The art of the spoil was alive and well Monday night, as two teams that were a combined 64 games out of first place might have found a way to alter the scope of the postseason. These two teams were the Baltimore Orioles, and the Houston Astros.
As coincidence would have it, the fanbases of these two ball clubs might have had their attention diverted to Monday night football, as the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys were doing their thing on the NFL’s big stage. Nonetheless, much to the chagrin of the Red Sox and the Cardinals, the O’s and the Astros found something to play for.
The St. Louis Cardinals, who have been riding a September surge that has allowed them to climb back in the NL wild card race, squandered multiple opportunities in their 5-4 loss to the Astros.
After leaving two men on in the second of a scoreless game, the Cardinals broke through in the third, as Matt Holiday roped a solid single into left scoring David Freese. But third-base coach Jose Oquendo opted to send Albert Pujols home on the play, and Astros left-fielder J.D. Martinez easily gunned down the Cardinals slugger at home keeping the extra run off the board. This would not be the last time base running factored into the contest.
In the bottom half of the inning, with Clint Barmes on third and J.R. Towles on first, Wandy Rodriguez laid down a bunt. Yadier Molina scooped up the ball, but failed to give a look to the runner at third, and Barmes snuck home to tie up the score.
After a two-run homer by Matt Downs made it 4-1 in the fourth, the Cardinals had another big chance in the next inning to even things up. But with the bases loaded and nobody out, Wandy Rodriguez induced a double play off the bat of David Freese. Then he struck out Albert Pujols on three pitches. The Cardinals added a run, but they should have gotten more.
After the Cardinals failed to capitalize with runners on second and third with one down in the seventh, Lance Berkman delivered a game-tying two-run double in the eighth.
But the Astros, playing for pride in front of a small few in Houston, used a bunt single off the bat of Angel Sanchez to score Brian Bogusevic in the bottom of the tenth, and keep the Cardinals a game off the wild card.
The Cardinals had their chances, but they just couldn’t get it done.
Meanwhile in Baltimore, the Red Sox simply got smoked. Boston’s ace Josh Beckett pitched well, but he simply couldn’t hold down the red-hot Orioles.
Two RBIs from Chris Davis tied the game, then put them ahead. But the big blow came off a three-run inside-the-park homerun from the bat of Robert Andino that made it 6-2 and put the game out of reach.
With a 5-2 Tampa victory against the Yankees, the two AL East rivals now find themselves deadlocked for the wild card.
When baseball historians look back at the 2011 season, Baltimore and Houston may just be a blip on the radar. But in the grand scheme off things, the spoilers do make a big impact. When it’s all said and done, the O’s and the Astros may be the guys that keep a couple teams from postseason glory.