James Shields #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws a two hitter during the game against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images)
James Shields wasn't the only Ray with a big Sunday; his teammate B.J. Upton hit three home runs as the Rays topped the Rangers. There was plenty more pennant-race drama in the American League, and it's all here.
Nothing was really settled this weekend, at all. But however improbably, we've now competitive races in all three divisions, and eight teams fighting like hell for four playoff spots. Yeah ... there are 14 teams in the American League, and eight of them are within two games of a postseason berth. Here's what happened yesterday ...
Yankees 13, Orioles 3: The Yankees recently lost sole possession of first place. But with their blowout of the Orioles on Sunday afternoon, they avoided being in second place for the first time since the second week of June. Sunday's big star was Curtis Granderson ... which would have seemed particularly unlikely when the game began, since Granderson wasn't in the Yankees starting lineup, due to his recently slump. But he entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning, hit a home run, and finished with three hits and five RBI (tying his career high).
Rays 6, Rangers 0: Good luck choosing your Star of the Game. One solid choice would be James Shields, who pitched a two-hit shutout, with eight strikeouts. But another fine choice would be B.J. Upton, who hit three home runs (one off Texas starter Roy Oswalt, two off reliever Martin Perez). Obviously, the Rays probably would have without either of them, and the combination was simply unbeatable. With the Rays taking two of three games in the series, they remained in the thick of both the A.L. East and the Wild Card standings. Meanwhile, the Rangers' have seen their lead over the second-place Athletics in the West shrink to only 3½ games.
Royals 2, White Sox 0: Like the first-place Rangers, the first-place White Sox lost two of three over the weekend. But it was worse for the White Sox, because their lead was/is smaller, they were playing at home, and they were playing a non-contender. None of which mattered. Kansas City's Jeremy Guthrie continued his great run, with eight scoreless innings. ChiSox starter Hector Santiago and a pair of relievers matched Guthrie's zeroes, though, and eventually the clubs went to a 10th inning. And with two outs, Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur both rapped run-scoring singles off Brett Myers. In the bottom of the 10th, Royals closer Greg Holland got into a serious jam and gave up a run, but wriggled out by striking out both Alejandro De Aza and Ray Olmedo with runners on second and third to end the game.*
* Someday, historians might wonder why Ray Olmedo wasn't lifted for a better hitter.
Angels 3, Tigers 2: After a rough stretch upon joining the Angels, Zack Greinke has now turned in four straight solid -- not overpowering, but solid -- starts, and Sunday he went seven innings against Detroit and gave up only two runs. The Tigers did mount a threat in the ninth, but Angels closer Ernesto Frieri struck out Prince Fielder and Delmon Young, and finally ended the game with Joel Peralta's routine ground-out. On the side of the ledger, Alberto Callaspo's two-run homer in the bottom of the second made the score 3-0. It was all the Angels would get, and all they would need.
Athletics 4, Seattle 2: The A's made it three straight over the M's, thanks to yet another fine performance by one of Oakland's starting pitchers. Friday, it was rookie A.J. Griffin. Saturday, it was recently activated Brett Anderson. And Sunday, it was rookie Tom Milone, who gave up just one run in six innings and tied his career high with 10 strikeouts. Seattle's Jason Vargas pitched well, too ... except for Johnny Gomes' three-run homer in the fifth inning. In the ninth, Josh Donaldson gave the A's just a bit of breathing room with a solo shot. Grant Balfour held the Mariners scoreless in the bottom of that inning, earning his 16th save.
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Next Up: Monday, the Yankees, Orioles, and Rays are all idle. But otherwise it's a really good time for following American League contenders. Really good, as the Tigers begin a four-game series against the White Sox in Chicago with first place on the line, and the A's visit the Angels to begin a four-game set. For the A's, it's a chance for some serious revenge; just last week they hosted the Angels for three games and were swept.