The New York Yankees appeared to be in the midst of a full-fledged letdown yesterday. They fell behind the Boston Red Sox by five runs after losing the series opener the night before, and looked as though they were trying to keep hope alive in Baltimore.
Instead, they staged a comeback that the big-inning Orioles would have been proud of and salvaged a 12-11 victory in extra innings that carried them a giant step closer to the American League East title.
Why was yesterday's win so important? Because it effectively ended any real hope of the Red Sox staging a dramatic Mariners-like comeback during the final days of the season. They fell eight games behind the Yankees with eight to go, six of them head-to-head with the division leaders. Boston still can compete for the AL wild-card berth, but the discouraging loss left them four behind the Orioles with the clock running down.
That might not seem insurmountable -- especially with head-to-head games against the Orioles on Tuesday and Wednesday at Fenway Park -- but they also have to get past the White Sox and the streaking Mariners.
Seattle plays all the rest of its games against the floundering Oakland Athletics and California Angels, while the Red Sox play all of theirs against the Yankees and Orioles. Just doesn't seem fair, does it?
Factor in how deflating yesterday's loss had to be and it might be time to stick a fork in the defending division champions, who made a valiant effort to recover from their 6-19 start and salvage some excitement for their fans.
"I'd rather get beat 25-1 than lose like this," Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn said after the game.
The victory cut the Yankees' magic number to five and put them in position to clinch the division before they go to Boston for a season-ending four-game series.
How the West is being won
The San Diego Padres find themselves in an urgent situation today, needing to split their four-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers to keep from falling 2 1/2 games back with just five games left to play.
The Dodgers scored seven runs in the fifth inning yesterday to trounce the Padres, 9-2, in the third of seven head-to-head meetings over the final 10 days of the season. Hideo Nomo, fresh off a no-hitter in Colorado, will start today's series finale against Andy Ashby.
San Diego is two down in the dreaded loss column with two games to play against the Rockies before they head to Dodger Stadium for what the Padres hope will be a showdown for the division title. But if they lose today, the Dodgers can make it academic by gaining another game during their midweek series with the San Francisco Giants.
Just to be safe, Dodgers manager Bill Russell moved up Ramon Martinez's next start to Tuesday so that he'll be available next Sunday if the game is meaningful.
If you have to play the Padres seven times in 10 days, shouldn't you be entitled to frequent friar points?
No doubting Thomas, but
MVP candidate Frank Thomas continued his amazing September streak -- hitting his 10th home run in 11 games yesterday -- but he struck out in a critical situation in the seventh inning and the White Sox suffered a damaging, 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
Thomas reached 40 homers for the third time in his career, but he came up empty with two runners on in a situation that might have kept his club moving forward in the American League wild-card race. Instead, the White Sox lost for the fourth time in the last six games and stand three games behind the Orioles.
Just when it seemed as if things couldn't get any worse for the Texas Rangers, they suffered another devastating loss late Friday night in Anaheim, Calif. Knowing that the surging Mariners were hammering the A's, the Rangers scored in the 10th inning to break a 4-4 tie only to lose when the Angels rallied for two runs in the bottom of the inning.
The Mariners continued to slice away at their once-imposing divisional deficit, pulling within one game of first in the West and a half-game of the Orioles in the AL wild-card race entering play yesterday.
The Rangers probably didn't consider the wild-card race relevant until the past few days, but would have entered yesterday's games in a virtual tie with the Orioles if they were not still clinging to a thin AL West advantage.
It is not a very secure fallback position, which makes the final week of the season the ultimate character check for manager Johnny Oates and his rattled club.
Down the stretch
Day ..... O's ..... NY ..... Chi ..... Sea
9/22 .... Tor ..... Bos* ... Min ..... Oak
9/23 .... Mil ........................ Cal
9/24 .... Bos ..... Mil .... KC ...... Cal
9/25 .... Bos ..... Mil .... KC ...... Cal
9/26 .... Tor ..... Bos .............. Oak
9/27 .... Tor ..... Bos .... Min ..... Oak
9/28 .... Tor ..... Bos .... Min ..... Oak
9/29 .... Tor ..... Bos .... Min ..... Oak
9/30 ................................. Cle#
Home games in bold
#-makeup, if necessary
Pub Date: 9/22/96