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Yankees Rivalry Roundup: AL East crown inches closer with Jays loss

Recapping how the Yankees’ top AL opponents fared on September 23rd.

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Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Yankees continued their resurgent September and march toward the AL East crown last night with a 5-4 victory keyed by Aaron Hicks, Jose Trevino, and Jonathan Loáisiga. No, it did not have any Aaron Judge heroics, but that’s okay! A win is a win, and it’s also probably a win for our collective psyches that No. 61 didn’t come on Apple TV+.

That was just the Bronx though; other notable games occurred around baseball (not just the Albert Pujols 700 Show), and some had ramifications on the pennant run. Here’s what happened.

Baltimore Orioles 6 (79-71), Houston Astros 0 (99-53)

The only thing I love more than the fact that the Orioles refuse to completely die in AL Wild Card race is the fact that they’re successfully fighting for their lives against the dumb Astros. For the second consecutive night, they blanked Houston, and while Kyle Bradish was pulled after 8.2 innings yesterday, Dean Kremer went straight through that finish line. After holding the Astros to one run in 7.2 innings on August 27th, Kremer topped that with a four-hit shutout, walking just two and striking out six during his first career complete game.

On the offensive side of the ball, Rookie of the Year contender Adley Rutschman put Baltimore up in the fourth with a solo shot against José Urquidy, and after RBI hits from Terrin Vavra and Cedric Mullins off Hector Neris in the seventh, Rutschman delivered again with another run-scoring hit. It was his 32nd two-bagger of 2022, tying a franchise rookie doubles record held by no less a luminary than Cal Ripken Jr.

Even better for the O’s? The Mariners lost to Kansas City, so Baltimore cut its Wild Card deficit to three games.

Tampa Bay Rays 10 (84-67), Toronto Blue Jays 6 (84-67)

The Rays did the Yankees another solid on Friday night by lighting up the tiring Blue Jays. After jumping out to a 3-0 lead on Mitch White, Toronto actually came back to score four times in the fifth, putting the Rays into a bit of trouble. But when seemingly no one in the bullpen can actually get a game under control, it’s going to be a tough time, especially on the road.

Randy Arozarena was the catalyst, cracking an opposite-field blast for three off Anthony Bass, putting the Rays ahead by a 6-4 score.

Since Tampa reliever Colin Poche didn’t exactly have a good day either, Toronto tied it again at 6-6 on an Arozarena error and sacrifice fly by George Springer. Those were the last runs surrendered by the Rays bullpen though, and on the other side, Yimi Garcia coughed up four in the eighth — with no help at all from Bo Bichette.

That is a brutal error in an already-tough situation. The Rays’ double-digit runs put this game away and helped them tie the Blue Jays at the top of the Wild Card race (1.5 up on Seattle). The Blue Jays’ loss benefitted the victorious Yankees, who cut their magic number for the AL East down to four. Since Toronto and Tampa Bay are still playing each other, the earliest the Yankees could clinch the division title is north of the border on Monday.

Cleveland Guardians 6 (84-67), Texas Rangers 3 (65-85)

One wild thing that’s happened in September is that suddenly, the AL Central champion might not be so puny after all. For much of the season, it felt like whichever middling team between the White Sox, Twins, and Guardians won the division, they would be the worst AL team in the playoffs.

However, Cleveland has won 16 of its past 19 games to absolutely ice the division title and also to even its record with Wild Card-leading Toronto and Tampa Bay. It’s just semantics, but the Mariners would also be a game and a half behind the Guardians. Perhaps the top three AL teams will be the division winners after all. How about that?

As for the game on Friday night, the Guardians overcame a two-run error by Myles Straw in the second to plate five runs in the sixth against poor Rangers reliever Taylor Hearn.

Josh Naylor started the scoring with a double to tie the game, and RBI hits from Oscar Gonzalez, Andrés Giménez, and Will Brennan made it 6-2, Cleveland. Sam Hentges, James Karnichak, and Emmanuel Clase combined for three shutout innings to finish the ballgame. The Guardians’ magic number for the AL Central now sits at three.

Kansas City Royals 5 (62-89), Seattle Mariners 1 (82-68)

Even with a Mariners win, it probably wouldn’t have been a satisfying Friday night for their fans, as they had to deal with the loss of star rookie Julio Rodríguez, who hit the 10-day IL with a lower back strain. They’re hoping to have him back for the final series of the regular season against the Tigers, but they’re surely going to miss him in the meantime as they try to lock down a Wild Card spot over Baltimore.

What doesn’t bode well is that despite getting to play the dismal Angels, A’s, Royals, Rangers, and Tigers over their final 20 games of 2022, they’re off to an awful start in that cushy stretch. They lost three of four in Anaheim and two of three in Oakland, and they dropped their series opener in Kansas City, too.

The Royals moved to 3-0 in the J.J. Picollo Era, shaking off a second-inning homer from Cal Raleigh to score five unanswered runs against Marco Gonzales and the M’s bullpen. Brady Singer twirled seven frames of one-run ball, allowing just five hits.