Monday, September 12, 2011

The Juice: Pujols bests Kimbrel, leads Cardinals to extra inning win

Nine innings and nine items to get you going. Ladies and gentleman of the Stew, take a sip of morning Juice.

1. Craig Kimbrel vs. Albert Pujols: In terms of reliever vs. position player, there may not be a bigger marquee matchup in the National League than this. Then add in bases loaded, two outs in the ninth and a two-run Atlanta Braves lead, and you have a dream matchup with a dream scenario.

Not surprisingly, it was the veteran Pujols gaining the upper hand, poking a game-tying two-run single down the right field line. However, Ryan Theroit attempted to score the winning run from first, running through Jose Oquendo's stop sign, and was easily gunned down at the plate to force extra innings. But the damage had been done. For only the tenth time all season, Kimbrel had been scored upon. That includes all three appearances against the St. Louis Cardinals.

"Whenever you put guys on for free, it seems like it always comes back to get you," Kimbrel said. "I hung a pitch there at the end and he kept it inside the line. I made a mistake and he made me pay for it."

With the game extended, Nick Punto would put the finishing touches on the Braves with a sacrifice fly in the tenth, giving the Cards a dramatic 4-3 win in 10 innings.

2. This never gets old: We've been fortunate enough to see Clayton Kershaw duel against Tim Lincecum three different times this season. For the third time, Kershaw gets the nod, as his Los Angeles Dodgers plated the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth and held on for the nailbiting 2-1 win over the San Francisco Giants.

For a little perspective on how great all three matchups have been, the teams have combined for a grand total of seven runs. Yes, I acknowledge these offenses aren't exactly the Yankees or Red Sox, but I could honestly watch this pitching matchup all day, every day. And with Vin Scully on the mic, how could it ever get better?

3. Home is where the wins are: Since getting into the business of protecting their home field, the Arizona Diamondbacks have gone from playoff long shot to a playoff lock that is mere days away from eliminating the defending world champions. Move them two steps closer now after San Francisco's loss, and their own�3-2 win over the San Diego Padres, which gives them a franchise-record 14 straight at Chase Field.

4. Picking their playoff foes?: Ryan Howard lowered the boom early, cracking a three-run homer off Shawn Marcum in the first, and Roy Halladay pitched eight Cy Young worthy innings as the Philadelphia Phillies won their second in a row over the Milwaukee Brewers, 5-3. Milwaukee's loss moves Arizona to within a half game in the race for home field in the playoffs, which means another couple wins by the Phillies this weekend could position these teams for a rematch come early October.

5. Hey! You're not James Shields!: That might be what Boston Red Sox hitters were muttering before, during and after Tampa Bay Rays starter Wade Davis went the distance, limiting them to six hits and two runs in a 6-2 road loss. If it makes them feel any better, it was actually the second time Davis has gone nine innings in his last four starts, but it's his first official complete game of the season after the previous outing was decided in extra innings.

6. Three days, three cities, three one-run losses: The New York Yankees already long week got a little bit longer with a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. That's the bad news. The good news? They get to stay in Anaheim for two more days. The best news? Jered Weaver ?�who limited them to one Jesus Montero home run over eight strong innings ?�won't be on the mound again on either day.

7. The A is for assistance: If the Texas Rangers end up clinching the AL West, they should make sure to ship a couple bottles of champagne (or ginger ale) to the Oakland A's clubhouse. With their 13-4 win, Texas has now defeated Oakland nine times in a row. In Oakland's last ten against the Angels, they have won seven. Believe it or not, that's how divisions are won and lost.

8. Hall of pain: Cleveland Indians rookie Lonnie Chisenhall put his struggles against left-handed pitching behind him, hitting a pair of two-run homers off one of the game's best in Mark Buehrle. Chisenhall was one of five Indians with multiple hits in the game as they snapped their four-game losing streak with an 8-4 decision over the Chicago White Sox.

9. Delaying the inevitable: With his Chicago Cubs down to their final out in the ninth, Darwin Barney delivered a game-tying RBI single off New York Mets stand-in closer Manny Acosta, sending owner Tom Ricketts into a frenzy. Of course, as is often the case with the Cubbies, the jubilation is only temporary. With two outs in the Mets half of the ninth, Justin Turner hit his second RBI double, this time in walk-off fashion, giving New York the 5-4 victory.

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Cliff Lee Jon Lester Andy Pettitte Mariano Rivera

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