This week's edition of the Around the A.L.
By Roch Kubatko
Yankees-Rays Prize Fight
The New York Yankees weren’t giving up first place without a fight.
They found one at Tropicana Field.
They went 11 rounds with the Tampa Bay Rays Monday night in the first game of a crucial series in St. Petersburg. And it was Reid Brignac who delivered the knockout punch with a walk-off home run off Sergio Mitre.
Brignac’s blast broke a scoreless tie and moved the Rays a half-game ahead of New York in the AL East.
Tampa Bay improved to 87-56, the best record in baseball. The Yankees, losers of a season-high four straight, had the same record when the night began.
It’s hard to imagine the rest of the series living up to this game, which featured eight scoreless innings each by C.C. Sabathia and David Price.
Price retired 14 in a row after Derek Jeter singled in the first inning, and he held the Yankees to three hits. Sabathia again was denied his 20th win, but not for lack of effort or results, as he rationed the Rays to two singles and struck out nine.
“Frazier-Ali,” said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. “It was there. The Thrilla in Manila. It was all there.”
Brignac worked the count full leading off the 11th before reaching the seats in right field. He entered the game only after Carl Crawford was ejected. Otherwise, he probably wouldn’t have been hitting in that situation.
“It felt good off the bat,” he told reporters.
The night began with Tampa Bay holding a 7½ game lead over Boston and Chicago in the wild card race, but the Rays have a bigger goal in mind as the teams entered a stretch where they’ll meet seven times in 11 days.
The Yankees would like to be healthier. Outfielders Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner were missing from the lineup Monday night. Swisher is dealing with a bone bruise in his left knee that likely will lead to an MRI. Gardner received a cortisone injection in his sore right wrist after an MRI revealed some inflammation. Swisher grounded out as a pinch-hitter, and Gardner stole a base and was caught stealing third after entering the game as a pinch-runner.
Nice career move for Cramer
Bobby Cramer began this season pitching in the Mexican League, which actually was a step up in his baseball career, considering that he once worked as a substitute teacher.
At least he got to wear a uniform and stand on a mound.
Cramer did a lot more than that Monday afternoon, winning his major league debut with the Oakland Athletics. Cramer allowed one run and four hits in 5.1 innings in a 3-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Cramer, 30, began his professional career in Tampa Bay’s system in 2003, but he was out of baseball two years later. He was a high school math teacher and held a job in pipeline maintenance – putting him one up on Roy Halladay – before playing independent ball in 2008.
Earlier this year, Cramer went 13-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 22 games in Mexico after Oakland loaned his contract to Quintana Roo.
Kansas City’s only run off Cramer came on Mike Aviles’ first homer in four months.
“Just getting here was amazing in itself, but now that I’m here I want to pitch well,” Cramer told reporters. “I want to show everybody I can be up here. Going out and giving up a run today, giving us a chance to win is going to take a good step in that direction.”
Cramer is the oldest pitcher in A’s history to make his first major league start since Steve Gerkin on May 13, 1945. Gerkin pitched for the Philadelphia franchise.
The hits keep copming for Ichiro
Ichiro Suzuki is on the verge of adding a little more weight to his Hall of Fame credentials.
The Seattle Mariners’ outfielder carried a 13-game hitting streak into Monday’s game against the Boston Red Sox. More impressive, he was 14 hits shy of reaching 200 for the 10th time in 10 major league seasons.
That’ll get you into Cooperstown without standing in line.
The current record of 10 200-hit seasons is held by Pete Rose, who needed 17 seasons.
Hamilton still hurting
Memo to Rangers manager Ron Washington: When Josh Hamilton is dealing with a bad knee and periodic back spasms, it’s probably wise to keep him out of center field.
Hamilton crashed into the fence at Target Field while making a catch on Sept. 4 and suffered bruised ribs, proving again that there’s always room for one more injury. And he still hasn’t returned to the lineup
Hamilton compared the sensation to “being in a car wreck.” Breathing without pain was an issue.
“When I take a deep breath right now, I’ve got some knocking and cracking going on,” he said. “It’s nothing broken. It’s just muscular. If I get to the point where I can run and get the breathing in and out going, the rest of it should be OK .”
Hamilton had an MRI on Saturday that revealed only the bruising. X-rays also have come back negative, and Hamilton remained day-to-day.
Washington, by the way, won his 320th game on Saturday to pass current Orioles manager Buck Showalter for third place on the Rangers’ all-time list. Bobby Valentine (581) and Johnny Oates (506) rank first and second.
Bautista still bashing
Still trying to wrap my head around Jose Bautista’s home run output this season. It’s keeping me awake nights.
Bautista never hit more than 16 homers in a single season. He began Monday night with 46, seven more than runner-up Albert Pujols for the major league lead. Bautista also ranked first with 22 homers since the break, four more than Pujols, whose résumé suggests that he should be the one setting the pace instead of the journeyman and former Rule 5 pick.
Bautista led the majors with 56 home runs dating back to Sept. 1, 2009, a span of 172 games. Put another way, that was 11 more than Pujols.
The 46 bombs this season put Bautista one behind George Bell’s franchise record for a single season, set in 1987, and tied him with Jose Canseco (1998).
Around the horn
• Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis began Monday night needing two more doubles to become the third player in baseball history to accumulate 43 or more in four consecutive seasons. The others are Hall of Famers Joe Medwick (1935-39) and Tris Speaker (1920-23). Markakis is the first Oriole to reach the 40-double mark in four straight seasons.
• Oriole pitchers posted a 5.18 ERA before Showalter was named manager on Aug. 3. They posted a 3.58 ERA in their first 38 games under Showalter, the fourth-lowest mark in the league. If anyone can figure out a logical reason, please send it to Camden Yards.
• More Orioles: They were 0-12 vs. Toronto this season until winning, 4-3, in 11 innings Monday night. They avoided losing 13 in a row to the Blue Jays for the first time since April 11, 1999 to May 10, 2000.
• By remaining in Monday’s lineup, Vernon Wells passed Lloyd Moseby for most career games by an outfielder in Blue Jays history. Wells appeared in No. 1,350 to surpass Moseby. No on-field ceremony took place.
• Tigers infielder Carlos Guillen will undergo surgery on his left knee, which has nothing to do with the strained right calf that forced him on the disabled list until Aug. 9. The Tigers expect Guillen to make a full recovery for 2011.
• The Royals signed former West Virginia quarterback Pat White to a minor league contract. The Miami Dolphins drafted White in the second round in 2009 and he appeared in 13 games, rushing for 81 yards on 21 carries. The Angels chose White in the 27th round of the 2007 draft. The Reds took him in the 49th round in 2008, and the Yankees selected him in the 48th round last year. It was only a matter of time.
• The Red Sox selected the contract of once-promising left-hander Rich Hill from Triple-A Pawtucket. Hill went 11-7 with a 3.92 ERA with the Cubs in 2007. His career quickly went downhill, mostly due to health and control issues. Hill, a Boston native, signed as a minor league free agent on June 1 and went 3-1 with a 3.74 ERA in 19 games with Pawtucket.
• Rangers pitcher Tommy Hunter allowed one home run in his first 40.1 innings after being promoted from Triple-A. He gave up 19 homers in his next 65.2 innings before keeping the ball in the park on Saturday. He led the majors in homers allowed since the break with 17 in 63.2 innings.
• The Rangers have played four series this season at Minnesota, Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees, all playoff contenders, and were swept in all four. They went 0-3 at Tampa Bay and New York and 0-6 in two series at Minnesota. Wonder if that could be an issue with the Rangers likely to begin the postseason on the road.
• White Sox center fielder Alex Rios needs nine home runs to become the first player in franchise history with 30-30 status. His 33 stolen bases are a career high.
• Willie Bloomquist was a late scratch from the Royals lineup Monday, but not because of injury. He was traded to the Reds for a PTBNL or cash. Bloomquist was hitting .265 in 72 games. Hope he recognizes a pennant race.