The Mariners completed a dramatic four-game sweep of the reeling Rangers last night with a 7-6 victory at the Kingdome and ushered themselves back into an American League West race that appeared to be all but over just days ago.
The Rangers held a nine-game lead over Seattle on Sept. 11, but it has been shaved to just two games. If the Mariners end up winning the division, the comeback would be even more dramatic than the one they pulled off last year, when they rallied from 12 1/2 games out in the second half to overtake the California Angels.
No one can quibble about an uneven schedule the rest of the way. The Rangers play seven games against the Angels and two against the Oakland Athletics. The Mariners play seven against the A's and three against the Angels, with a possible makeup game at home against Cleveland on Sept. 30 if the issue is not decided.
It's just a question of how each team responds to what happened this week. The law of averages says that the Rangers can't stay in a slump forever and the Mariners can't win them all, but the four-game sweep had to be devastating to a Texas club that may have lost its edge when it seemed as if the division title was a foregone conclusion.
The Rangers still have a two-game lead, which means that they can go 5-4 the rest of the way against mediocre competition and force the Mariners to win eight of their last 11 just to tie. They just have to remember how they got here.
Dodgers strike first
It would have been a delicious irony -- Fernando Valenzuela dispensing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first game of their huge four-game divisional showdown against the San Diego Padres -- but it wasn't to be.
Valenzuela has had an outstanding season, but he went down hard last night at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, the 7-0 loss giving the Dodgers a 1 1/2 -game lead over the Padres with six more head-to-head games over the final 10 days. The loss also dropped San Diego percentage points behind the Montreal Expos in the wild-card derby.
The Dodgers remain on a roll. The victory was their 28th in 38 games. Ramon Martinez also is rolling. He has won six straight decisions. Valenzuela used to be on a roll. He had not lost since July 14, but turned in his shortest start in his two years with the Padres, lasting 1 2/3 innings.
Valenzuela was bidding for his ninth consecutive victory, which would have equaled the career high he set with the Dodgers in 1985. He'll get one more shot at his old teammates next weekend, probably on the final day of the regular season.
Good news, bad news
The good news is that Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens looked like his old self when he struck out 20 Detroit Tigers to tie his own major-league record on Wednesday night. If he could have gotten one more breaking ball past strikeout-prone Tony Clark in the ninth inning, he would have had a chance to break the record when he ended the game with his final strikeout.
The bad news is that he may face the Orioles on Tuesday at Fenway Park in his next scheduled start. Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy is toying with the idea of sending Clemens to the mound against the Yankees on three days' rest Sunday night, but look for him to reconsider. Since Clemens threw 151 pitches on Wednesday, it would make more sense to pitch him against the Orioles on five days' rest.
There is one good reason to pitch Clemens short. If he throws Sunday, he could pitch two more times during the regular season -- Thursday against the Yankees and in a one-game playoff for the wild-card berth on the following Monday. But the possibility of the Red Sox forcing a wild-card playoff seems remote, even though they have won their last four games.
They'll have to earn it
The Montreal Expos moved to the front of the wild-card race with their 5-1 victory over the Braves last night. They lead the Padres by percentage points, but still figure to slip back over the next few days.
The Expos still have four games remaining in a five-game series against the first-place Braves at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. They must go 3-2 to assure that they gain on someone, but seem more likely to lose ground to the field if the Dodgers and Padres split their four-game set.
Pub Date: 9/20/96