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With Jeter done for the year, Yankees may be too

Jeter NYDN
Jeter's injury. New York Daily News photo 

No Mariano Rivera. And now, no Derek Jeter. This is a postseason unlike any others the Yankees have had since 1995. In about an hour late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, everything went crazy in the ALCS. The Yankees were in a 4-0 hole and doing nothing until Detroit closer Jose Valverde -- who certainly can't close anymore -- gave up two run homers to Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez to plunge Game One into extra innings.

Detroit won it in the 12th, 6-4, but the Yankees suffered a far bigger loss. Derek Jeter is done for the season. Repeat that. You've never heard it before. Derek Jeter is done for the season. Fractured ankle while fielding a Jhonny Peralta grounder. Clearly an offshoot of the "bone bruise" he's been playing with.

Lots of good reads:

Andrew Marchand, ESPNNY.com: The Yankees are now October underdogs
Wally Matthews, ESPN.com: You might not like your look at the post-Jeter Yanks.
Joel Sherman, Post: 74 minutes between Everest (Ibanez HR) and hell for Yanks.
Mike Vaccaro, Post: Losing the game devastating enough. Losing the captain?
Mike Lupica, Daily News: This one hurts right to the Core (Four)

If you missed the video (it was, after all, after midnight), watch below:


Jayson Nix will play short for the Yankees today. They've got Hiroki Kuroda pitching on short rest for the first time in his career -- and Justin Verlander waiting for Game Three in Detroit. Talk about trouble. This could be a very short series, provided Jim Leyland finds a closer (has to be Octavio Dotel)

In non-Yankees news, be sure to read my Inside Baseball column featuring thoughts on Josh Hamilton, the Nationals, Ozzie Guillen and more.

I'll be in Detroit to cover the ALCS starting with Game Three.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

Another last-strike comeback by Clutch Cards? Crazy!

Cards
The Cardinals celebrate the final out of their stunner in Washington. (AP Photo)

I know the majority of you out there are Yankees fans and props to them -- especially to CC Sabathia -- for finishing off the Orioles Friday in Game Five, 3-1. Good luck in the ALCS against the Tigers starting tonight in the Bronx. They'll need it if they don't find any offense.

But what I can't stop thinking about is the end of the Cardinals-Nationals game. It's just too bizarre for mere words. Almost Groundhog Day. I was in Busch Stadium last year for Game Six of the World Series, when the Cardinals were two runs down and down to their last strike in both the ninth and 10th innings aganist the Rangers and somehow survived.

Last night? Same score in the 9th. 7-5. The Cardinals get four runs to win 9-7 and hand the Nationals a shocking end to the breakout season for baseball in the nation's capital. That fascinating potential Baltimore-Washington World Series? Toast. ESPN.com's Jayson Stark was at both games and neatly connected the two.

In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bernie Miklasz wrote "if you closed your eyes and listened intently, you may have heard the echoes of the late Jack Buck barking "Go crazy, folks. Go crazy." 

In the Washington Times, former News intern Amanda Comak wrote the Nationals "stood on the precipice. One out away. One strike away. One iota away from a ticket into the National League Championship Series." They never got the strike.

Said first baseman Adam LaRoche: "Seven, eight months worth of hard work goes away in one inning like that. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s frustrating. This is going to sting. It’s going to sting until next year.”

In the Post, legendary columnist Tom Boswell unleashed this gem: "You don’t get the whole feast in the first course. But Washington and its baseball fans, in their first visit to baseball’s postseason banquet, didn’t expect to be served arsenic in the appetizer."

Certainly the Stephen Strasburg situation loomed over this one afterward. He would have pitched Game 1 and Game 5 so we'll never know what would have happened. The starting pitchers had a 5.25 ERA but the offense managed just 3.2 runs in the first four games as well.

I say the Nationals tweaked the baseball gods too much -- but letting Teddy win the Presidents Race. Bad karma. Winless until the season finale and perfect in the playoffs? Booo to that.

Relive the Cardinals' comeback here:


So it's Yankees-Tigers and Cardinals-Giants. Give a vote below and watch for my coverage of the ALCS, starting Tuesday with Game Three in Detroit.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington

Girardi makes good call benching A-Rod for Game Five

Be sure to vote in our poll on who will win Yankees-Orioles Game Five (and do it quick before I close it down!)

And do it with this knowledge: No A-Rod in the lineup for the Yankees and he's not happy. 

Quick thought: Joe Girardi has been doing a good job handling a very tricky situation. But he's got more trouble than just A-Rod. With Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano all struggling too, this series would be over if Orioles closer Jim Johnson had been himself, especially in Game Three.

Girardi needs somebody -- anybody -- to get a hit.

(I'm going to be off the Twitter grid for this one covering the Sabres/French Connection statue unveiling. I'll need lots of good tweets to keep me updated!)

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

It's win or go home for Yankees/Orioles, Nats/Cards

OsThe Yankees and Orioles have played 22 games this year counting the regular season. They're 11-11. So it makes sense their division series is going the distance. The Orioles pulled out a 2-1, 13-inning win last night and there were high-fives all around when it ended (left). So it's CC Sabathia vs. Jason Hammel today at 5 in Game Five.

(Tons of inquiries why the Yankees aren't in prime time. The ALCS starts Saturday and the earlier start gives the Tigers extra time to get to New York, or the Orioles extra time to get to Detroit.)

Neither team is hitting but it's certainly pronounced in the Yankees'  lineup. Joe Girardi has to get Raul Ibanez in the lineup tonight. That means either Curtis Granderson sits or (gasp) Alex Rodriguez sits and Eric Chavez plays third. And we still have to see if Derek Jeter is going to DH or play short. Joel Sherman of the New York Post, in fact, says it's time for A-Rod to take a seat and goes over the rest of the lineup possibilities. A-Rod is 0 for 11 with 9 Ks against righties in the series. Yeeesh.

Tonight is the end of the seasonlong sparring between the Yankees and Orioles. Writes great friend of the blog Mike Vaccaro in the Post: "This is the climax to one of greatest two-team races you will ever see. This is Affirmed and Alydar in 1978, a metaphor the Yankees wouldn’t mind continuing since close as Alydar came all across that spring, he never could run down Affirmed. This is one of those Olympic swimming races that somehow ends with one racer touching a wall one-one-hundredth of a second sooner than the other guy."

At 8:30 in DC, it's the Nationals and Cardinals in Game Five. After their Game Three dud, the Nationals won their first home playoff game since 1933 on Jayson Werth's walkoff homer in the ninth off Lance Lynn that produced a 2-1 win. Great column by Thomas Boswell in the Washington Post about how this was the first great playoff moment in the District in generations.

In the Washington Times, former Buffalo News intern Amanda Comak writes that the home run "carried with it the hopes of a team, of a fan base, of an entire city hoping the team’s season would live at least one more day."

It was an incredible, 13-pitch at-bat with an incredible radio call by Charlie Slowes on the Nationals network that starts at the 40-second mark of this clip. 


Be sure to cast your votes for tonight's Game Five winners below.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington
Photo: Associated Press 

MLB updates: Jeter at DH, A-Rod bats fifth; Giants advance

Plenty of news coming out of the Bronx late this afternoon in advance of tonight's Yankees-Orioles game:

JoeG1). Joe Girardi's 81-year-old father passed away in an Illinois nursing home, where he's been dealing with Alzheimer's for many years. Orginally thought to have happened overnight, Jerry Girardi's death apparently took place Saturday and Joe has been keeping it quiet to not cause a distraction for his team. Wow. Joe Girardi spoke about his father today (above) and will manage tonight as normal.

2). Derek Jeter's sore foot will limit him to DH duties tonight, with Jayson Nix starting at short. That's the first time in 155 Yankees postseason games that Jeter will not be at short, dating to the climactic Game Five of the 1995 division series in Seattle. Tony Fernandez started that one, which turned into the Mariners' dramatic, 7-6 victory in 11 innings. 

3). Alex Rodriguez has been dropped to fifth in the lineup but Raul Ibanez is not in the lineup tonight despite his epic performance last night.

Meanwhile, we finally have a team that closed out a game and won a series. The Giants scored six runs in the fifth -- the last four on Buster Posey's grand slam -- and held on to beat the Reds, 6-4, to take their series in five games. Watch the slam here:

The Giants are the first team in NLDS history to crawl out of an 0-2 hole in any format and the first to do it in a 2-3 format when dropping the first two games at home.

Another horrific entry to the odd resume of Reds manager Dusty Baker, who wins plenty of games but blows plenty of big moments. Think 2002 Giants (a 5-0 lead and six outs left to win the '02 World Series in Anaheim), 2003 Cubs (Bartmaned away NLCS to Marlins).

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

(Photo: Getty Images)

Lots of Wednesday momentum to carry into another four-bagger

Raul9th

The old cliche is that momentum is the next day's starting pitcher. But that has to be amended, at least for a day. After what we saw late into Wednesday night and into early Thursday morning I submit that momentum is what we saw yesterday.

Yeesh. We get another quadruple-header today!

The Reds brought a 2-0 lead home but the Giants have won two straight and they play Game Five today at 1. It's up to Mat Latos to give somebody a homefield advantage.

The Cardinals are wiping the floor with the Nationals, who need to win Game Four today at 4 to stay alive. But as Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell insists, the absent Stephen Strasburg isn't the problem. He's wrong, by the way. Boswell, one of the game's famous pens, has supported the Nats' foolishness all year. They're getting theirs now, and this USA Today blog says plenty of rivals are happy. 

Then there's the American League. Where do you begin?

The Orioles were 77-0 this season when leading after seven innings. They had a 2-1 lead with one out in the ninth when Joe Girardi pinch-hits for Alex Rodriguez (a great move, but a wow one) and Raul Ibanez takes 51-save closer Jim Johnson deep to tie the game (above). A-Rod's spot in the lineup is no longer automatic, writes Joel Sherman in the New York Post.

Then Ibanez goes deep again in the 12th to give the Yankees a 3-2 win and make Ibanez the first player in postseason history to tie a game with an HR in the 9th and win it with another in extra innings. Seriously. Game Four tonight at 7:37. Said Mike Vaccaro in the Post: "Girardi hit the greatest jackpot of his managerial career, cashed the biggest Lotto ticket of his life."

Said Mike Lupica in the Daily News on the results of A-Rod taking a seat: "Ibanez gave you a new spin on the old story of Mr. October, three swings for Reggie and three home runs in ’77, when Ibanez swung the bat twice and hit two home runs, and saved the Yankees from having to play for their season Thursday night."

How do the Orioles bounce back? Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck says more offense is the key. Playing the one-run road won't always work and it finally failed the O's in Game Three.

Take a look at Ibanez's heroics here, including the crazy radio calls of Yankees voice John Sterling:


I flip the channel and the Tigers have a 3-1 lead in Oakland. Then it goes to the ninth and they're three outs away. Then Jose Valverde implodes and Coco Crisp's single caps a three-run ninth and the A's win 4-3 and we have Game Five tonight at 9:30. Crazy. Walkoffs R Us, writes San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ann Killion.

CocoHere's the MLB.com video wrapup of the bottom of the ninth. (No embed code, sorry)

All that talk of a Baltimore-Washington World Series is slipping. All the Bay Bridge talk appeared dead but San Francisco-Oakland is back on the table again.

If the Yankees wrap it up tonight, they get to use CC Sabathia in Game One of the ALCS while the Tigers will have already blown through Justin Verlander tonight in Game Five. And doesn't Verlander have to stay in the game as long as possible with the way the Tigers' bullpen is blowing up?

Another long day ahead. Can it possibly come close to yesterday?

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

Yes, the format stinks -- this year

Nats

We're starting one of those great days when all four Division Series matchups will be staged consecutively, starting shortly after 1 p.m. with the Nats-Cardinals game -- the first postseason contest in DC since 1933 -- and likely not wrapping up until around 1 a.m. with the final pitch of Tigers-A's. And here's a quick note: I hear you. Loud and clear.

I've received numerous emails and Twitter replies about the 2-3 format for the NLDS/ALDS and it really does stink. I agree.

It's hardly fair for a team with a better record to have to open with two games on the road. It was patently unfair for the A's to play Friday night in Detroit and then turn around to play Saturday at noon -- which is really 9 a.m. to their bodies. In less than 24 hours, they were in an 0-2 hole.

So what in the name of Bud Selig is going on? 

The second wild-card was added late in the spring, long after the schedule had been drawn and the dates set out for the postseason. You don't want the World Series going into November if you can avoid it (Game Seven is Nov. 1 this year) so you have to limit travel days in the early rounds. You have to have them after Games 2 and 5 of the LCS, so the only real option is keep things tight in the division series.

You added an extra wild-card game and had the fear of tiebreakers and rain really messing with the schedule. So the decision was made to drop the 2-2-1 format for the division series and go back to 2-3, which is how it was in the early years when the wild-card took over in 1995.

Teams howled back then it was unfair and I would think the Yankees, A's, Nationals and Reds all agree (Cincinnati broke through with a 2-0 run in San Francisco). I remember covering the 99-win Indians of 1996 and they were furious they had to open in Baltimore. They lost both games there, won Game Three at home but lost Game Four in 12 innings. That was a better team than the '97 Tribe that went to the World Series but it was the Yankees and Orioles who played in the '96 ALCS.

Still, a Wall Street Journal blog this week showed a negligible impact on the result of the series based on 2-3 or 2-2-1. And, the best team still has Game Five at home anyway.

Here's the good part: It's a one-year thing. Next year's schedule is built to accommodate the days better. Selig & Co. have already said the division series goes back to 2-2-1 next year. As it should. And nothing has changed for the LCS or World Series. That's 2-3-2 as they've long been.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

(AP Photo: Bryce Harper (34) and the Nationals are introduced Wednesday afternoon prior to their first home playoff game against the Cardinals)

Morning update: Leake, not Cueto, gets call for Reds; Yankees hope to plug A-Rod leak in lineup

LeakeHomer Bailey kind of let this one slip during his presser last night and the Reds have made it official today that Mike Leake (left) will start Game Four today against the Giants. Since Leake wasn't on the roster to start the division series, ace Johnny Cueto is coming off due to the back spasms he suffered in Game One.

And that might really hurt the Reds down the line. By being removed,  Cueto is ineligible for the NLCS. 

So last night was a big one for the Bay Area as the Giants and Athletics both staved off elimination. The pressure is really on the Reds and Tigers today to win Game Four and not let their 2-0 leads slip to Game Five. Especially for Detroit, which is playing out in Oakland.

Meanwhile, Chris Carpenter starts today for St. Louis in Washington (the first home postseason game in DC since 1933) and there's still plenty of what-if-they-had-Strasburg talk going on.

ArodMost of the focus around here, of course, deals with the Yankees. They return home in a 1-1 tie with the Orioles but with plenty of questions about their offense. Specifically, Alex Rodriguez (right). When I saw the Yanks in Toronto at the end of the season, A-Rod's bat speed was practically nil. And that's continued here.

Now comes the real question: Does Joe Girardi move him down in the lineup? Sure seems like he has to. This ESPN study shows how the fastball has been killing A-Rod of late. But there's more: A-Rod had two extra-base hits (two!) in his last 88 at-bats of the regular season. He had a .360 slugging percentage and .685 OPS in September.

In the last two years, he's averaging 17 homers and 60 RBIs. And there's still more than $100 million left on his contract. Yikes.

Joe Girardi admitted yesterday he's pondering the A-Rod situation.

Ken Davidoff of the New York Post says it's time for A-Rod to bat sixth. I might go as far as No. 7.

Wally Matthews of ESPNNY.com says you keep A-Rod where he is. 

3:40 p.m. update: We ran a poll earlier today and you can see the results below. Girardi has taken the easy way out and has stayed the course. A-Rod bats third tonight. Boo. 

---Mike Harrington

Twitter: @BNHarrington
(Photos: Associated Press) 

Check the video: Is this an infield fly? No chance

Here's the video of the crazy call that plummeted the NL wild-card game into chaos Friday night in Atlanta.

What in the world were the men in blue thinking? They weren't.

Playoff times set through Tuesday; Yankees open Sunday at 6:15

MLB is piece-mealing game times for the Division Series to allow for national coverage of all games (there can be up to four games in a day).

The Yankees' division series opener, on the road against the winner of today's Baltimore-Texas game, will be Sunday night at 6:15.

Here's the latest updates from MLB.com

Saturday, Oct. 6: ALDS Game 1, OAK at DET, 6:07 p.m. ET, TBS
Saturday, Oct. 6: NLDS Game 1, CIN at SF, 9:37 p.m. ET, TBS

Sunday, Oct. 7: ALDS Game 2, OAK at DET, 12:07 p.m. ET, MLB Network
Sunday, Oct. 7: NLDS Game 1, WSH at STL or ATL, 3:07 p.m. ET, TBS
Sunday, Oct. 7: ALDS Game 1, NYY at BAL or TEX, 6:15 p.m. ET, TBS
Sunday, Oct. 7: NLDS Game 2, CIN at SF, 9:37 p.m. ET, TBS

Monday, Oct. 8: NLDS Game 2, WSH at STL or ATL, 4:37 p.m. ET, TBS
Monday, Oct. 8: ALDS Game 2, NYY at BAL or TEX, 8:07 p.m. ET, TBS

Tuesday, Oct. 9: NLDS Game 3, SF at CIN, 5:37 p.m. ET, TBS
Tuesday, Oct. 9: ALDS Game 3, DET at OAK, 9:07 p.m. ET, TBS

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

It's wild-card Friday: Make your picks

Baseball's first-ever wild-card playoffs are set for today on TBS, with the Cardinals in Atlanta to meet at the Braves at 5 and the choked-the-division-away Rangers hosting the Orioles at 8:30.

It's a pretty interesting addition to the postseason format, as I discussed in today's preview story.

I think the pitching of Kris Medlen will be too much for the Cardinals to handle, and the Braves will keep Chipper Jones' career afloat. In the AL, I think the Rangers will find a way to survive at home -- especially against a Baltimore team that has a 7.62 ERA this season against Texas.

What say you? Vote below

---Mike Harrington

 

Diamond dust on Bobby V, the playoffs and Vizquel

Be sure to catch my thoughts on the new playoff system in Friday's editions. While I'm working on that story, here's a few things running through my mind.

---The Boston Globe has trotted out its list of potential replacements for Bobby Valentine. Blue Jays manager John Farrell is, of course, at the top of the list. And so is Jays first base coach and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Torey Lovullo, whom I talked to on that topic for last week's Inside Baseball column.

---Dan Shaugnessy in today's Globe on Valentine's finale last night in the Bronx: "This must be what it felt like when Richard Nixon was walking around a near-empty White House, holding a tumbler of scotch and talking to the portraits of former presidents that line the hallways of the residence on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

"Bobby Valentine’s final hours as Red Sox manager Wednesday were a little sad. His Boston bowsers rolled over one last time in the Bronx, finishing the season with another pathetic loss (14-2) against the American League East champions. Bobby’s dogs dropped their final eight games, 12 of their last 13, and went 7-22 since Sept. 1."

---I'm trying to figure out what the Orioles are doing starting lefty Joe Saunders in Friday's wild-card game at Texas. He's 0-6 with a 9.36 ERA in his career at Rangers Ballpark. Can you say short leash? The Rangers, meanwhile, are going with Yu Darvish.

---Bad news for the 98-win Nationals: The team with the best record in the regular season has won the World Series just three times since 1990 (The Yankees in 1998 and 2009 and the Red Sox in 2007). 

---I picked the Tigers and Giants to make the World Series in our season preview section in March. I've been thinking for weeks it will be the Reds and the Rangers. What to do, what to do, what to do ...

---Did you catch the way the Blue Jays gave Omar Vizquel a sendoff Wednesday night in the final game of his career? Awesome stuff. Watch the highlights below.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington

It's official already: Red Sox fire Bobby V

BVFile this under the no-kidding category: The Red Sox just fired Bobby Valentine.  GM Ben Cherington will lead the search for a new manager, the team said. Maybe this time, John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner will actually let the GM pick the manager.

Lucchino's hand-picked choice got plenty of pub -- for all the wrong reasons. Bobby V, as it turns out, is the first guy whacked after one year with the Sox since 1934 after leading them to their worst record since 1966.

Wonder if he can trade jobs with Terry Francona again and head back to the ESPN booth.

Talk about the postseason and the Bobby V firing in our live chat here at 2.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

AP Photo: A glum Valentine watches a 14-2 loss during Wednesday's finale in New York

Live chat: MLB postseason discussion with Mike Harrington at 2 p.m.

Sure, we'll talk playoffs. How far do the Yankees go? Can the Nationals really get there without Strasburg? Are the A's for real? And what the heck happened to the Rangers?

But we can also look ahead to the losers like the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Phillies and Mets. Lots of changes coming. Bring your questions!

Yankees, Amazin' A's clinch divisions as playoff schedule is set

It was a pair of routs -- the Yankees' 14-2 win over Boston and Oakland's 12-5 shredding of Texas -- the cemented the final playoff spots Wednesday in game 162 of the regular season.

The list of series openers is below and the entire postseason schedule is at this link:

American League

Friday's wild-card game
Baltimore at Texas, 8:30 (TBS)

Saturday's division series opener
Oakland at Detroit, 6 pm.

Sunday's division series opener
New York at Balt/Tex winner, TBA 

National League

Friday's wild-card game
St. Louis at Atlanta, 5 p.m. (TBS)

Saturday's division series opener
Cincinnati at San Francisco, 9:30

Sunday's division series opener
Washington at St. Louis/Atlanta winner, TBA 

Be sure to join me Thursday for some prediction polls and a live chat here at Buffalonews.com at 2 p.m.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

All coming up Ws for Nationals: Teddy wins his first Presidents Race

Teddywins

Among Crash Davis' numerous lessons to Nuke LaLossh in "Bull Durham" was this one: Never, ahem, mess with a winning streak. Now, it wasn't a winning streak but the Washington Nationals messed with their most famous streak in their season finale Wednesday and superstitious types wonder how that might impact their playoff hopes.

Forget about shutting down Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals let Teddy win. I don't call bully on that. I fear for them now. At least today, they beat the Phillies, 5-1, to clinch homefield in the NL playoffs. We'll see from here.

The Racing Presidents are a fixture at Nationals Park. Giant bobblehead figures of George (Washington), Thomas (Jefferson), Abe (Lincon) and Teddy (Roosevelt) race once a night. And much like the doom that greets Celery at Bisons games every night in the Chicken Wing Race, Teddy has never won a single race. Lost all 534 of them.

Until today, when he won with the help of a phake Phillie Phanatic.

Here's the official video from the Nationals (man, the PA guy is annoying).

Tweeted Teddy after the race (yes, he has a Twitter account): "I'm just getting warmed up! Time to get ready for the postseason! You ain't seen nothing yet! The Rough Rider has arrived!"

Pretty certain there will be more later today on LetTeddyWin.com and the Let Teddy win blog. Yes, there really are such things.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

(Photo: Associated Press)

The final day: A's-Rangers showdown in Oakland; Yankees win away from homefield edge

Six months and 161 games later, it all comes down to this:

---The Athletics and Rangers meet in a 3:35 ET matinee in Oakland that's become a winner-take-all showdown for the AL West title. The A's have won the first two games of the series, including last night's 3-1 victory that ended shortly before 1 a.m. and left both teams with 93-68 records. Today's pitching matchup is Texas veteran Ryan Dempster vs. Oakland rookie A.J. Griffin.

BalfourThe A's were 37-42 and 13 games out of first place on June 30. Since then, they've gone 56-26 (wow!) while the Rangers are 43-39. The A's are trying to become just the fifth team in history to come back from a deficit of 13 games or more and the first since the 1995 Mariners. The last time the A's had a share of the division lead? March 30, when they were 1-1 after splitting with the Mariners in Japan.

Oakland has an amazing rotation of rookies plus a solid bullpen that includes veteran closer Grant Balfour (left).

Quite a difference winning and losing this one. The winner heads right to the division series while the loser has to host the wild-card game, likely against the Orioles, on Friday.

---I'm calling a Yankees win tonight over the Red Sox and a trip to the ALDS for the Bombers (it's Hiroki Kuroda vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka) Moreover, they would claim homefield advantage in the playoffs as well, something that didn't seem likely a couple of weeks ago. But the Rangers are 4-8 in their last 12 games and 2-6 in the last eight (including 2-4 against Oakland). That's brought the Yankees and A's back in the hunt.

RaulThe Yankees got in this position by getting a couple huge swings from Raul Ibanez in a 4-3, 12-inning win over the Red Sox. Ibanez hit a two-run homer off Andrew Bailey in the ninth and was greeted by Alex Rodriguez (right) when he won the game on an RBI single in the 12th.

Anyone still want Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui as the Yankees' DH?  And don't forget the 13th-inning homer Ibanez hit to cap the four-run inning and get the Yankees even against Oakland on Sept. 22. The Yanks won that game in 14; how big does that one look now?

The Yankees, of course, could slip back into a tie with Baltimore if they lose today and the Orioles win at Tampa Bay. If that happens, the teams would meet Thursday at Camden Yards.

A lot less to settle in the NL after the Dodgers' loss to the Giants late last night clinched the second wild-card for the Cardinals. The Nationals have the tiebreak edge over the Reds and can clinch homefield with a win today over the Phillies. The Braves and Cardinals will meet Friday in Atlanta in the first NL wild card playoff.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

(Photos: Associated Press)

Away from the pennant races, Greenberg's One At Bat is on tonight's docket

The Mets and Marlins play a relatively meaningless game tonight in Miami (7 p.m., SNY) and it's noteworthy for two things: R.A. Dickey's attempt to go for his 21st win and Adam Greenberg's at-bat.

Greenberg, you may recall, was the subject of a post here last week that detailed how he's been signed to a one-day contract by the Marlins and will get one at-bat -- more than seven years after getting beaned in the head during the only pitch he saw in the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs. That pitch, oddly enough, came from Marlins reliever Valerio De Los Santos, so the club made Greenberg the offer in the wake of a huge online petition drive.

Greenberg was offered the contract Thursday on NBC's Today Show and is expected to appear on the show again Wednesday morning to discuss his appearance in the game.

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said Monday night the team thought about starting Greenberg and batting him leadoff but will instead simply use him as a pinch-hitter. Expected in the stands is 75-year-old Fred Van Dusen, the only other player in MLB history to be hit by a pitch in his lone big-league at-bat. 

Here's a story on Greenberg from Tyler Kepner of the New York Times.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

Top Yankees pitching prospect Banuelos needs Tommy John surgery

Banuelos

The Yankees want to cut payroll to about $189 million by 2014 to avoid luxury tax payments and one way to do it is to go young in their rotation. That theory got quite a bit tougher today.

In a surprising bit of news out of the Bronx, the team announced that 21-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos (above) -- considered a likely member of that '14 rotation -- is going to need Tommy John surgery and will be out all of next season.

It's thus hard to imagine Banuelos having much impact at the big-league level until 2015. He was 0-2, 4.50 this year at Scranton before getting shut down in mid-May. At the time, the Yankees said his elbow trouble was not serious, but Banuelos never returned to the mound and an approach of rest and rehab has not worked.

Banuelos started for Scranton against the Bisons in the second home game of the season on April 12 in Coca-Cola Field and had a disastrous outing. In two innings, he gave up three hits and walked six (but somehow only gave up two runs). He threw just 36 of his 74 pitches for strikes on a 49-degree afternoon but got a no-decision in a 7-2 Scranton win.

Banuelos and 6-foot-8 Dellin Betances were expected to anchor the Scranton rotation and punch their tickets to New York soon. But Banuelos got hurt and Betances ended up back at Double-A Trenton after blowing up in Scranton and pitched poorly in both places (3-5, 6.39 at Scranton, 3-4, 6.51 at Trenton). Betances is trying to get himself together this month for Scottsdale of the Arizona Fall League.

Oddly enough, Betances was a disaster in Buffalo the day before Banuelos -- allowing eight runs on seven hits and walking six in 3 1/3 innings in the Bisons' 12-3 win in the home opener on April 11. Yankees fans here sure didn't see much from the Bombers' key pitching prospects in 2011.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

It's a clinch: Nats, Tigers, A's get in; Cards one away

Nats

The Washington Nationals -- yes, the Washington Nationals -- and Detroit Tigers became division winners Monday night. The Oakland A's clinched an improbable wild-card berth and can still win the AL West, while the Yankees moved a step closer in the AL East and the Cardinals are on the brink of cementing baseball's first wild-card playoff matchup.

The Nationals lost to the Phillies, 2-0, but clinched the NL East in the middle of the ninth inning of that one when the Braves lost at Pittsburgh, 2-1, and the party was officially on at Nationals Park (above). Former Buffalo News intern Amanda Comak reports on all the sights and sounds of the celebration in today's Washington Times.

So now we officially have the scenario so many people in baseball have wondered about: The Nationals are in the playoffs, but how will they do without Stephen Strasburg? They have a 21-game winning ace in Gio Gonzalez and another stud in Jordan Zimmermann but we'll have to see how the rest of the rotation holds up.

The Tigers won at Kansas City, 6-3, and that was enough to clinch the AL Central in what was an up-and-down year. The White Sox won at Cleveland, 11-0 but Chicago's 2-9 slump proved fatal in the division. Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown hopes grew with a four-hit night. He's batting .329 but Angels rookie Mike Trout also had four hits and is at .325. He has 44 home runs, one ahead of Josh Hamilton and leads by 10 in the RBI race.

In Oakland, the A's posted a 4-3 win over Texas to clinch the wild-card. And if they beat the Rangers in the final two games, they would take the AL West and send the two-time defending AL champions on a stunning slide into Friday's wild-card games. The Rays were eliminated.

Wrote Susan Slusser in the San Francisco Chronicle: "An improbable, implausible, absurd season for the Oakland A's churned out one sensational story after another, and at last comes the most fantastic tale yet: The 2012 A's are going to the postseason."

It is crazy to ponder how a team that traded the likes of Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey over the winter -- and has five rookies in its rotation -- will finish ahead of the big-money Angels and make the postseason.

Said outfielder Jonny Gomes, an alum of the upstart 2008 Rays: "We wear jerseys on the field. We don't wear contracts between the lines."

The Yankees can clinch the AL East tonight with another win over Boston and another Baltimore loss in Tampa Bay. New York's 10-2 win Monday featured a franchise record-tying four home runs in a nine-run second. The Red Sox are just pathetic, as John Harper writes in the Daily News.  The Cardinals' magic number is one for the second NL wild-card and a one-game showdown with the Braves Friday in Atlanta.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

(Photo: Associated Press)

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About Inside Pitch

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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