fans the ghosts of 2007 and 2008 are rattling their chains. The rattling can barely be heard now, but a few more losses in Cincinnati and Philadelphia and instead of seeing the ghost of Jacob Marley Mets fans will be seeing the ghost of Willie Randolph whose head rolled after those two disastrous finishes.
Washington had a chance to draw a game closer to the Mets, but didn’t capitalize thanks to the third game-changing jack of the evening. With the Nationals ahead 3-2 at home in the top of the 7th, J. J. Hardy doubled, and with two outs Manny Machado unloaded a mighty home run to dead center field to swing the game Baltimore’s way, 4-3. That was the final score. The Nats remain 6 and a half games behind the Mets in spite of the Mets’ poor play on their home stand which closed last night. By the time the Mets start tonight’s game in Cincinnati, the Nationals’ game against the Orioles should be nearly over, so the Mets will know if their task is just to stay where they are or possibly to add another game to their division lead. The magic number is 5. If that isn’t reached by the time the Mets leave Philadelphia, the often cynical Mets public will be in full panic mood. But that’s just baseball as I see it.0