? First-place Yankees. I didn’t think I would say that again this year. But the Yanks are back atop the American League East for the first time in 66 days after Randy Johnson undressed the Orioles on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, Yankee-killer Jonny Gomes’ two-run triple keyed a five-run eighth inning as the Devil Rays overcame a two-run deficit in the eighth inning to knock off the Sox, 7-4.
This race is far from over. But the Yankees are playing inspired, gritty ball. In fact, they are playing like last year’s Red Sox. Meanwhile, except for AL MVP candidate David Ortiz, it looks like the Sox are just going through the motions.
Yes, the Yankees are supposed to win because of their enormous payroll. But over the last few years, the Yanks looked like overpriced robots on the field. They lacked the heart that the 1996, 1998-2001 teams displayed. Well, the 2005 edition has a fire in its belly. Last year finished in horrible fashion. They don’t want that to happen this season.
The Yankees have 11 games left, while the Sox have 10 to play. The division will be on the line next weekend when the two clubs collide at Fenway Park.
? The Big Unit was marvelous, taking a no-hitter in the fifth. He gave up one run on three hits over eight innings, and struck out six. The top of the lineup struggled mightily — A-Rod struck out three times — but surprise starter Matt Lawton came through with a two-run homer.
The Unit has driven me crazy this summer, but he’s getting the job done in September (2-0, 2.74 ERA).
? What the Foulke is up with the Sox? I don’t understand why he wasn’t out there tonight on the mound. Instead, Mike Timlin allowed three runs in the eighth inning and spoiled Tim Wakefield’s bid for his 16th win.
? Speaking of stinkin’ Sox: The Indians are going to win the AL Central. Travis Hafner ripped two dingers Wednesday as the Tribe rolled to a series-clinching 8-0 win. The teams meet again next weekend at The Jake.
? Things don’t get any better for the Pale Hose on Thursday as they face Johan Santana — who is 4-0 with an ERA of 0.89 against them this year. Meanwhile, the Indians head to KC.
? Does anyone want to win the NL Cy Young Award? A day after Dontrelle Willis blew an opportunity at win No. 22, Chris Carpenter pitched like Ken Carpenter. The Cards ace turned in his shortest outing since April 10 as he lasted only four innings and allowed four runs in a 7-4 loss to the Cubs. Carpenter did not figure in the decision, but the Cardinals lost a game started by their ace for the first time since June 8.
A St. Louis rally in the fifth inning got Carpenter off the hook and allowed his 13-game winning streak to stay intact. St. Louis had won Carpenter’s previous 17 starts.
? Barry Bonds now needs 10 homers to tie the Bambino for second on the all-time list. Bonds smashed homer No. 705 into McCovey Cove on Sunday for his first splash shot of the season, and the 32nd of his career. I think Bonds has an outstanding chance of at leasting tying the Babe this year. The Giants head to the RFK Launching Pad in D.C. to face the Nationals…
? Who are done in my opinion. The Nats lost back-to-back heartbreakers this weekend against the Padres. Saturday, they lost on Ramon Hernandez’s walk-off homer. This, of course, came after my man Khalil Greene hit a two-out, game-tying slam off closer Chad Cordero in the ninth. Sunday, Joey Eischen threw away Dave Roberts’ bunt in the bottom of the ninth, allowing Miguel Olivo to score from second base as the Padres beat the Nats, 2-1.
? The Yanks blew a golden opportunity Sunday. They could have gained ground on the Sox, but didn’t after losing in Toronto, 6-5. Jaret Wright took the loss, allowing four runs in 2 1/3 innings before being removed from the game with an elbow injury after being hit by a broken bat. Wright’s snakebitten this month. He was drilled in the neck by a line drive in Seattle on Sept. 1.
? Cleveland’s win over Kansas City also dropped the Yanks 1 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race.
? The Indians are amazing. They have won five straight, and now head to Chicago for a frickin’ huge three-game set against the White Sox. On Aug. 1, the White Sox held a 15-game lead over the Indians in the AL Central. Since then, the Tribe has gone an MLB-best 32-11 to shave the Sox lead to 3 1/2. Cleveland is 13-3 this month.
? I have a tough night ahead Monday, watching the Yankees and New York Football Giants at the same time — along with doing my job.
? The Marlins looked like a shoo-in for the National League Wild Card after taking the first two of a four-game series against the Astros this week. Since then, they have lost four straight, including Saturday’s crushing 10-2 loss against the Phillies.
Through eight innings, Dontrelle Willis was rolling along, on pace to become baseball’s first 22-game winner. But it came crashing down on the D-Train in the ninth. The Phils sent 15 batters to the plate, and scored 10 runs on eight hits and four Marlins errors.
The Marlins now sit 2 1/2 games back in the NL Wild Card race, with Houston leading the way. The Phillies are a half-game back.
? We may be witnessing the biggest collapse in baseball history. On Aug. 1, the White Sox led the Indians by 15 games in the American League Central. That lead is now down to 3 1/2 after Johan Santana smoked the Pale Hose, and the Indians beat the Royals. Santana struck out 13 batters, then Joe Nathan fanned the side in the ninth.
The Indians and White Sox begin a crucial three-game series on Monday, and if the White Sox lose from here on in, the Tribe will lead the AL Central on Thursday morning.
? Indians GM Mark Shapiro did a great job of fleecing the Expos in the Bartolo Colon deal. Cliff Lee is 17-4, and Grady Sizemore is batting .291 with 20 taters and 77 ribeyes.
? The Tribe have won four straight and nine of 10, negating the Yankees’ hot week. New York has won six straight and eight of 10. Shawn Chacon gave the Yankees’ tired bullpen a much-needed rest by pitching eight innings in New York’s 1-0 victory over the Blue Jays on Saturday.
? AL MVP watch: A-Rod went 0-for-4 and struck out thrice, while Big Papi went 1-for-4. A-Rod did start a sick DP to end Saturday’s game.
? The A’s have fallen, and they may not get up. They trail the Tribe by five games in the Wild Card race, and are two behind the Angels in the AL West standings. I am guessing the A’s are really missing Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson right now.
? Saw "The Aristocrats" with my wife on Saturday. The "joke" stinks. The movie wasn’t all that, but Bob Saget did make me laugh my coolie off.
? Yawn, the Cardinals clinched the NL Central — and in front of the Cubs’ faithful. Ouch, that’s got hurt Cubbie fans.
? I am still sticking with my Red Sox-Marlins World Series prediction, but it sure looks like the NL playoffs will be dubbed the Cardinal Invitational.
? Wait to go, cousin Hank: Blalock’s RBI double with one out in the bottom of the ninth lifted the Rangers to a 7-6 victory over the Mariners on Saturday night.
It’s not every day you see a hulking slugger with 41 taters and 127 RBIs try to lay down a bunt.
But it happened Tuesday night as David Ortiz made the attempt in the first inning against the Blue Jays. Ortiz would walk, then he homered in the sixth.
? Just when it looked like Chris Carpenter was going to roll away with the National League Cy Young Award, Dontrelle Willis swooped in Monday night to lay his claim to the hardware. The D-Train did it all in an 8-2 win over the Astros. He won his sixth straight start, pitching his seventh complete game of the year. He hit his first tater of the year, a monstrous two-run homer. And he gave the dangerous Marlins the NL Wild Card lead.
I still think Carpenter gets the nod, but Willis is having an MVP-type season. Too bad the NL has a bevy of candidates in Andruw Jones, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.
? How many times am I going to say this: David Ortiz is the clutchest player in baseball. Every time the Red Sox need a big hit, Big Papi delivers. Ortiz homered twice Monday, including an 11th-inning shot that lifted Boston past the Jays, 6-5. Big Papi may just get the AL MVP Award over A-Rod.
? Barry’s back. Making his 2005 debut for the Giants, Barry Bonds went 1-for-4 with a run scored in Monday’s 4-3 win over the Padres. Bonds nearly homered in his first at-bat, but a fan reached below the wall to snare the ball, and it was called a ground-rule double. The dumb fan got tossed for the move.
? “Reunion” on FOX is my new guilty pleasure of the fall season.
? I rolled to wins in both of my Fantasy Football Leagues this weekend.
? What an amazing sports day for me. The Yankees edged the Red Sox in one of the best games of the year; the Giants destroyed the Cardinals; I took my boss behind the woodshed in the MLBAM Fantasy Football League; and I hold a slight lead over fellow MLBlogger Dan Rivkin in the Bullpen League. Life is good.
? Randy Johnson wore the big-boy pants on Sunday. His slider was dancing all day long, and the Red Sox looked clueless at the plate. He allowed one hit in seven innings, striking out eight and outdueling Tim Wakefield, who gave up just three hits over eight innings. Wake was up to the challenge, striking out 12.
Wake, though, made one bad pitch — a curveball that Jason Giambi short-porched in the first inning for the game’s only run. It was Giambi’s 29th homer of the season and his second in the last two games. The guy is having an amazing season. He deserves the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
? I am trying not to get too excited about the New York Football Giants, but they looked awfully good against the Cardinals. Eli Manning turned in a pedestrian performance (10-of-23 for 172 yards), but his 13-yard toss to Plaxico Burress in the fourth quarter was sweet. Burress looked good in his Giant debut, as did bruising rookie back Brandon Jacobs. The D came to play for the G-Men. I love Antonio Pierce. I may have to get his jersey.
? Back to baseball. Those pesky Indians won’t fold. They’ve won seven straight, and pretty much ended the Twins’ season on Sunday night. Grady Sizemore is unbelievable. The kid went 3-for-4 with three runs and three RBIs, and made a ridiculous catch in center. Watch the catch >
? The Indians still might catch the White Sox in the American League Central. They are 5 1/2 games out, and the rest of their schedule isn’t that difficult:
Sept. 12-14 vs. Oakland; Sept. 16-18 vs. Kansas City; Sept. 19-21 at Chicago White Sox; Sept. 22-25 at Kansas City; Sept. 27-29 vs. Tampa Bay; Sept. 30-Oct. 2 vs. Chicago White Sox
? The A’s lost to the Rangers on Sunday , but that didn’t stop Oakland from hazing its rookies. Closer Huston Street (right) — who might just be the American League Rookie of the Year — was forced to look like Lita Ford. Fellow rooks Nick Swisher dressed as an electrical plug, Joe Blanton was an electrical outlet and Dan Johnson dressed as a mustard container.
? Albert Pujols is going to miss out on the NL MVP Award again. Andruw Jones is looking like the frontrunner, have crushing Nos. 48 and 49 on Sunday. Pujols’ batting average, though, is keeping him in the race.
? Barry Bonds will be starting in left field Monday night against the Padres at SBC Park and batting fourth in his first game back after months of rehab on his surgically repaired right knee.
? Two series with Wild Card implications begin on Monday: A’s face the Indians and the Marlins meet the Astros. Dontrelle Willis goes after his 21st win in the latter.
? Is anyone else sick of Chris Berman’s shtick on ESPN’s Primetime? I sure am. It’s getting old Boomer.
• I am getting pretty sick and tired of curtain calls. It seems like every day at Yankee Stadium — except Saturday of course — a player gets a curtain call for hitting a homer. Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan got a curtain call from the Busch Stadium crowd Saturday after homering — in the third inning. What if he stunk the rest of the way on the mound? He wouldn’t have deserved a curtain call.
• There’s a nice day of sports on tap Sunday. The NFL gets officially under way; Andre Agassi faces Roger Federer in the U.S. Open Final; and of course, there’s ton of baseball. I am planning on waking up early to watch the Jets, Yankees and my New York Football Giants before I get into the office.
• Managing two Fantasy football teams is going to drive me crazy. I own Marc Bulger and Terrell Ownes in my big-money league, and then have to play them in my other league.
• I finally got to see “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” on Thursday, and I wasn’t that impressed. Sure, it was funny, but it’s definitely not better than “Wedding Crashers.”
• Speaking for movies, I got to see two of my all-time favorites, “Trading Places” and “Field of Dreams” for the umpteenth time this weekend. I can’t get enough of either movie. “Places,” which is Eddie Murphy’s second film appearance, is the comedian’s best. And Kevin Costner’s turn in “Dreams” is his second-best, next to “Bull Durham.”
• After losses on Saturday, it’s pretty much over for the Twins, Nationals, Brewers and Mets. The Mets really crashed and burn this week, losing six straight. Pedro looks to end the skid on Sunday.
• Typical Curt Schilling: After struggling since his return to the Red Sox rotation, motormouth put together what was easily his best performance since Game 2 of the 2004 World Series. Seems like Schilling always saves his best for the Yankees.
• I sure miss Andy Pettitte. The former Yankee reached the 15-win plateau for the seventh time in his career, allowing three runs and five hits through 6 2/3 innings for a 9-2 win over the Brewers on Saturday.
Pettitte’s 2.48 ERA is good for the third in the National League.
My colleague, Larry McFarland, asked me today, “So, must-win Sunday for Yankees?”
I turned, gave him a steely glare and said, “Yes it is.”
I don’t care what anyone says: It’s a must-win in Yankeeland on Sunday. Randy Johnson must turn in a vintage performance against the Red Sox, or the Yankees can forget about the AL East — and maybe even the Wild Card.
Johnson, who turned 42 on Saturday, seeks his fourth victory in five starts against the Red Sox this year. This is the kind of the game the Big Unit is paid to win.
Tim Wakefield, who’s 1-2 this year with a 3.58 ERA against the Yankees, gets the call for Boston. The record, though, shouldn’t matter because Wakefield is rolling right now.
The Yankees need to come out and get some runs early. They need to pressure Wakefield from the onset. If he gets into a groove, game over.
And season over.
Forget Dontrelle Willis. Forget Roger Clemens. The NL Cy Young race is over.
Chris Carpenter aced his final exam in Houston on Saturday night, becoming baseball’s first 20-game winner this year as St. Louis beat Clemens and the Astros, 4-2. Carpenter went the distance for an MLB-leading seventh time while winning his 12th straight decision.
Carpenter gave up two runs on eight hits, walking two and striking out eight. He is 12-0 with 1.44 ERA in his last 14 starts with three shutouts and six complete games.
Carp is having a mindboggling season. He’s had quality starts in 26 of 28 outings, including his last 21 in a row. He’s 12-0 against National League Central teams. He’s unbeaten on the road. He reached 20 victories in just 28 starts, faster than any Cardinal pitcher since Dizzy Dean in 1934.
The Cardinals have won 24 of the right-hander’s 28 starts. He leads the league in wins, innings, complete games and winning percentage. He’s second in ERA and strikeouts. He is the first NL pitcher to win 10 straight road games since Hall of Famer Bob Gibson won 12 in 1970 and the first NL pitcher since Houston’s Mike Scott in 1986 to have 20 consecutive quality starts.
I hope Carpenter is a unanimous selection for the Cy Young Award. He definitely deserves it. Willis and Clemens have had nice seasons, but Carp’s season is off the chain.
? It’s about that time, where bullpens are absolutely gassed. Brendan Donnelly, Chad Cordero and Joe Nathan all blew saves on Saturday night.
Luckily, for Cordero and Nathan, the Twins and Nationals won in their last at-bat. Juan Castro scored on an error in the ninth as the Twins topped the Indians, 3-2. And Preston Wilson’s RBI single in the 12th pushed D.C. past the Phillies, 5-4.
? Nathan’s blown save ruined Johan Santana’s sick start. Santana retired the first 13 Indians he faced, and I thought for sure he was going to get the perfect game. But Victor Martinez broke it up in the fifth with a much-deserved single after an exhausting at-bat. Not sure why Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire pulled Santana after eight innings and 100 pitches. He should have let Johan finish what he started.
? Cordero’s running on fumes. He gave up three straight hits to open the ninth, including back-to-back jacks by Ryan Howard and David Bell. If the Nats lost Saturday, put a fork in them. Instead, they came through in the 12th and are still in the Wild Card hunt, three games behind Philly.
? Donnelly wasn’t as lucky as the Angels lost to the Mariners, 6-3. He gave up the game-tying run — ruining Jarod Washburn’s quality start — and then the Mariners bopped Scot Shields for three runs. The Angels bullpen is running on empty, and I think it’s going to cost them a playoff spot.
? Speaking of blown saves: Shingo Takatsu made his Mets debut on Saturday night, and picked up right where he left off with the White Sox. Senor Zero came in with the bases loaded in the seventh, and gave up a three-run double to Miguel Cabrera. That ended up being the difference for the Marlins, who beat the un-Amazins’, 5-4. The comeback gave Trader Jack McKeon 1,000 career managerial wins.
? The Red Sox are just four games behind the White Sox for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Considering how good the Red Sox are at home, the home-field advantage would make them a prohibitive favorite in the postseason — if they get there.
The BoSox won for the 20th time in their last 22 games Saturday, outlasting the Orioles, 7-6. Matt Clement turned in his fifth consecutive strong outing, making his July slump seem distant. The right-hander held the Orioles to six hits and two earned runs over eight gritty — albeit unspectacular — innings. He improved his record to 12-3, and the Red Sox are 20-7 in his 27 starts.