These Pennant Races are for the Birds; Cardinals Delayed by the Cole train

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Two more division titles were clinched last night, leaving only the American League West undecided. The St. Louis Cardinals could have been first, but they were delayed by the Pirates’ dominant starter Gerrit Cole. In the afternoon half of a day-night doubleheader in Pittsburgh, Cole only allowed two runs in 7 innings as the Pirates beat the Cardinals 8-2. The game was never in doubt following a grand slam by Francisco Cervelli. Adam Wainwright appeared out of the Cardinals’ bull pen, his first appearance since April when he tore his achilles tendon-an injury that normally takes a full year to come back from.

While the Cards waited for their second game to start, the Toronto Bluejays took their first American League East pennant in 22 years, as they destroyed the Orioles 15-2 in the first game of their doubleheader in Baltimore. The Jays put up a pair in the second and fourth, added 4 more in the fifth and 2 in the 7th before adding an exclamation point with 5 in the visiting 9th. Their miracle man, Marcus Stroman pitched 8 innings giving up a run and five hits. He’s 4-0 this season,  not bad for a guy who tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament,) in his left knee during spring training and was told he wouldn’t pitch in 2015. Stroman, a Duke graduate and the son of a New York police detective will be a key figure in the upcoming Bluejays postseason.

The Cardinals got their chance a few hours later. They clinched their third NL Central division in a row by wiping out the Pirates 11-1 in the night half of their doubleheader. As good as Gerrit Cole had been in game 1, that’s how bad Charlie Morton was in the nightcap for the Pirates. He didn’t get a man out in the third inning, giving up five runs. Jason Heyward’s third-inning grand slam in effect finished the Pirates for the evening and gave the Cardinals their 100th win. Tyler Lyons gave up 4 hits, walked nobody with 5 strikeouts in 7 innings for the winners. The unheralded lefty from Oklahoma State is 3-1 now, and with Carlos Martinez injured and out for the year,  and with Wainwright’s availability uncertain the Cardinals will need every man jack  who can pitch once their postseason starts. Lyons was excluded from their 2013 playoff roster but that seems impossible to do now.

No Brotherly Love in Philly

Philadelphia is called the city of brotherly love. This is more than just  a slogan, it is the literal name for the city in Greek-“Phileo,” to love, and “adelphos,” brother. William Penn hung the name on the city. There’s no telling why it has been through the years the birth place of so many great boxers, the scene of many famous boxing matches and a city known for the unkindness of its sports fans. Last night was another one of those games that seem to happen in Philadelphia, particularly when the Mets are in town. It should have been a fairly typical game between a pennant winner and a team trying not to lose 100 games for the first time since the Kennedy administration. Phillies starter Alec Asher gave up a 3-run home run to Daniel Murphy and a 2-run shot to Michael Conforto, and left with two out in the very first inning. The Mets should have cruised from there. But things turned nasty two innings later. From nowhere at all, Yoenis Cespedes was struck on his left hand by a pitch from Justin De Fratus and had to leave with what turned out to be bruises to his middle and ring finger. Mets fans were terrified it could have been much worse. Then pitcher Adam Loewen hit Kirk Nieuwinhuis with a pitch in the fifth. In the last of the fifth it appeared the Mets struck back. Odubal Herrera was hit with a pitch. Warnings were issued. After a walk, Mets’ manager Terry Collins jumped the gun and pulled his starter Logan Verett who was doing well enough, particularly against a last-place ball club. After Eric Goeddel got one man out, Jonathan Niese came in and gave up a run making it 5-3 Mets. Rather than keep Niese, a former starter, on the mound to take care of some innings Collins returned to his bull pen for Hansel Robles. He retired one man, then was ejected with his manager for throwing one near the head of Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp, who has owned Mets pitching all season. Rupp started yelling because the pitch was a “quick pitch,” a legal move Robles uses to good effect. He had used it the last time the Mets were in Philly against hitter Darrin Ruf who was no happier about it than Rupp was last night. While the benches cleared,   there was no  brawl as umpire Bob Davidson instantly ejected Robles and Collins. While nobody else was hit by a pitch the baseball ugliness continued. Bobby Parnell replaced Robles and gave up the Mets’ early lead by allowing a two-run single by Freddie Galvis. Carlos Torres came in and threw 2 wild pitches allowing the go-ahead run to score. The final run scored in the 8th on yet another wild pitch, this one by Tyler Clippard. The Mets have a lot to worry about besides the injury to Cespedes as they get set for today’s game, which was moved up to Noon as bad weather approaches the Philadelphia area. Wilmer Flores left last night’s game early with back spasms, and today’s starter Stephen Matz can’t go because of his second back injury since being called up in May. The

Mets will need every minute of rest they can get in order to have their players healthy before they face the Dodgers in the NLDS.

Happy Birthday

The Los Angeles Dodgers hitting coach is 52-my age-today. He was an All-Star a dozen times over. He led his team to a World Series title and coached with another World Series winner. He put up 583 home runs. He led his league in home runs 5 times. But the odds are heavily against him ever seeing Cooperstown without buying a ticket because of steroid use. Happy Birthday, Mark McGwire.

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