Patrick Willis Jersey Backed by five homers, Gio fires one-hitter at Mets

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Left-hander Gio Gonzalez pitched a gem on Monday night, tossing a one-hitter as the Nationals pounded the Mets, 9-0, at Citi Field.

But if one looked at Gonzalez’s face, it was obvious that he was disappointed that he didn’t get the no-hitter.

Gonzalez held the Mets hitless for six innings, retiring 18 of the first 19 hitters he faced. The only person to reach base during the first six frames for the Mets was Daniel Murphy, who walked with one out in the first inning.

Catcher Wilson Ramos felt Gonzalez was looking like the player who first joined the Nationals last year.

“When I saw Gio for the first time, he was aggressive all the time. It’s been a long time since Gio was aggressive on the mound like that,” Ramos said. “So it was impressive to get him back. Hopefully, he will stay like that for the rest of the season and the next couple of years that he will be here.”

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But Zach Lutz broke up the no-hitter leading off the seventh when he singled past the diving Adam LaRoche at first base, with the ball landing right on the chalk. LaRoche was seen arguing with first-base umpire John Hirschbeck. LaRoche believed the ball was foul. LaRoche was then trying to think of something else to say. He wanted to tell Hirschbeck that he called time out, but he never did.

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“When I got up and I started arguing, [Hirschbeck] was confident right away. He showed me the spot in the middle of the chalk, where it looked like it was a ball mark,” LaRoche said. “He was confident about it. … I thought it was close. Replays aren’t great. … It kind of ruins a great game, great offensive game, obviously [a well-pitched] game.”

After allowing the hit, Gonzalez retired nine of the next 10 hitters, allowing a walk in the ninth. He finished with eight strikeouts and two walks.

“It’s one of those things where you tip your cap and keep going,” Gonzalez said. “You can get distracted from something like that and lose focus.”

Manager Davey Johnson was impressed with what he saw from Gonzalez. It also helped that Gonzalez gave the bullpen a rest.

“What a job, a brilliant performance,” Johnson said. “He had control all night long. He was getting all of his pitchers over.”

It looked like Gonzalez was going to lose the no-hitter in the fifth inning. With one out, Juan Lagareshit a liner that shortstop Ian Desmond backhanded for the second out of the inning.

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The Nationals gave Gonzalez plenty of run support, and all of it came via the long ball. They hit a total of five home runs in the game. The first two homers came in the first inning, when Denard Spanand Ryan Zimmerman hit back-to-back blasts off right-hander Carlos Torres.

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Two innings later, Washington added three more runs off Torres. Jayson Werth swung at the first pitch and hit a monster home run over the left-center-field fence to give the Nationals a 5-0 lead.

An inning later, Tyler Moore hit a long one that landed on the hitter’s background in center field.

“It felt like almost everyone had a home run today,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a good feeling, it gives a pitcher confidence to go out there and pound the strike zone, especially when you know your team is swinging the bat pretty hard … and giving you runs.”

New York right-hander Greg Burke was on the mound when Washington took a nine-run lead, thanks to Ramos’ three-run homer in the fifth inning.

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“We didn’t pitch. We gave up all those home runs and then having Gio on the mound pitching as well as he was, we didn’t expect to have a very good game,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “Fortunately, we put a ball in play where no one was at, so we can go home at least knowing we didn’t get no-hit.”

With the victory, the Nationals are now seven games behind the Reds for the second and final National League Wild Card spot. The Cubs blanked the Reds, 2-0, at Great American Ball Park.

“We have to win. If we don’t win, nothing is going to matter anyway,” Zimmerman said. “We put ourselves in this position and it’s not an ideal situation to be in. Nothing matters unless we win. So we have to go out every night and win. Hopefully, we can get some help. Hopefully, that will happen.”

MLB announces postseason schedule Navorro Bowman Jersey

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Major League Baseball announced the postseason schedule on Tuesday. It starts with the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser on Oct. 1 and could end on the last day of the month if the 109th World Series goes seven games.

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Game 1 of the World Series is scheduled to be played on Wednesday, Oct. 23, in the ballpark of the American League champions.

The regular season concludes on Sunday, Sept. 29, and any necessary regular-season tiebreaker games would be broadcast exclusively by TBS. The NL Wild Card Game, aired on TBS, will be followed by the American League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser on TBS on Wednesday, Oct. 2. It will mark the second year for the single Wild Card Game format, both of which were won by road teams last year: St. Louis over Atlanta and Baltimore over Texas.

Each NL Division Series will begin on Thursday, Oct. 3, and the first full slate of Division Series games, featuring the two AL Division Series openers and a pair of NLDS Game 2s, will take place on Friday, Oct. 4. The Division Series will run from Oct. 3-10, with two potential Game 5s on both Wednesday, Oct. 9, and Thursday, Oct. 10. TBS will air 18 of the potential 20 Division Series games, while MLB Network will exclusively telecast one game on Oct. 4, and another on Monday, Oct. 7.

The Division Series returns to a 2-2-1 format this fall, with the first two games, and the fifth if necessary, hosted by the team with the better regular-season record or tiebreaker advantage.

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The NL Championship Series will be broadcast exclusively on TBS and will begin on Friday, Oct. 11. Saturday, Oct. 12 will feature Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, which will be broadcast exclusively on FOX, and Game 2 of the NLCS on TBS. A potential Game 7 of the NLCS is scheduled for Saturday, Oct., 19, while a potential Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Sunday, Oct. 20.

Game 1 of the World Series is scheduled to be played at the home of the AL champs, by virtue of that league’s victory in the All-Star Game. Game 3 of the Fall Classic will shift to the city of the NL champs on Saturday, Oct. 26. A Game 7, if necessary, would be played on Thursday, Oct. 31, in the AL city. The scheduled off-days during the World Series are Friday, Oct. 25, and Tuesday, Oct. 29.

FOX Sports will present exclusive live telecast coverage of the World Series for the 16th time. The NL will seek to make it four straight, following championships won by the Giants in 2010, the Cardinals in ’11 and the Giants again last year.

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ESPN Radio will provide live national coverage of all postseason games, including the Wild Card action.

This will mark the 110th anniversary of the Fall Classic, which started in 1903 and was played each fall except for 1904 and 1994.

Sabathia gave up three runs on five hits over 7 1/3 innings on Wednesday against the White Sox, and has won each of his last two starts and four of his last five. Still, in that span, his ERA has climbed from 4.66 to 4.86.

“I feel like I’m getting better,” Sabathia said. “Like I’ve said, I’ll keep building, keep working and try to help the team win.”

Tillman had unusual control issues in his last outing, walking five in 5 1/3 innings against the Indians for just his second loss in his last 10 starts.

“I need to be better than that,” Tillman said. “It’s coming down to the wire here and I think I expect better from myself. It was close. I was a couple pitches from getting through there.”

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The Yankees took two of three from the Orioles in last weekend’s three-game series, which kicked off the Yankees’ 10-game homestand.

Third baseman Manny Machado’s 48th double on Sunday passed Vada Pinson (47 with the Reds in 1959) for the second most by a player in his age-20 or younger season. Only Alex Rodriguez hit more, with 54 in 1996.

Machado is on pace to challenge Brian Roberts’ club record of 56, set in 2009.

Chris Davis’ 48 home runs this season give him 81 over the course of the last two seasons, tying Rafael Palmeiro (1997-98) for most in consecutive seasons in club history.

Frank Gore Jersey Holland’s tremendous saves run ends at 31

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Greg Holland’s streak of 31 consecutive saves wasn’t the only run that ended in the Royals’ 7-6 win over the Mariners in 13 innings on Thursday. He also lost a string of 17 straight scoreless one-inning appearances.

The Royals closer entered the game in the ninth inning with a one-run lead. He retired the first two batters, but gave up a game-tying home run to pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez. Holland’s saves streak, which was the second longest in franchise history, was halted. Joakim Soria holds the record with 36 straight saves.

“I just wanted to win,” Holland said. “It’s one of those things where you try to go out there and execute pitches, and I didn’t execute one pitch and the game is tied.”

It was the first time since May 6 against the Chicago White Sox that Holland hadn’t converted a save. Since May 30, he’s allowed just four earned runs in 40 innings for a 0.90 ERA with 61 strikeouts. Ibanez’s homer was the first run scored against him since July 27.

“Ibanez is about a good a guy coming off the bench as you’re going to find in baseball,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He just kind of sat on a slider, got one and hit it out.”

Entering Friday night’s series opener against the Tigers, Holland’s 38 saves ranked seventh on the Royals’ single-season list and just one behind Jeff Montgomery’s 39 in 1992. Holland is just the fourth Royals reliever to record 40 or more saves in a season — joining Montgomery, Soria and Dan Quisenberry.

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Royals catcherSalvador Perez left a game early again on Friday night but it had nothing to do with any concussion-like symptoms. He was just getting an early break from the 16-2 beating dealt out by the Tigers.

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“Everything is good,” Perez said after the loss. “Everything is fine. I’ll go tomorrow again.”

Perez played four innings and went 0-for-2 at the plate. With the Tigers ahead, 10-1, he was replaced behind the plate by George Kottaras.

“I took everybody out after four or five innings and everybody’s fine,” manager Ned Yost said. “He’s fine, it was just one of those games where you get the guys that have been playing every day off their feet.”

Perez left Thursday’s 7-6 win over the Mariners in the fifth of 13 innings because of mild dizziness after taking the latest foul ball off the chin of his face mask. He had missed a week in August because of a concussion.

“When they did all of the impact tests that they do after that, he had score of 84 out of 85 so there was not that much concern yesterday,” Yost said before Friday night’s game. “He came back in and was absolutely perfect. We got him in the weight room, did some cardio to get his heart rate up and there was no change so he’s a full-go.”

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Yost also indicated that Perez again would try the helmeted hockey-style mask to alleviate the risk of foul balls, but the catcher decided to stick with his usual mask.

“I’ve tried it before,” Perez said. “I just don’t feel comfortable. I feel fine with my old one. You can’t do anything about getting hit by foul tips. It’s going to happen to everybody.”

Because of his big size, Perez also tends to crouch a bit farther back from home plate than normal and Yost is encouraging him to move closer to the batter.

“We’re going to try to scoot him up under the hitters a little bit closer to see if maybe he can dodge some foul balls that way and just see what it happens,” Yost said.

Often in a playoff chase, players will disregard injuries to stay in the lineup, but Yost said that would never happen with him in the case of a head or concussion-type injury.

“If he came in today with any symptoms then, boom, no he wasn’t going to play. But he was totally symptom-free. It’s totally black-and-white for me,” Yost said.

Major League Baseball has taken a firm stance on such injuries, requiring concussion tests. Second baseman Chris Getz has passed those tests and was awaiting MLB clearance to resume playing.

Getz left Tuesday’s 4-3 win over the Mariners after two innings because of mild dizziness and hasn’t played since. He also has a history of concussions, missing the last three weeks of the 2010 season.

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Center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who’d been out with an oblique pull, is able to hit now and got two at-bats after going into right field in the sixth inning on Friday night. He went hitless, but got in some game-action swings for the first time in nearly a month.

Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera has been battling leg injuries and an abdominal strain, but he was in starting lineup on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.

Don’t look for the Royals to intentionally walk the dangerous right-handed slugger very often, though.

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“You just balance it. You’ve got to be brave,” manager Ned Yost said. “My philosophy is this and it’s really simple. Because, I learned this when Barry Bonds was going through his heyday and was getting 200 walks a year. Every time I walked Barry Bonds, he’d come around and score anyway.

“So when you’re hitting .350 like Miguel Cabrera is, he’s going going to make 6 1/2 outs out of every 10. So is he going to hit a home run? Yeah, but what’s the difference of me walking him and he scores anyway or he hits a home run? That’s kind of my mindset. If he’s making 6 1/2 outs out of every 10 and still hitting .350, the best hitter in baseball, you play the odds every once in a while.

“You pick your spots, you pick your matchups. With Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez behind him, you’re just asking for trouble. Yeah, it’s tough. They’re tough decisions, but sometimes you’ve got to go mano-a-mano.”

For the record, in 13 games this year preceding Friday night’s series opener, the Royals had walked Cabrera eight times in 56 plate appearances but intentionally just twice. On each occasion, the Royals retired Fielder for the third out of the inning.

Cabrera took a .304 average with four homers and 11 RBIs in 13 games this season against the Royals into the series opener.

Triple-A Omaha defeated Oklahoma City, 7-6, to complete a three-game sweep of the best-of-five series in the Pacific Coast League semifinals on Friday night.

Trailing by two runs in the eighth inning, Gorkys Hernandez hit a three-run homer and Maikel Cleto secured the victory with two scoreless innings of relief.

The Storm Chasers, who advance to their third straight PCL championship series starting on Tuesday, will face the winner of Las Vegas-Salt Lake series.

MLB announces postseason schedule Colin Kaepernick Jersey

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Major League Baseball announced the postseason schedule on Tuesday. It starts with the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser on Oct. 1 and could end on the last day of the month if the 109th World Series goes seven games.

Game 1 of the World Series is scheduled to be played on Wednesday, Oct. 23, in the ballpark of the American League champions.

The regular season concludes on Sunday, Sept. 29, and any necessary regular-season tiebreaker games would be broadcast exclusively by TBS. The NL Wild Card Game, aired on TBS, will be followed by the American League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser on TBS on Wednesday, Oct. 2. It will mark the second year for the single Wild Card Game format, both of which were won by road teams last year: St. Louis over Atlanta and Baltimore over Texas.

Each NL Division Series will begin on Thursday, Oct. 3, and the first full slate of Division Series games, featuring the two AL Division Series openers and a pair of NLDS Game 2s, will take place on Friday, Oct. 4. The Division Series will run from Oct. 3-10, with two potential Game 5s on both Wednesday, Oct. 9, and Thursday, Oct. 10. TBS will air 18 of the potential 20 Division Series games, while MLB Network will exclusively telecast one game on Oct. 4, and another on Monday, Oct. 7.

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The Division Series returns to a 2-2-1 format this fall, with the first two games, and the fifth if necessary, hosted by the team with the better regular-season record or tiebreaker advantage.

The NL Championship Series will be broadcast exclusively on TBS and will begin on Friday, Oct. 11. Saturday, Oct. 12 will feature Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, which will be broadcast exclusively on FOX, and Game 2 of the NLCS on TBS. A potential Game 7 of the NLCS is scheduled for Saturday, Oct., 19, while a potential Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Sunday, Oct. 20.

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Game 1 of the World Series is scheduled to be played at the home of the AL champs, by virtue of that league’s victory in the All-Star Game. Game 3 of the Fall Classic will shift to the city of the NL champs on Saturday, Oct. 26. A Game 7, if necessary, would be played on Thursday, Oct. 31, in the AL city. The scheduled off-days during the World Series are Friday, Oct. 25, and Tuesday, Oct. 29.

FOX Sports will present exclusive live telecast coverage of the World Series for the 16th time. The NL will seek to make it four straight, following championships won by the Giants in 2010, the Cardinals in ’11 and the Giants again last year.

ESPN Radio will provide live national coverage of all postseason games, including the Wild Card action.

This will mark the 110th anniversary of the Fall Classic, which started in 1903 and was played each fall except for 1904 and 1994.

Once again, the regular season seems headed toward an exciting ending, with playoff spots not decided until the final day.

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Or beyond.

With an extra Wild Card up for grabs this year, there are even more opportunities for there to be teams deadlocked when the last out of the last game is made on Sunday, Sept. 29. With that in mind, Major League Baseball has released tiebreaker scenarios in case two, three or even four teams are involved.

If just one game is needed to settle the issue, it will tentatively be played on Monday, Sept. 30. That applies to determining the division championship whether or not the losing team would still qualify as a Wild Card.

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For example, if the Pirates and Cardinals end up with identical records at the top of the NL Central, but both clubs would make the postseason regardless, the winner of their extra game would be declared the division winner while the loser would have to play in the sudden death Wild Card playoff game.

Homefield advantage is determined first by head-to-head records, then by the higher winning percentage in intradivision games. If a further tie-breaker is needed it’s the best winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games.

The same format will be used if two teams tie for the division and also tie for both available wild card spots. The two division teams would play each other on Monday with the winner being named division champion and the loser meeting the other team in the Wild Card playoff.

Tigers march past Royals with 26-hit parade Jerry Rice Jersey

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The Tigers did to the Royals on Friday night what the Red Sox had done to the Tigers on Wednesday.

This time, Detroit was on the positive side of a 16-2 blowout and it came in an unlikely setting against a Kansas City club that started the night ranked No. 1 in the American League in ERA (3.46) and ace James Shieldson the mound.

Go figure.

Just two days after taking a 20-4 drubbing at Fenway Park, the Tigers flexed their offensive muscles by batting around in both the second and fourth innings.

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“It was just one of those freak games,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “James just didn’t have it tonight and we were able to take advantage.”

Andy Dirks and Omar Infante, who have lockers side-by-side in the Kauffman Stadium visitors’ clubhouse, each went 5-for-5 and established career highs for hits. Infante also had a career-high six RBIs.

Shields came into the game with a 1.53 ERA over his last five starts. He got through the first with little problem, but then the Tigers began spraying hits all over the ballpark. Shields wound up allowing 14 hits and 10 earned runs over 3 2/3 innings.

“That’s a good hitting team over there and I didn’t do my job tonight,” Shields said. “Obviously, we’ve got to move forward but that was a terrible job by me.” The Tigers didn’t let up when Kansas City went to the bullpen. The 26 hits were their most since May 27, 2004, against the Royals.

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“Whether you win by 20 or by one it counts the same,” Dirks said. “We’ve got to come out [Saturday] and try to do the same thing.”

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Right-hander Anibal Sanchez was the recipient of the lavish run support. His biggest problem was staying loose as the Tigers batted around in a pair of five-run innings.

Sanchez went seven innings, allowing just one run on seven hits.

“You can talk about the hits until the cows come home, but Sanchez shut their offense down and that’s the key to the game,” Leyland said.

The Tigers (82-59) maintained their 6 1/2-game lead over Cleveland in the American League Central, while reducing their magic number to 16 and pushing the third-place Royals (73-68) nine games back.

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The Royals actually jumped on top in the first against Sanchez on a Billy Butler RBI single. But from that point on, it was all Tigers.

With one out in the second, five consecutive Tiger hitters reached. Infante contributed an RBI single to tie it and Ramon Santiago’s RBI double put Detroit on top. A two-run double by Austin Jacksonand an RBI single by Miguel Cabrera finished the five-run rally.

Detroit put up another five-spot in the fourth and Infante added a three-run double in the fifth.

“They’re a smart team,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It looked to me like they were really sitting soft and when they got it, they didn’t miss it.” Dirks, who had a walk to go with his five hits, couldn’t have picked a better place for a career night at the plate. The Tigers’ left fielder lives in Burrton, Kan., and his parents were able to make the short trip to see it.

“When I hit it, it went in the holes,” Dirks said. “You have nights like that and you have nights where it goes the other way, too.”

Sanchez lowered his ERA to 2.61 and picked up his 13th win, matching a career high. Since he was facing the Royals for the third time, Sanchez felt the need to change his pitching patterns and he worked hard to keep an aggressive running game under control early. Sanchez picked off Emilio Bonifacio in the third inning.

“I felt strong today,” Sanchez said. “I knew I had to make adjustments because this [Royals] team was coming in pretty hot. My team gave me a lot of runs today and I was able to do my job.” The Tigers feel they’re riding the roller coaster after a 16-run loss was followed by a 14-run win.

“They don’t happen very often, but they do happen,” Leyland said.

Colin Kaepernick Jersey Pulse of the Postseason: Sept. 5, 2013

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We’re getting used to this situation in the American League West. We are so used to it that we can pretty much bank on the fact that if we need a daily dose of pennant-race drama, we can be sure to get it by watching the Oakland A’s play the Texas Rangers.

That was the takeaway from Wednesday’s action around the Major Leagues as the Pulse of the Postseason continued to echo.

Two days after Oakland had tied up the division and a day after the Rangers went back ahead by one game, the A’s knocked Yu Darvish around, starter Jarrod Parker added to a long streak without a loss and Oakland had deadlocked the West once more.

High fives! #Athletics win 11-4. Tied atop the AL West. https://t.co/Z8kmYfheiH

– Oakland Athletics (@Athletics) September 4, 2013

So … remember how this division went down to the last day of the season last year? Remember how the A’s stormed back to win it on that final day? Remember Oakland putting up a five-game fight against Detroit? That might all happen again, unless, of course, the Rangers have anything to say about it.

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“You can look at this series any way you want, but we lost two of three and now we’re even,” Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “We have 23 games left, and we have to win one more than them. There is not much to make of this series other than they beat us two out of three.”

By the way, the two teams play three more games against each other from Sept. 13-15 in Texas.

But the Bay Area was not the only place around the Majors where emotions were running high and October was on the line.

In Cincinnati, the Reds were desperately trying to climb up from third place in the tight National League Central, and another game against the visiting second-place St. Louis Cardinals was a perfect opportunity, especially with the first-place Pirates en route to a loss in Milwaukee.

It took extra-long, as in extra, extra, extra-innings long, but the Cardinals prevailed, 5-4, in 16 innings, putting them within a game of the Pirates and 2 1/2 up on Cincinnati.

The main reason for the win in a game that featured a combined 16 pitchers, 45 players and what is now the requisite Billy Hamilton stolen base?

That would be Matt Adams, and Matt Adams again.

Adams put the Cardinals up by a run with a solo homer in the 14th, and when the Reds tied it again in the bottom of that inning, Adams waited two more frames to hit another solo shot to win it.

Matt Adams raises the Reds’ call with another homer. Watch him break the tie again with this solo shot: http://t.co/Xg8ZiHLQUb #STLCards

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– St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 5, 2013

That was an undeniable stunner, but the Cards also experienced an undeniable bummer when one of their best players, first baseman Allen Craig, left the game early with a sprained foot.

Momentum also took a back seat to simple September reality for a few of the highest-flying clubs in the bigs Wednesday.

The Dodgers’ winning streak ended at six against the Rockies, and the Braves lost to the Mets, although Los Angeles and Atlanta are so far ahead in their divisions that Wednesday will probably register as a mere blip in the 162-game radar.

The Tigers, who are in first place in the AL Central, got hammered, 20-4, by the Red Sox, who are in first place in the AL East.

David Ortiz notched his 2,000th career hit and Boston outfielder Shane Victorino was more than happy to provide that highlight, among others, to his Twitter followers afterward — emoticons and all.

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Great team win…from @middlebrooks #GrandSlam to @davidortiz reaching yet another milestone#2000Hits and everyone else chipping in ?☺?

– Shane Victorino (@ShaneVictorino) September 5, 2013

The Pirates missed out in their first chance to clinch their first winning season since 1992. They will have to wait at least two more days to try for victory No. 82.

Final in Milwaukee: #Pirates 3, #Brewers 9. Off day tomorrow for your Bucs before starting a 3-game series in St. Louis on Friday.

– Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) September 5, 2013

Meanwhile, the Wild Card wannabes were slugging it out in earnest on another important night.

The Rays kept pace by winning in Anaheim; Cleveland beat Baltimore to improve its chances; the Nationals edged the Phillies to stay alive; the D-backs topped the Blue Jays; and the Yankees beat the White Sox once again to stay in it.

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The Yankees, the unlikely underdogs, are now only two games out of the Wild Card mix and feeling pretty good as the roster gets healthier and a four-game series with the Red Sox looms.

“It could do a lot to determine where we’re going to be at,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of that showdown. “I think it’s important that we concentrate on one game at a time and not look too far ahead.”

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Is August 31 the new July 31?

The last two non-waiver trading deadlines have been boring. Bud Norris was the most significant player acquired on July 31 this season, a far cry from seasons past, when we’ve seen players like CC Sabathia and Matt Holliday and Mark McGwire — season- and franchise-altering players — change hands for perceived giant prospect hauls on or just before July 31.

Nothing in this year’s post-waiver trade period compares to last year’s Dodgers-Red Sox blockbuster, when the rough salary equivalent of Forbes’ valuation of the Oakland Athletics moved from Boston to Los Angeles. But many teams waited until late August to fill holes we typically see filled with July trades, and these moves will make an impact in the final month and into the playoffs.

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The Pirates, despite the brilliance of their season, came into August with distinct weaknesses. Their first post-waiver strike — the addition of Marlon Byrd and John Buck for a pair of actual prospects in infielder Dilson Herrera and reliever Vic Black — fixed the biggest, a gaping hole in right field. Byrd’s at-bats will replace the likes of Travis Snider, Josh Harrison, Andrew Lambo, and even Felix Pie. The Pirates’ .692 OPS from right fielders ranks 23rd in the league; Byrd can fall off significantly from his .848 mark to date and still serve as an upgrade.

Pittsburgh had just one major hole remaining: a lack of pop at first base. The club’s .735 OPS from the position ranks 18th in the league, and no current playoff team ranks lower. Garrett Jones — .239/.297/.419, 13 home runs — has not pulled his weight as the left-handed half of the platoon. Enter Justin Morneau, pried loose from Minnesota at the last second for marginal outfielder Alex Presley. Morneau’s season — .259/.316/.426, 17 home runs — has been disappointing, and it appears more and more that the MVP-winning version of Morneau left us with his concussion in 2010.

But Morneau is mashing right-handed pitching — .281/.345/.487 and 15 of his 17 home runs — and that’s precisely what Pittsburgh needs. Gaby Sanchez has held up his end of the platoon, hitting .251/.355/.405 in 297 plate appearances, mainly against left-handers. Pairing the two not only gives Pittsburgh more strength in the starting lineup, but adds depth to the bench as well. The Pirates are looking more and more like a complete team as they barrel towards .500 and the playoffs.

Division foe St. Louis also attempted to patch their biggest hole, the bullpen, with a salve from within the division. The Cardinals acquired former Brewers closer John Axford from Milwaukee for hard-throwing relief prospect Michael Blazek.

The top tier of St. Louis’s bullpen has been excellent — Edward Mujica and Trevor Rosenthal have been one of the toughest setup-closer combinations in the league. Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Michael Wacha have come up fresh from the farm and excelled as well. But it’s a bullpen that lacks experience and could lack depth, particularly if the club needs to call on Wacha to start.

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Axford solves both problems. He pitched the Brewers to the playoffs in 2011 and excelled in postseason action (one run allowed in seven innings). More importantly, he turned into a reliable bullpen arm for the 2013 Brewers after a bout of dead arm to open the season tanked his numbers beyond repair. Axford allowed nine runs in four appearances to open the season, and those four horrible appearances remains the driver behind his poor 4.37 ERA. The Brewers gave him three days off, and since he returned, Axford owns a 3.10 ERA with 50 strikeouts against 21 walks in 52 1/3 innings. Escaping Miller Park should do some good for Axford, too — 16 of his 25 career home runs have been served over Milwaukee’s hitter-friendly fences.

The Dodgers were the only other National League contender to make a major move as the August deadline approached, as the club acquired Michael Young from the Phillies for minor league arm Rob Rasmussen.

Some will say this move was all about the clubhouse, since Young is renowned as a great clubhouse guy by nearly everyone he played with. Former teammate and up-and-coming baseball writer Gabe Kapler even called him a “top 5 all-time teammate.” Having another positive voice in a clubhouse can’t hurt — and it might even get everybody to shut up about Yasiel Puig’s supposed transgressions for a minute.

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On the field, this trade would be questionable if the Dodgers were planning on inserting Young into the regular starting lineup. According to the Los Angeles Times, though, that’s not the plan. Young will play a reduced role, mainly serving as a pinch-hitter who can give them a start at third base if needed. Young supplies the Dodgers with an important emergency backup behind Juan Uribe. Uribe has been quietly good this season, as he owns a .268/.326/.393 line with sharp defense at third base. But if Uribe — not exactly in prime physical condition — were to go down, the Dodgers lacked other backup options. Jerry Hairston Jr. has seen his OPS collapse to .599 in 2013. The club needed a safety valve, and Young gives them exactly that, at a cheap price and with clubhouse benefits to boot.

In the American League, the major moves come from Wild Card contenders trying to keep their offenses afloat. Tampa Bay finally picked up proto-Rays outfielder David DeJesus, Baltimore won the chance at reviving Mike Morse’s season, and Cleveland did the same with Jason Kubel.

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The Rays and DeJesus have been linked in trade rumors for years. The chase across the league finally ended when Washington dealt the free agent-to-be for a player to be named later on August 23. DeJesus doesn’t do anything particularly well, but he has been average or just above average nearly across the board for the last few years, and the result is a quality, underappreciated player, capable of giving league-average performance across the outfield positions. DeJesus’s acquisition lets the Rays keep the likes of Sam Fuld on the bench in his proper place as a defensive replacement or pinch runner. Expect Joe Maddon to use the added depth with aplomb down the stretch.

Cleveland is all but out of the American League Central race, but they remain in striking distance of the Wild Card — 3.5 games back entering Monday’s play — despite going just 4-6 over their last 10 games. Jason Giambi has provided some great moments this season, but he’s hitting just .187/.277/.380 and has been serving as the club’s primary DH against right-handed pitching for the past month. Kubel is the potential solution. He hit just .221/.292/.324 for Arizona this year, but in 2012 he slugged 30 home runs and posted an .833 OPS. The Diamondbacks gave Kubel just four starts in August, so Cleveland has little to lose by at least seeing if he can regain his old form with more regular playing time.

The Orioles, similarly, retain a shot at the playoffs — they trail Tampa Bay by just three games thanks to Oakland’s sweep of the Rays this weekend. Baltimore boasts the most runs scored of any non-division leader with 640, but the designated hitter spot has been a black hole all season. The club has tried 10 different players in the slot and has mustered just a .668 OPS from the designated hitter, 14th in the American League, besting only Cleveland. Morse debuted in left field Sunday, but he will likely spend most of his time at DH for Baltimore.

In 2012, the power that earned him the moniker “The Beast” in 2011 had fallen off sharply. He fell from 31 home runs to 18, his slugging percentage dropped by 80 points, and even his doubles total dropped sharply, from 36 to 17. The trend continued for Morse in 2013 with Seattle, as he hit just .226/.283/.410 in 76 games as he failed to power the Mariners lineup as expected when the club brought him in over the offseason. Still, Morse’s .693 OPS with Seattle would be a 25-point increase over the Orioles’ DH line this season, and perhaps hitting in a more homer-friendly ballpark like Camden Yards can give Morse the spark he needs.

This largely sums up the dynamic of the August trading deadline — contending teams slinging marginal assets across the league in a hunt for lottery tickets. These players are all fundamentally flawed, and their value beyond this year tends to be slim-to-none. But as September heads into October and individual games begin to take on bigger meanings, every roster spot counts. With more playoff teams, there are naturally more contenders with holes to fill. Get used to the August trade activity: it’s a reality of the new, post-Wild Card game MLB.

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Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig irritated a slight right knee strain and was removed from Monday’s game against the Rockies in the sixth inning. He is not expected to start Tuesday night.

Puig said the irritation has bothered him for some time but worsened Monday when he reached first base on a throwing error by third baseman Nolan Arenado.

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Puig nonetheless raced from first to third on Adrian Gonzalez’s single and came up flexing his leg after sliding into third base. He remained in the game and scored on a sacrifice fly by Hanley Ramirez, but Skip Schumaker replaced Puig in right field for the bottom of the sixth inning.

After the game, Puig was examined by a local doctor. He received treatment and said he would receive more at the team hotel Monday night.

Manager Don Mattingly said the injury “didn’t seem that serious” from the report he received because he said he’s heard of the condition in the past.

Puig earlier had singled, lined into a double play and was hit by a pitch on the left arm.

Division foe St. Louis also attempted to patch their biggest hole, the bullpen, with a salve from within the division. The Cardinals acquired former Brewers closer John Axford from Milwaukee for hard-throwing relief prospect Michael Blazek.

The top tier of St. Louis’s bullpen has been excellent — Edward Mujica and Trevor Rosenthal have been one of the toughest setup-closer combinations in the league. Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Michael Wacha have come up fresh from the farm and excelled as well. But it’s a bullpen that lacks experience and could lack depth, particularly if the club needs to call on Wacha to start.

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Axford solves both problems. He pitched the Brewers to the playoffs in 2011 and excelled in postseason action (one run allowed in seven innings). More importantly, he turned into a reliable bullpen arm for the 2013 Brewers after a bout of dead arm to open the season tanked his numbers beyond repair. Axford allowed nine runs in four appearances to open the season, and those four horrible appearances remains the driver behind his poor 4.37 ERA. The Brewers gave him three days off, and since he returned, Axford owns a 3.10 ERA with 50 strikeouts against 21 walks in 52 1/3 innings. Escaping Miller Park should do some good for Axford, too — 16 of his 25 career home runs have been served over Milwaukee’s hitter-friendly fences.

In the American League, the major moves come from Wild Card contenders trying to keep their offenses afloat. Tampa Bay finally picked up proto-Rays outfielder David DeJesus, Baltimore won the chance at reviving Mike Morse’s season, and Cleveland did the same with Jason Kubel.

The Rays and DeJesus have been linked in trade rumors for years. The chase across the league finally ended when Washington dealt the free agent-to-be for a player to be named later on August 23. DeJesus doesn’t do anything particularly well, but he has been average or just above average nearly across the board for the last few years, and the result is a quality, underappreciated player, capable of giving league-average performance across the outfield positions. DeJesus’s acquisition lets the Rays keep the likes of Sam Fuld on the bench in his proper place as a defensive replacement or pinch runner. Expect Joe Maddon to use the added depth with aplomb down the stretch.

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Cleveland is all but out of the American League Central race, but they remain in striking distance of the Wild Card — 3.5 games back entering Monday’s play — despite going just 4-6 over their last 10 games. Jason Giambi has provided some great moments this season, but he’s hitting just .187/.277/.380 and has been serving as the club’s primary DH against right-handed pitching for the past month. Kubel is the potential solution. He hit just .221/.292/.324 for Arizona this year, but in 2012 he slugged 30 home runs and posted an .833 OPS. The Diamondbacks gave Kubel just four starts in August, so Cleveland has little to lose by at least seeing if he can regain his old form with more regular playing time.

The Orioles, similarly, retain a shot at the playoffs — they trail Tampa Bay by just three games thanks to Oakland’s sweep of the Rays this weekend. Baltimore boasts the most runs scored of any non-division leader with 640, but the designated hitter spot has been a black hole all season. The club has tried 10 different players in the slot and has mustered just a .668 OPS from the designated hitter, 14th in the American League, besting only Cleveland. Morse debuted in left field Sunday, but he will likely spend most of his time at DH for Baltimore.

In 2012, the power that earned him the moniker “The Beast” in 2011 had fallen off sharply. He fell from 31 home runs to 18, his slugging percentage dropped by 80 points, and even his doubles total dropped sharply, from 36 to 17. The trend continued for Morse in 2013 with Seattle, as he hit just .226/.283/.410 in 76 games as he failed to power the Mariners lineup as expected when the club brought him in over the offseason. Still, Morse’s .693 OPS with Seattle would be a 25-point increase over the Orioles’ DH line this season, and perhaps hitting in a more homer-friendly ballpark like Camden Yards can give Morse the spark he needs.

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This largely sums up the dynamic of the August trading deadline — contending teams slinging marginal assets across the league in a hunt for lottery tickets. These players are all fundamentally flawed, and their value beyond this year tends to be slim-to-none. But as September heads into October and individual games begin to take on bigger meanings, every roster spot counts. With more playoff teams, there are naturally more contenders with holes to fill. Get used to the August trade activity: it’s a reality of the new, post-Wild Card game MLB.

Sunday was supposed to be a day glowing with excitement for Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood. Instead, he left the mound seething in frustration after taking a line drive off his pitching hand.

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Chatwood, who spent a month on the disabled list with a right elbow impingement, left before getting an out in the third inning of Sunday’s 7-4 victory after Reds pitcher Mike Leake smoked a line drive over the mound. Chatwood reflexively shot up his right hand, and the ball struck his fingers and bounced into the outfield.

He soon lost most of the feeling in his thumb and was pulled after giving up a homer and two walks to the next three batters. Chatwood said he planned to make his next start Saturday in San Diego, but manager Walt Weiss was less optimistic.

“I haven’t seen him yet, but I’m sure it’s really sore,” Weiss said. “So hopefully he can make is next start, but I think that’s obviously the best-case scenario.

“They got him good. I saw the replay, it hit him really good.”

The Rockies have an off-day Thursday, and Weiss said the extra day of rest may provide enough time for Chatwood to recover. Weiss said he would feel comfortable starting Chatwood even if he had to skip his usual bullpen session between starts.

“It gives him a shot,” Weiss said. “I think that thing’s going to be sore for a few days.”

Before landing on the DL on July 31, Chatwood asserted himself as one of the Rockies’ best starters. He’s 7-4 with a 3.29 ERA after Sunday’s no-decision, but his ERA hovered comfortably below 3.00 from May through late July.

.500? NOT ENOUGH FOR BUCS By John Perrotto Navorro Bowman Jersey

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It looked like the scene from the opening of a horror movie on the day the Pittsburgh Pirates set a record that only the most cold-hearted person would wish on a professional sports franchise.

Dark skies, fog and a steady misty-type rain shrouded PNC Park on Sept. 7, 2009 when the Pirates lost to the Chicago Cubs 4-2 for their 82nd defeat of the season. The loss assured the Pirates of their 17th consecutive losing season, the longest such streak in major North American professional sports history.

The Pirates have tacked on three more sub-.500 seasons since. They have piled up so quickly that it has become almost too difficult to keep track.

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“What is it now?” Pirates relief pitcher Jared Hughes said. “Twenty years?”

Yes, 20 years. A generation.

The streak hangs over the entire organization much like the fog shrouded PNC Park on that ugly Labor Day four years ago.

“It’s hard not to know about it when the guy in aisle No. 6 at Giant Eagle tells you how much he wants us to have a winning season,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said with a smile. “There is 20 years of angst that has built up amongst our fan base and I respect that. We have such a terrific fan base and it’s been hard on them to live through this.”

Nobody understands that more than Pirates second baseman Neil Walker. He is Western Pennsylvania born and bred, having grown up a Pirates’ fan and eventually becoming their first-round draft pick in 2004 during his senior year at Pine-Richland High School in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh.

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“It’s been frustrating, both as a fan and as a player,” Walker said. “Nobody wants their team to lose. You always want to root for a winner or play for a winner. It’s been hard sometimes. I’ll go to Steelers games and people will bring up the losing seasons and tell you the Pirates [stink]. This organization has been through its share of bad times and nobody is going to be happier when the streak ends than me.”

Barring a collapse for the ages, the Pirates figure to finally break that streak in the very near future. They won their 78th game of the season Friday night and need just four wins in their final 28 games to finish over .500. Even the wariest of Pirates’ fans, who remember the Bucs losing 35 of their last 50 games last season to wind up with a 79-83 record, has to feel optimistic this time.

Yet the Pirates aren’t planning a celebration when they get to their 82nd victory, which is likely to happen during their nine-game road trip to Milwaukee, St. Louis and Texas that begins Monday. There won’t be a champagne toast in the clubhouse or anything else of the sort.

“It will mean something because I think we all understand the importance of it,” said Hughes, who has been with the franchise since being the Pirates’ fourth-round-draft pick in 2006 from Long Beach State. “But there is something so much bigger going on right now.”

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Indeed there is, as the Pirates are also in prime position to reach the postseason for the first time since 1992, which coincides with their last winning season. They began play Saturday tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League Central lead and held a six-game over the Arizona Diamondbacks for the second NL wild card.

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The pennant chase has overshadowed the chase for a winning season.

“There will most definitely be a smile on my face when we win that 82nd game and I know it will be for the fans,” Hughes said. “But there will be an even bigger smile on my face when we win the NL Central and I’m sure as much as the fans will love having a winning season the best deal for them and for us would be winning a championship. Why stop at a winning season? Our goals are higher than that.”

General manager Neal Huntington has been saying the same thing since replacing Dave Littlefield late in the 2007 season. Many times those word rang hollow, such as in 2010, when the Pirates bottomed out at 57-105.

However, the Pirates have improved in their three seasons under Hurdle, going 72-90 in 2011, 79-83 in 2012 then coming within one game of last season’s win total on Friday night with a 5-0 whitewashing of the Cardinals.

The Pirates tried to bolster their chances of making the playoffs with two trades over the past week. On Tuesday, they acquired right fielder Marlon Byrd and backup catcher John Buck from the New York Mets in exchange for two prospects, and on Saturday they grabbed Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP, from the Twins in exchange for outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named later. What might have been more significant than the trades was Huntington’s rationale for making them.

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“Our goal is to push this club forward and play deep into October, just not get there,” the GM said.

Clearly, the expectations have been raised in Pittsburgh. For so long, a winning season was the Holy Grail for the fans and even many people inside the organization, whether they would admit it or not. Now, it would be a disappointment to everyone if the Pirates’ biggest achievement of 2013 would be to finish with more wins than losses.

Times have certainly changed.

“A winning season isn’t all that significant to the guys in our clubhouse,” Pirates star center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “We look at it as a steppingstone, a sign that we’re moving in the right direction. Once we get there, it will be good to get it out of the way but we’ll move on to the next thing.

“Honestly, it will be more of a relief than anything because we won’t have to hear about the streak and 20 years anymore.”

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Pat Venditte, successful right-handed and left-handed pitcher for the Double-A Trenton Thunder, presents a significant matchup problem for any opposing manager in the late innings of a game.

His lefty hitters face a difficult sidearming lefty who throws in the mid-80s, featuring a fastball/slider combo. His righty hitters need to hit a versatile righty who’s begun dropping down more, throwing a fastball up around 90 miles per hour, paired with a slider. Both versions of Venditte have begun mixing in a changeup as well.

But if he confounds opposing managers, Venditte’s own pitching coach in Trenton, Tommy Phelps, has a much easier solution to instructing the switch-pitcher. He just treats coaching Venditte like coaching two separate pitchers.

“Exactly,” Phelps told me as we spoke just outside the Thunder video room Tuesday afternoon, prior to Trenton’s game against New Britain. “I treat it as two different deliveries, two different pitchers. You know, in his case, his keys for one side may be different than the other side. So I treat them both totally different.”

The question is whether Venditte himself, who has succeeded at every level of the minor leagues but at age 28, has yet to receive a chance at the major league level, is being treated differently than a relief pitcher with a career strikeout rate in the minors of 10.2 per nine, a walk rate of just 2.4 per nine and the opposite of a platoon split problem ought to be.

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Right now, he’s busy proving that he’s healthy again, after missing most of the 2013 season with labrum surgery on his right shoulder. The rehab was intensive enough that simply pitching with his left hand throughout the season wasn’t wise, though he did so this spring for Italy in the World Baseball Classic.

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He’s back to his old self, though. On Sunday night, Venditte entered a game against Portland with two outs in the seventh. As a lefty, he struck out Garin Cecchini to end the inning. He retired Michael Almanzar and Christian Vazquez, two righties, as a righty, and then back as a lefty, got Travis Shaw to pop out to end the inning.

For his part, Venditte believes all he needs to do is keep on pitching well, and his chance will come, though he is aware that at age 28, his time as a prospect is rapidly dwindling.

“I think, more than anything, it’s about getting the opportunity,” Venditte said as we spoke just outside the Thunder clubhouse Tuesday night. He’s an engaging man with close-cropped black hair, seemingly at peace with being close to making history as the first full-time switch-pitcher in the major leagues, but so far, having topped out at Triple-A. “For me, it’s about getting better every day. It’s always at the back of your mind, where you want to be. Obviously, Double-A isn’t ideal, but for me, it’s an opportunity, I can still play this game with an organization like the Yankees, and I still have that opportunity. As long as I take care of business, I’ll get my chance. If I don’t, I won’t. It’s that simple.”

If you loudly objected to the last paragraph by citing Greg A. Harris, notice I wrote “full-time switch-pitcher.” Harris pitched nearly his entire career as a right-handed pitcher. But on September 28, 1995, Harris managed to retire Reggie Harris right-handed, then pitched lefty to Hal Morris and Eddie Taubensee, getting Taubensee out, before finishing the inning right-handed and getting Bret Boone.

One outing later, his career was over. He’s managed to achieve a goal he’d sought for many years, at one point forbidden to try by the Red Sox. But he only started pitching with both hands midway through his major league career. It wasn’t the basis for his professional career, just a footnote.

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It certainly made an impression on Venditte,then doing precisely the same thing as a 10-year-old in Little League.

“I do remember watching the highlight,” Venditte said. “I believe he was pitching for the Expos at the time, and it’s still a recollection that I have, even though it was over 15 years ago.”

Venditte, though, has been throwing with both hands since he was three years old, his father teaching the natural righty the proper technique. To put this in perspective, Harris sent his ambidextrous glove from that one appearance to the Hall of Fame. Venditte uses a similar glove every time he pitches, and has since Little League. And growing up just outside of Omaha, NE, he says his coaches through the years embraced his ability, rather than trying to force him to pick a side.

“I was very fortunate, all the way up through Little League, and high school, even college, I never had a coach that hindered the right- and left-handed work,” Venditte said. “Every coach that I had encouraged it.”   

His manager, Tony Franklin, spoke about what a luxury it is to utilize a relief pitcher without wondering whether he should save him for the right hitter, be it lefty or righty.

“No challenges, no challenges at all,” Franklin told me as we sat in his office, after he’d regaled the half-dozen reporters with stories from his minor league career. “From injury, that’s the only challenge he has. First of all, a great kid. There’s never any issue with Pat. He does a great job getting ready to play.

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“A lot of people, when they first hear about him and want to come see him, they think it’s a circus act. But it isn’t. It’s all business. He puts his time in, and he’s ready to pitch.”

But before Venditte got the chance to regularly practice his switch-pitching craft, he needed to prove to the Yankees, who drafted him in the 20th round out of Creighton University in 2007, that he could get professional hitters out with both hands.

“The Yankees, when they drafted me, they drafted me as a righty,” Venditte said. “The understanding when they signed me was that they were going to give me the opportunity to pitch left-handed, and if I could do it, could get people out, they were going to allow me to keep doing it.”

Venditte certainly succeeded. He pitched to a 0.82 ERA, with 42 strikeouts and just ten walks in 33 innings. Righties hit .136 against him, pitching righty. Lefties hit .089 against him, pitching lefty.  

The experiment was on.

And the success continued with low ERAs, great control and plenty of strikeouts, throwing in the mid-80s lefty, around 90 righty. In Charleston, his first full-season A-ball stop, his ERA was 1.47, and he walked two in 30 2/3 innings, striking out 40. In high-A Tampa in 2010, his ERA was 1.93, with 14 walks and 85 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings. He made the often-tough leap for pitching prospects, pitching to a 3.40 ERA for Double-A Trenton in 2011, with 31 walks and 88 strikeouts in 90 innings. He began 2012 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, just one injury or trade from a call to the major leagues. But just 13 innings in, along came the labrum injury. He tried to rehab it, but eventually decided on surgery. It knocked him out for the rest of his 2012, and deep into 2013.

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One thing that’s changed for Venditte is how often he drops down sidearm from the right side now, in part, his pitching coach Phelps says, to reduce stress on his repaired arm, but also to force hitters to deal with a more deceptive delivery, something that could bridge the gap between his average fastball velocity and the often harder throwers who end up in big league bullpens.  

“With those two arms, and the way he throws, it’s more like a situational guy, being a lower-slot guy versus righthanders, a lower-slot guy versus lefthanders,” Phelps explained.   

Consider the implications of this. Many relievers have gone to a sidearm delivery, and succeeded against their own kind — lefties owning lefties, like Pedro Feliciano and Clay Rapada, righties like Terry Leach or Chad Bradford, the latter of whom got righties out with a low-80s fastball far less impressive than Venditte’s offering.