MLB Playoff Race: Oakland Beats Back LA Angels

Everything was all set up for the Los Angeles Angels to make one final push in the MLB playoff race.  The talented big-budget team with the enigmatic bullpen was on a roll and a four-game home series with wild-card leading Oakland was just the ticket to get themselves into the lead for one of the two spots in the first-ever American League wild-card game. But the Angels again seem intent on turning Michael Corleone’s quote from Godfather III on its head, in that every time we think they’re in, they pull themselves back out.

Oakland won its third straight game in this series, and sixth overall, as A.J. Griffin tossed eight shutout innings in leading the way to a 4-1 win. Los Angeles got its lone run in the ninth when Albert Pujols, 2-for-12 with two singles in the series coming into the inning, hit a solo home run. Pujols is apparently doing his best A-Rod impersonation in padding his stats when the game is decided. Meanwhile Oakland got hits from eight different players, including two from hot leadoff man Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes homered for the second straight day. The Angels are now 3.5 games back of catching the AL East runner-up for the wild-card slot and throw Jered Weaver into today’s desperation matinee finale. As for Oakland, they are now five up for a wild-card slot and can focus their attention on division-leading Texas, who kept its three-game margin in beating Cleveland.

In the AL East, the Orioles and Yankees created a little space between themselves at Tampa. New York survived a 5-4 game in Boston thanks to some bounceback efforts. Curtis Granderson has awakened from a recent slump and hit two home runs. And the starting pitching, a big issue for New York right now, got some help from David Phelps who pitched 5 2/3 and gave up one run, before the bullpen made it interesting at the end. The Yanks overcame a three-hit night from Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalmacchia who tripled into the triangle (need we even say that the ball went to the deepest part of Fenway if noting that a catcher hit a triple) and homered in the ninth to cut the lead to one run.

Meanwhile the miracle Orioles beat Tampa 3-2. It’s not that Baltimore scored the winning run in the ninth that makes it all so magical. It’s that the Rays managed to lose a low-scoring game where they got nine hits, seven walks and a first-inning home run by B.J. Upton. One would think they’d trip their way into three or four runs. Apparently not, and Tampa now trails its AL East rivals by three games. Both AL East series conclude tonight, Rays-Orioles with a 12:30 PM ET matinee and the Yanks-Sox tonight.

Detroit has put themselves in a perfect position heading into tonight’s finale of their four-game series in Chicago. Their 8-6 win yesterday ensured at least a split on the road and Justin Verlander’s on the mound tonight. Everyone in the lineup hit, including Prince Fielder, who had been quiet in this series until his three-run jack in the fifth busted the game open. Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson each delivered three hits apiece. Detroit was cruising until Kevin Youkilis, who drove in four runs, hit a home run that was part of an eighth-inning rally and then Tiger closer Jose Valverede continued his usual routine of making closing a game far more interesting than it needs to be.

The American League has the primary focus this week at TheSportsNotebook with the Tigers-White Sox, Orioles-Rays and A’s-Angels all going down. Tomorrow we’re going to look more in depth at a National League wild-card race that, for the second straight year, is taking on an unbelievable storyline in September. With three teams, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh vying for the second wild-card, the possibility of a longshot seemed like…well, like a longshot. All three teams have slumped, including losses last night for each, the Brewers and Phillies are red-hot and suddenly the latter two teams are over .500 and within three games of a playoff berth. More on the National League race in this space tomorrow.