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Super Saturday afternoon slate in wild card races

By Mike Harrington

Today is game 161, the second-last day of the season. Here's our playoff update:

AL divisions/homefield: The Red Sox have a magic number of one to wrap up the top seed after Friday's 12-3 win over the Orioles and would thus meet the wild card winner in the division series. The Tigers would play the A's in the other series, with Oakland having home-field advantage.

AL wild card: Everyone is in action early this afternoon, with Texas hosting Los Angeles at noon, Cleveland at Minnesota at 1 and Tampa Bay at Toronto at 1. The Rays' 6-3 loss in Toronto Friday night dropped them into a tie with the Indians at 90-70, while the Rangers' win over the Angels pushed them to 89-71. Cleveland has won eight in a row, Texas has won five straight and Tampa Bay's loss Friday snapped a seven-game winning streak. All finishing very strong.

NL divisions/wild card: The Cardinals clinched the Central with Friday's win over the Cubs and are tied with the Braves at 95-65. The Dodgers (92-68) will be the No. 3 seed. The Pirates have a two-game lead on the Reds with two to play after Friday's 4-1 win in Cinci and need just one more win to clinch homefield against the Reds in the wild-card game. 

Pettitte's farewell: Nothing involving any of the races going on tonight, with the most significant game being the Yankees' 7:05 contest at Houston on YES. It will be the final start in the career of left-hander and suburban Houston resident Andy Pettitte, as John Harper sets the stage in today's New York Daily News and Ken Davidoff offers a similiar-scene setter in the Post. 

Quick thought: Doesn't Joe Girardi have to send Mariano Rivera out to pull Pettitte tonight?

Playoff scenarios for the final weekend of the season

By Mike Harrington

Games 160-161-162 will be played this weekend and there are plenty of things up for grabs. The quick list:

AL East -- The Red Sox have wrapped it up. Their magic number over Oakland to finish with the best record is 2 (Boston is at Baltimore this weekend while Oakland is at Seattle). The A's have the tiebreaker edge.

AL Central/AL West -- The Tigers and A's have already clinched divisions and will meet in the division series for the second straight year if the Red Sox finish with the best record.

AL wild cards -- Tampa Bay (90-69) leads Cleveland (89-70) by a game, with the Rays in Toronto and the Indians in Minnesota. Texas (88-71) is a game back and hosting the Angels. 

If Tampa Bay and Cleveland finish tied, the Rays would host the wild card game by virtue of their regular season record. MLB announced the following scenario today if all three teams finish tied: The Indians would host the Rays on Monday, with the winner getting one berth. The losing club would then play Tuesday in Texas, with the winner of that game getting the other wild card.

A big developing story from the Indians is that bedraggled Cleveland closer Chris Perez has apparently lost his job, with reporters in Minneapolis saying former staff ace Justin Masterson said before tonight's game he may be part of a closer-by-committee solution. Manager Terry Francona was non-commital to Perez after the Twins got four ninth-inning runs off him Thursday night. Perez is 1-1 with a 7.52 ERA and three blown saves since Aug. 1

NL divisions: The Braves (94-65) and Dodgers (91-68) have clinched while the Cardinals (94-65) have a magic number of 1 heading into tonight's home game against the Cubs. They would also clinch if the Pirates lose at home against the Reds. Atlanta owns a tiebreaker edge for homefield and it's a huge difference because the Braves enter tonight an MLB-best 54-24 at Turner Field.

NL wild card: The Pirates and Reds are meeting in Tuesday's NL one-game showdown. It's just a question if the game is at PNC Park or Great American Ballpark. The teams are meeting this weekend in Cincinnati and whoever takes two out of three games gets to host the playoff, which will be the Pirates' first postseason game since 1992.

Must-see video: Mariano says farewell to the Bronx


The radio/TV calls as Mariano Rivera is pulled from the game by Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter. (YES Network-WCBS Radio/Sun Sports TV-WDAE Radio)

NYD
The incredible front-back horizontal cover of today's New York Daily News.

By Mike Harrington

It's being called simply the coolest pitching change in the history of baseball. Hyperbole perhaps? Sure. But after what we saw in the ninth inning Thursday night in Yankee Stadium, no one is going to argue.

If you missed it, Mariano Rivera got four straight outs in the Yankees' 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay. With two outs in the top of the ninth, longtime teammates Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter -- and not manager Joe Girardi -- came out to the mound to remove him from the game, with a smiling Jeter clearly mouthing "Time to go". Rivera and Pettitte exchanged a long hug, with Rivera sobbing on his friend's shoulders, before he headed for the dugout and curtain calls. When the game ended, Rivera came back to the mound to collect some dirt for posterity.

Girardi masterminded the moment and got the blessing of the umpires. 

And during an emotional press conference, Rivera took time to thank the media because he told several of them he regretted doing so during his pregame speech to the crowd on Sundays. He said, "I love you guys" and the writers in the room correctly broke every rule about media decorum and applauded. Awesome.

My feeling is that is how Mariano should go out as a pitcher. No offense to the good folks of Houston, but I hope he doesn't throw in the Yankees' final series there this weekend. If he wants to play center field maybe let him do it. Otherwise, this should be the goodbye. Still, this New York Daily News story says he might do both.

Also in the Daily News, Mark Feinsand neatly writes, "Credit Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte with the save Thursday night."

And how about the incredible horizontal front-back cover the Daily News put out above -- on deadline with no warning this was going to happen!

In the New York Post, great friend of this blog Mike Vaccaro writes it was a sendoff befitting the best ever. Post teammate Kevin Kernan simply closed by saying "What a Mo-Ment it was."

A great tweet from Rays Manager Joe Maddon: "For me tonight was not unlike the Ripken moment. Hard to imagine anyone surpassing Mariano. It's like DiMaggio's streak: untouchable."

Pettitte announces retirement; final start in Bronx to be Sunday on Mariano tribute day

Andy
The classic Andy Pettitte windup. (Getty Images)


By Mike Harrington

This just in from Joel Sherman of the New York Post -- Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte is going to announce his retirement later this afternoon, leaving him two more starts in the big leagues.

12:30 p.m. update: Pettitte has issued a statement confirming the news and will speak to the media later this afternoon.

Pettitte is slated to be the starter Sunday in Yankee Stadium against the Giants, on the day the team is planning its official farewell to retiring closer Mariano Rivera, and would then make his final start next weekend in Houston. That's a pretty nice way to close, as Pettitte lives in the Houston area and the Astros are the only other team he's played with in his career. 

Pettitte's career resume is an interesting one, with with 255 career wins and 19 more in the posteason, Its those games that make him a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. The 19 wins are the most in history, and no one else has more than 15. Pettitte led all pitchers in wins in the 2000s (148) and is the only pitcher in history to win three postseason series-clinching games (2009). 

Of course, his admission to PED use following a 2002 elbow injury also lingers on his Hall candidacy as well. And Pettitte is expected to be deposed in the Brian McNamee-Roger Clemens mess next week. 

It's Durham vs. Omaha for Triple-A title as IL, PCL seasons end

The Durham Bulls celebrate the last out of the Governors' Cup final.

By Mike Harrington

The Durham Bulls and Omaha Storm Chasers wrapped up their league titles Saturday night and will meet Tuesday night in Lehigh Valley in the Triple-A National Championship Game (7 p.m., NBCSN).

Both teams won the titles in Game Four on the road. Durham won at Pawtucket, 7-0, while Omaha -- a 70-74 team during the regular season -- wrapped up a 6-1 PCL postseason with a 10-5 win at Salt Lake.

The Durham victory was particularly amazing because the Bulls held Pawtucket scoreless for the final 29 innings of the series, including all 20 at the PawSox home field. Durham won Game Three in McCoy Stadium on Friday night, 2-0 in 14 innings, as Pawtucket managed just four hits. The PawSox had only two hits in the finale. Former Wilson High and UB pitcher Steve Geltz retired both batters he faced in the eighth inning of the finale.

Here's the Providence Journal recap of the final game.

And here's the Durham Herald-Sun's story on the Bulls' fourth title since joining the IL in 1998. The Bulls also won in 2002 (sweeping the Bisons in the final), 2003 and 2009, when they took the Triple-A title with a win over Memphis.

IL, PCL finals resume tonight: Pawsox-Bulls tied, Omaha can clinch 2nd title in three years

By Mike Harrington

Pawtucket and Durham split the first two games of the Governors' Cup finals and will continue the International League championship series tonight at Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium. The Red Sox are trying to become back-to-back champions for the first time in their history and all three of their previous championships were won on the road. With the final three games in Rhode Island, they could wrap up a title at McCoy for the first time.

The teams split 2-1 victories at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, with the hosts taking Wednesday's game to even the series. In the Pacific Coast League, Omaha won its two games at home and heads to Salt Lake with a 2-0 lead in its series. Both series took Thursday off.

The Omaha Storm Chasers are the longtime Kansas City affiliate known as the Royals when the Bisons played them in their American Association days. They won their division in the regular season with a 70-74 record but upset 82-win Oklahoma City in three straight in the semifinals and are trying to make it 6 for 6 against Salt Lake, the Angels affiliate. The Bees beat Wally Backman-led Las Vegas, the Mets affiliate that was booted from Buffalo after last season, in four games in the semis.

Omaha won both games Wednesday, 3-2 and 2-1 (with the second win coming on a walk-off homer), after Tuesday's opener was suspended by rain.

The winners meet in the Triple-A National Championship Game, which is Tuesday night at Lehigh Valley and will be televised on NBC Sports Network. 

In the throes of the 2013 pennant race, the 2014 MLB schedule is out

By Mike Harrington

Baseball released its tentative 2014 master schedule Tuesday, beginning with the previously announced two-game series between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia. The annual Sunday night opener will be played March 30 with the teams yet to be determined (my guess might be Red Sox at Orioles unless the Tigers win the World Series, which could make Royals-Tigers the ESPN target. Or it could be the Cubs at Pirates).

Here's a look at how things open up and other notes on the teams I hear the most about from WNY fans: 

Yankees: They begin next season just as this one will end -- with a series in Houston, a three-gamer that opens April 1. They play in Toronto April 4-5-6, June 23-24-25,  and Aug. 29-30-31, and in Cleveland on July 7-8-9-10. The season ends with a three-gamer in Fenway Park (Sept. 26-27-28)

Blue Jays: They open on the road March 31 at Tampa Bay, part of a four-game series. The home opener will be a big one on Friday, April 4 against the Yankees. The interleague visitors to Toronto next season will be the Phillies (May 7-8), the Cardinals (June 6-7-8), Brewers (June 1-2) and Cubs (Sept. 8-9-10). Bad for stretch-drive drama: Neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox come to Toronto in September. 

Red Sox: the Fenway opener is April 4 against the Brewers. In the spirit of 1975, the Reds come to town for an interleague visit May 6-7. 

Mets: They open at home March 31 against the Nationals. The games against the Yankees are May 12-13 in the Bronx and May 14-15 in Citi Field. 

Indians: They open March 31 in Oakland, which is an easy trip from their spring base in Arizona and cuts off one long jaunt to the West. The home opener is Friday, April 4 against the Twins. The Red Sox visit June 2-3-4 while the Yankees have the aforementioned July 7-10 series. Interleague visitors are the Rockies, Reds and Diamondbacks.

Pirates: Will they be raising a banner of some sort for that home opener? We'll see. The Blue Jays come in May 2-3-4, while the Mets are in June 26-27-28-29, and the Tigers visit Aug. 11-12.  The biggest interleague series is (a potential World Series rematch?) with the Red Sox at PNC Park on Sept. 16-17-18.

After 20 losing seasons, the Pirates are finally winners

PGBy Mike Harrington

Nearly 21 years after Sid Bream slid home to win Game Seven of the NLCS in Atlanta and broke every heart in Pittsburgh, the Pirates are winners again.

The longest streak of losing seasons in American team sports ended Monday night as the Pittsburgh Pirates survived a nailbiter at Texas, 1-0, to win their 82nd game of the season -- and cement their first winning record since 1992.

As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette aptly noted today since the last Pirates winning season, "the United States launched two wars, impeached a president, sent a spacecraft to Mars and made Miley Cyrus -- who wasn't even alive the previous time the Pirates had a winning season -- a star. The Pirates, meanwhile, moved into a new stadium, changed owners twice, employed seven managers and five general managers and lost 1,857 games."

Click the page above for a closer look at the paper's celebratory presentation from this morning, including a look comparing life in 1992 to 2013.

With the Steelers and Penguins perennial winners, the Pirates' losing streak was a source of civic disdain. P-G columnist Gene Collier says the Bucs "were never considered lovable losers around here, were never given even a temporary license to stink with impunity like the long-suffering Chicago Cubs and their insufferable "We Wubs Da Cubs," audience or the 120-loss New York Mets of 1962, who were at least comical. Not here buddy. This town finds losing about as cuddly as a wharf rat."

Unless they completely fall apart down the stretch, the Pirates are just about a lock to make the postseason. They'd obviously love to win the NL Central, and currently trail St. Louis by one game with 19 left.

I know several Pirates fans who were convinced this had to be the year to finally snap the streak. One of them reminded me this is year 21 since the losing began. And No. 21, of course, was worn by the late, great Roberto Clemente. No way, the thinking goes, he was going to let the losing include his number.

Here's Monday's final out and the exultation to Pirates fans that "your long national nightmare is over" as called by old friend Greg Brown. The longtime Bucs voice spent five years in Buffalo (1989-93) as a radio analyst for the Bisons and Bills.

(Pittsburgh P-G front page from Newseum.org)

Who wants to win the second AL wild-card? Yankees and Rays sure don't seem like they do

YanksPs
Joe Girardi (28) does his thing Saturday -- yanking another pitcher. This time, it's starter David Huff. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

Does anyone want to win the wild-card in the American League? 

Right now the Yankees and Rays sure don't seem to. The Indians and Orioles sure do. It's setting up for a bizarre final three weeks.

Here's a look at the AL wild-card standings. I think the loser of the A's-Rangers showdown for the AL West title takes one wild-card. The battle is for No. 2.

The Rays, who have lost eight of 10, have a one-game lead over both the Orioles and Indians. But Baltimore has won three straight while Cleveland has won four in a row and has an incredibly easy schedule the rest of the way that includes six games against the White Sox, four against the Twins and four against the Astros. 

Remember how the Yankees spent the first four months of the season living off their pitching, especially their bullpen, and couldn't hit a lick? It's completely turned around now. They're scoring plenty of runs and can't get anybody out. Saturday's 13-9 loss to the Red Sox marked the third straight game they've scored at least eight runs and LOST -- something they've never done in their history. Wow.

In today's Daily News, veteran columnist Bill Madden says exactly what most Yankee fans think right now -- this team is an illusion and not worthy of the postseason.  And as we head into the final few games of Mariano Rivera's career, Post columnist Joel Sherman points out that the greatest closer ever is slipping from superhuman to just very good.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are running away in the AL East with an 8 1/2-game lead. They have 54 runs on 64 hits -- including 17 homers -- in the last four games. Jeez. No wonder Jonny Gomes cracked, "We're doing it in bulk right now."

I still like the Tigers to go to the World Series out of the American League. But they need a healthy Miguel Cabrera. The Red Sox have a shaky corps of middle relievers but the Sons of John Farrell and Torey Lovullo are becoming the best story in baseball this side of the Pirates. Good stuff.

Feel-good video: Upset kid gets a ball at Diamondbacks game

By Mike Harrington

Here's one from Phoenix I completely missed over the weekend that a friend sent me an email link to. It's going to be timeless. Trust me and watch it.

Gerardo Parra of the Diamondbacks goes to flip an errant ball into the stands to a young fan -- and it's swiped by an older kid (in the white T-shirt) with longer arms. The little guy is bummed and the camera stays focused on him.

Then a strange thing happened. Another kid -- in a Giants cap -- apparently went to the souvenir stand and bought the little guy one of those souvenir balls (they're in the $10-$15 range) to make up for his disappointment!

Yahoo's Big League Stew blog weighed in on the episode.

Here's the video from MLB.com and Comcast Bay Area, with Giants announcers and former big-leaguers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow at the mic. Kuiper said it all when he asked, "Is that not the best?"

WNYers in pro ball -- final minor-league season stats

By Mike Harrington

Here's our updated list of players in pro ball with Western New York high school or college connections through the end of the minor-league regular season.

Be sure to read my column on Jim Negrych that appears in Wednesday's editions of The News.

Player (Connection)    Team-Class    GP Avg. HR RBI
Dave Sappelt (South Buffalo)  Iowa-AAA 90 .252 5 45
  (Sappelt also played 31 games this year for Chicago Cubs.. .240-0-4 and was designated for assignment on Tuesday) 
Jim Negrych (St. Francis) Buffalo-AAA    108 .285. 3  44
Kevin Mahoney (Canisius Col) Trenton-AA  39  .203  1 8
Tom Murphy (UB)                 Tulsa-AA    20   .290  3  9          
   (Promoted on Aug. 6. Had 80 GP at Class A Asheville ... .288-19-74)
Sean Jamieson (Canisius Col) Visalia-A 122  .287  11 53
Wynton Bernard (Niagara U.) Eugene-A 39 .250  1 10
Jason Kanzler (UB)            GCL Twins-A 44 .220 3 15
Jonah Heim (Amherst)      GCL Orioles-A 27 .185 0 4
Cory Brownsten (Lockport) Lynchburg-A  51 .160 0 10 

Pitcher (Connection)         Team-Class            GP GS W-L-ERA Sv
John Axford (Canisius Col)  St. Louis                  2   0   0-0-5.40  0 
   (traded from Milwaukee- 62 GP, 0 GS, 6-7-4.45 0)
Kevin Siegrist (Buffalo)        St. Louis                    32  0  1-1  0.60  0
Steve Geltz (Wilson/UB)        Durham-AAA            41 0 4-3 2.82 3
   (Read this Inside Baseball column on Geltz from earlier in the season)
Garret Cortright (Frontier-Canisius Col)                 Aberdeen-A 1 0 0-0 0.00 0
    (Promoted from GCL Orioles-A  10 4 5-1 1.11 1)
Jon Fitzsimmons (Canisius Col)   Idaho Falls-A              10 0 0-0 4.50 0
Chris Barczykowski (NCCC)       GCL Braves-A               15 2-0 4.50 0
Mark Armstrong (Clarence)      AZL Reds-A                    2 0 0-0 0.00 0 

Note 1: Sappelt grew up in South Buffalo and moved to North Carolina when he was 14. Read this 2011 story on him from The News

Note 2: Siegrist was born in Buffalo in 1989 but moved to Florida as a child. His second pro team was the 2009 Batavia Muckdogs. Read this story on him via MLB.com

Let Romero call it a season and other thoughts on the Bisons' finale today in Syracuse

RickyBy Mike Harrington

Ricky Romero's final outing for the Bisons was a pretty decent one Sunday night in a 5-4 win at Syracuse, and the Toronto Blue Jays should let him feel good about how things ended for him and let him call it a season.

Romero (left) hasn't pitched nearly good enough to go to the big leagues in September and why let him get boxed around and go into winter with a bad feeling?

Romero made 22 starts for the Bisons, posting a 5-8 record with a 5.78 earned run average. Yuk. Here's the rest of his numbers:

IP: 113.2
H: 136
R/ER: 81/73
BB: 63
K: 81
HR: 11
Opponents BA: .303
Total pitches: 1,897
Strikes: 1,110
Strike percentage: 58.5

Do those numbers strike you as a guy remotely ready for another try in MLB? No.

Some other storylines for today's 2 p.m. finale in Syracuse:

---Last night's win improved Buffalo's record to 73-70, so the Bisons are ensured of their first winning season since 2010 and just their second in the last six years.

---Bisons MVP Mauro Gomez and Syracuse's Zach Walters are tied for the IL home run lead with 29. Here's a good story from today's Syracuse Post-Standard on some funny byplay between the two Sunday night.

---Hard to believe what happened to Jim Negrych's season. He batted .313 prior to the all-star break -- and is at .206 since returning from Reno. He hit .185 in July and .195 in August before going 2 for 3 Sunday night.

---Norfolk has already started its noon final vs. Durham and can clinch the IL wild-card with a win. Rochester needs a Tides loss and then a win in its finale over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to sneak in. The wild-card winner plays Pawtucket in the first round of the Governors' Cup semifinals, opening Wednesday night. Durham and Indianapolis meet in the other semi.

(Romero photo: James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Go to the video: Pillar's bizarre first MLB HR, Goins' first hit

By Mike Harrington

Lots of nice help for the Blue Jays coming from the Bisons in recent days, as Ryan Goins, Kevin Pillar, Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra have all helped the big club.

For Sunday's Inside Baseball column, I talked to Pillar and Goins about their MLB debuts and how they broke through last weekend during a series in Houston.

As I talked about in the story, here's the video of Pillar's first MLB home run, the replay review and the ultimate decision. But the real key is near the end -- as umpire Bill Miller flips Pillar the ball. Neat.



Goins, meanwhile, has tied a franchise record with hits in his first eight games in the big leagues (Jesse Barfield did that as well in 1981). Here's Goins' first MLB hit:

 

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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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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