In Tampa Bay:
Down 4-2 in the top of the seventh, the Cleveland Indians have runners on second and third with one out. Leadoff hitter Grady Sizemore hits a chopper to third and Alex Gonzalez boots it, allowing a run to score and putting runners on first and third. Coco Crisp follows with a laser to right for a two-run triple and a 5-4 lead. Then, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Tampa’s leadoff hitter Julio Lugo singles to left-center off Tribe closer Bob Wickman and moves to third on Carl Crawford’s single. Crawford wastes no time stealing second, taking off on Wickman’s first pitch to Jorge Cantu. With the count 0-1, Wickman commits one of the most obvious balks you’ll ever see in a game, failing to come to a stop before delivering his pitch. Lou Pineilla explodes, and rightfully so, dropping f-bombs on any umpire who’ll look his way, but to no avail. Cantu sends Wickman’s next pitch up the middle but somehow, the rotund Wickman manages to knock the ball down with his glove, scamper off the mound and underhand it to first for the final out of the game, securing Cleveland’s sixth-straight win and seventh in their last eight games.
In New York:
The Blue Jays and Yankees are tied 2-2 heading into the eighth but Toronto takes a one-run lead on a Shea Hillenbrand RBI single. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Bernie Williams ties the game with a single to center, knocking in Tony Womack, but in the top of the ninth, Reed Johnson drives in the potential game-winning run with a two-out single off Mariano Rivera. Hideki Matsui promptly ties it back up with a leadoff homer off Toronto closer Miguel Batista, who’s converted saves in his last five outings. Batista then proceeds to get Jason Giambi on a grounder, walk Jorge Posada, strike out Womack, walk Robinson Cano and then, after intentionally walking Derek Jeter to load the bases, surrender a game-winning single to Felix Escalona.
The come-from-behind wins by the Indians and Yankees, coupled with Oakland’s 4-1 loss to the Tigers, leaves Cleveland and New York tied atop the AL Wild Card standings with the A’s a game back and the Twins 2.5 behind.
You don’t hear too many purists complaining about the Wild Card these days, and if they are, they’re friggin’ clueless because, while the AL race is tight, the NL standings are even crazier, with Houston, Philly, Florida, Washington and the Mets all within 2.5 games of each other. If I had to guess, I’d call Cleveland (hitters are hot, starters have been solid all year and the ‘pen is lights out) and Florida (great staff, some big bats and Jack McKeon), but it’s anybody’s guess at this point.