Max Scherzer

Best of MLB: Red Sox clinch AL East, get Astros in ALDS

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Best of MLB: Red Sox clinch AL East, get Astros in ALDS

BOSTON —The hard chopper bounced off first baseman Mitch Moreland's glove and high into the air. Second baseman Brock Holt jumped to glove the ball and flipped it to first, where David Price was covering.

When the Boston Red Sox needed him, Price was there.

The one-time ace came out of the bullpen in relief of Drew Pomeranz and squelched a dangerous seventh-inning rally on Saturday, helping the Red Sox beat the Houston Astros 6-3 and clinch the first back-to-back AL East titles in franchise history.

With the win, the Red Sox avoided a possible tiebreaker against the rival New York Yankees.

"That was important: Just get it done today," outfielder Hanley Ramirez said afterward in the Red Sox clubhouse, where music blared, the lockers were covered in plastic and players wore goggles to protect their eyes from the spray of beer and domestic sparkling wine.

With the Boston win, the Yankees were left with a wild-card spot and a one-game matchup against the Minnesota Twins for the right to play Cleveland in the best-of-five AL Division Series. The Astros' loss meant the Indians, with the tiebreaker over Houston and 101 wins entering Saturday, clinched the best record in the AL (see full recap).  

Rockies clinch postseason berth with Brewers loss
DENVER — The Colorado Rockies sprayed soda around the clubhouse and even did a bit of dancing after clinching their first postseason berth since 2009.

Then, they had to go play a game - pressure free, of course.

Colorado sewed up the second NL wild-card spot courtesy of St. Louis' 7-6 win over Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon. Former Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio recorded the final out for the Cardinals.

The Rockies will face Arizona in the NL wild-card game Wednesday night.

Colorado fans trickling into Coors Field before the game against Los Angeles let out a roar after the final out. The Cardinals-Brewers game was shown on the scoreboard.

In the clubhouse, the Rockies wildly celebrated after gathering in front of a TV. Ian Desmond showered his teammates with soda, Jonathan Lucroy raised his hands in triumph, Nolan Arenado let out a scream and Carlos Gonzalez broke into a dance (see full recap). 

Nationals ace Scherzer exits with apparent leg injury
WASHINGTON — Nationals ace Max Scherzer has been pulled from his start against Pittsburgh because of an apparent injury to his right leg.

The NL East champions didn't provide immediate word on the extent of Scherzer's condition Saturday night.

Scherzer stumbled on a 2-2 pitch to Josh Bell in the fourth inning. Scherzer then began to throw a full-count pitch, but abruptly stopped when time was called.

Washington manager Dusty Baker, pitching coach Mike Maddux and team trainers visited the mound and quickly took out Scherzer.

This was Scherzer's final tuneup before the Nationals play the Chicago Cubs in the Division Series beginning Friday.

Scherzer leads the National League with 268 strikeouts. He is 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA.

The two-time Cy Young winner had given up one hit and struck out five in 3 1/3 scoreless innings when he was hurt.

Yankees get AL wild card; Judge hits 52nd HR
NEW YORK — In a way, manager Joe Girardi figures, Aaron Judge and some of the young New York Yankees without any postseason experience already have gotten the feel of playoff pressure.

The Yankees wound up with an AL wild-card spot Saturday, beating Toronto 2-1 on Judge's 52nd home run shortly before Boston clinched the AL East crown.

New York needed two wins and two losses by Boston to force a tiebreaker Monday at Yankee Stadium. Instead, the Yankees will host Minnesota in the wild-card game Tuesday.

"I started thinking about that the last couple of days where in a sense they're elimination games for us," Girardi said. "We were five down coming home from the road trip and our guys just continued to play well. They continued to play loose. They continued to make pitches, grind out at-bats and that was encouraging to me because it's not like we've had a chance to turn it off and I like that."

The wild-card winner will face Cleveland in the best-of-five AL Division Series. Boston, which beat Houston about 20 minutes after the Yankees won, is set to take on the Astros in the playoffs (see full recap). 

Miscues neutralize Phillies' power in 1-run loss to Nationals

Miscues neutralize Phillies' power in 1-run loss to Nationals

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — This one left Pete Mackanin shaking his head.

"If you would have told me that we'd hit three three-run homers and lose the ballgame, I wouldn't have believed it," the Phillies manager said after his team hung around and hung around before losing, 11-10, to the Washington Nationals on Friday night (see observations).

"You score 10 runs ... you'd like to win a game when you score 10."

Those 10 runs went for naught because of some horrendous defense in the bottom of the third inning. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez booted a tailor-made double-play ball and three batters later the Nationals put four runs on the board when Michael A. Taylor clubbed an inside-the-park grand slam against Phillies starter Jake Thompson.

The inside-the-park grannie was a little tainted because it came as the result of a misplay in center field by Odubel Herrera (see video).

Herrera at first broke in on Taylor's line drive. He then tried to scurry back before jumping and flailing at air. The ball rolled to the wall and the bases emptied as the Nats took a 6-3 lead that they never relinquished.

"That one inning hurt us bad," Mackanin said. "It would have been two outs and nobody on base and it led to four runs. That was the difference in the game."

Mackanin acknowledged that Herrera misplayed Taylor's liner to center, but added that it was a tough play.

"The ones right at you, you can't tell if they're going to take off or sink and he just misplayed it," Mackanin said.

Herrera then compounded the misplay by not exactly busting it for the ball as it rolled to the wall.

"I couldn’t tell for sure," Mackanin said. "It did not look like he was sprinting. But in the end, [Taylor] would have been out by 10 feet. The relay (from shortstop J.P. Crawford) was way off the mark."

Herrera explained the misplay.

"I didn’t read the line drive well," he said. "I thought it was going to sink. It didn't. It picked up."

Herrera's miscues did not stop with the misplay in the third inning. In the fifth, he was taking his time getting set in the batter's box when Washington ace Max Scherzer whistled a third-strike fastball by him. Herrera is notorious for being slow to get set and Scherzer taught him a lesson. Or did he? Time will tell. And, no, Herrera was not asking for time out when he raised his left hand. He does that every time, as if to tell the umpire he's not ready. But once he's in the box, he's fair game.

"He caught me by surprise," Herrera said. "I thought it wasn't even legal, or valid, what he did. I thought the umpire was going to say something to him but he didn't. Obviously, they know me and that I take a little long to set up, so he took advantage of it."

Mackanin did not think Scherzer did anything wrong.

"Odubel has a tendency to get caught up in his own little routine and, you know, he has to make sure he doesn't get caught putting his head down and waiting to get ready," he said. "We've seen quick pitches before and that really wasn’t even a quick pitch. Scherzer wound up and caught everybody by surprise."

After the four-run third inning, Washington kept on scoring, a run in the fourth against Jake Thompson, three in the sixth against reliever Yacksel Rios and one in the eighth against Hector Neris.

As it turned out, Washington needed all those runs because the Phils got a three-run homer from Rhys Hoskins (his 13th in 102 at-bats) in the seventh and another three-run homer from Maikel Franco in the ninth to make it a one-run game. Sean Doolittle came on with no outs and stopped the Phillies' rally. The South Jersey product is 17 for 17 in save opportunities since joining the Nats from Oakland in a July trade. Doolittle struck out all three batters he faced, including Jorge Alfaro. El Oso responded by breaking his bat over his knee in frustration. That's a strong man.

You know who else is strong? Nick Williams. He turned around a Scherzer fastball for a three-run home run in the first inning and finished with four hits on the day he turned 24. Williams, who has 10 homers and 43 RBIs since arriving from Triple A on June 30, was pumped to face Scherzer, last year's NL Cy Young award winner.

"In the [batting] cage before the game, I was talking with (hitting coach Matt) Stairs and he said this is probably the best pitcher you'll face in this league," Williams said. "A lot of people think he's the best pitcher in the game. I've watched him a lot on TV and everyone knows him. Stepping in the box, it's kind of like a big-league call-up all over again. You watch these guys as a kid and then you face them. The result — it was crazy. I can't even explain it."

Williams' three-run homer gave the Phils an early lead, but it didn't hold up. It's not often the Phils score 10 runs in a game, but that wasn't enough to overcome some poor defense.

The loss dropped the Phils to 53-88, worst in the majors.

Washington's magic number for clinching the NL East title is down to three.

Phillies-Nationals observations: Sloppy defense in 11-10 loss

Phillies-Nationals observations: Sloppy defense in 11-10 loss

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — From the start, this was not going to be a good matchup for the Phillies. They seldom fare well against Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, last year's National League Cy Young winner.

Scherzer was the winning pitcher in an 11-10 Washington victory on Friday night. He is 9-1 in 14 career starts against the Phils.

The Phillies took an early 3-0 lead on Scherzer, but it vanished amid the adventures — or misadventures — of Odubel Herrera in center field.

The Phillies pulled within a run on a pair of late-game three-run homers by Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco before Nationals closer Sean Doolittle came on and nailed down the win with three strikeouts. Doolittle's second strikeout came against Jorge Alfaro. The Phillies catcher snapped his bat in half over his knee after the strikeout. That's a strong man.

The Phillies are a majors-worst 53-88.

Washington's magic number for clinching the NL East title is down to three.

• Herrera misplayed a line drive by Michael A. Taylor into an inside-the-park grand slam in the bottom of the third inning. Herrera, at first, broke in on the ball. Then he scurried back. Then he jumped flat-footed for the ball. It rolled to the wall, Herrera jogged after it and Taylor circled the bases (see story). Earlier in the inning, second baseman Cesar Hernandez booted a tailor-made double-play ball.

• Herrera's miscues did not stop with the misplay in the third inning. In the fifth, he was taking his time getting set in the batter's box and Scherzer whistled a third-strike fastball by him. Herrera is notorious for being slow to get set and Scherzer taught him a lesson. Or did he? Time will tell. And, no, Herrera was not asking for time out when he raised his left hand. He does that every time, as if to tell the umpire he's not ready. But once he's in the box, he's fair game.

• While Herrera struggled in center field, Taylor excelled there for the Nationals. He cut down a run at the plate with a perfect throw in the seventh. On Thursday night, he robbed a home run from Andres Blanco. Taylor had four hits, adding a triple late in the game.

• Phillies starter Jake Thompson was hardly sharp, but his defense was awful.

• Freddy Galvis was not in the starting lineup for the first time this season as the Phillies looked at rookie J.P. Crawford at shortstop (see story). Crawford had two hits, including his first extra-base hit, and drove in a run. He is expected to play second base on Saturday night. Galvis pinch hit in the sixth inning, so he has played in all 141 games. He will return to shortstop Saturday night.

• The Phillies did some early damage against Scherzer. He walked two in the first inning then surrendered a three-run homer to rookie Nick Williams. Williams turned around a 93-mph fastball with a short, quick, powerful stroke. It was his 10th homer — he also has 43 RBIs — since coming up on June 30. Before the game, general manager Matt Klentak raved about the production and energy Williams has brought to the club.

"It's going on three months of production from him. I can't say enough about what Nick has brought to this team," Klentak said. "He deserves all the credit for it — just the style of play, the energy level that he brings. It's contagious. I know the players and the coaching staff would share that sentiment. He has enough of a sample now that this looks like the player Nick Williams is. And that's not to say he can't get better. He's making improvements at the major-league level. Where some players come up and struggle and take steps back, he appears to be going the other way. He's been a very positive development success story."

• Hoskins, who batted third, belted a three-run homer off lefty Oliver Perez in the seventh. It was his 13th homer in 29 games with the club. Seven of the Phillies' runs were driven in by rookies — three each by Williams and Hoskins and one by Crawford.

• Phillies pitchers threw a bunch of hanging breaking balls in this game.

• Howie Kendrick has played an important role in Washington's banged-up outfield since coming over from the Phillies at the trade deadline. He entered the game hitting .310 with six doubles, two triples, five homers and 22 RBIs since the trade. He made a heads-up base-running play in the first inning when he went first to third on a base hit to leftfielder Hyun Soo Kim. He eventually scored. Kendrick's time with the Phillies was brief and he had two stints on the disabled list, but he does a lot of little things right. Word is the Nats are thrilled with the pickup.

• Another pitching injury: Promising reliever Jesen Therrien is out for the season with an injury to the ulna collateral ligament in his right elbow. Therrien is still being evaluated medically, but Tommy John surgery is a possibility. Therrien struggled in 15 appearances in the majors after putting himself on the map with some excellent work at Double A and Triple A earlier this season.

• Herrera did manage an infield hit, improving his hitting streak to 21 games, longest in the majors this season.

• The series continues on Saturday night with Mark Leiter Jr. (2-5, 4.74) opposing Washington right-hander Edwin Jackson (5-4, 3.29).