The AL West may not be decided over the next 10 days, but the seven-game heavyweight fight scheduled between the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A's during that time frame will be the closest thing to late September and October baseball that we can experience in August.
The opener didn't disappoint, either, as Oakland walked away with a heart-pounding 5-3 win behind an excellent effort by starter Sonny Gray and some timely hitting from unlikely sources.
Gray nearly went the distance, retiring one batter in the ninth before walking Josh Hamilton. Hamilton would end up coming around to score, leaving Gray's final line to read three runs allowed on six hits with five strikeouts. Closer Sean Doolittle allowed a pair of hits to make things interesting, but he struck out Chris Iannetta representing the go-ahead run to start the celebration at O.co Coliseum.
Offensively, Oakland got a gift in the fifth. Josh Donaldson hit into what should have been an inning-ending double play, but Erick Aybar's relay throw sailed over first base, allowing the tying run to score. In the sixth, Oakland took the lead for good on Sam Fuld's RBI triple and Andy Parrino's sacrifice fly.
With the win, the A's move to within a game of the Angels in the standings. The jostling continues on Saturday with C.J. Wilson taking on Jon Lester.
MARINERS SCORE FIVE IN NINTH INNING TO UPEND RED SOX: Let us not forget the third-place team in the AL West. The Seattle Mariners are currently battling for the second wild-card position, and a win like Friday's amazing come-from-behind 5-3 triumph in Boston will go a long way toward helping them earn their first postseason berth since 2001.
Seattle had managed only two hits in the first eight innings and trailed by three headed to the ninth. In the final frame, the Mariners loaded the bases against closer Koji Uehara but were down to their final strike when Austin Jackson cracked a two-run double to keep the rally alive. One batter later, Dustin Ackley completely flipped the script, dropping a two-run single into left field that stunned the crowd and gave Seattle the lead. Robinson Cano followed with an RBI to provide some insurance, and just like that Seattle snapped a nine-game losing streak at Fenway Park that dated back to May 2011.
''The first three hours of that game we didn't look very good,'' Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. ''Then all of a sudden, with two outs, we turned it on. I can't figure it out.''
The unlikely rally took Felix Hernandez off the hook after he allowed three runs (all on Yoenis Cespedes' sixth-inning homer) in 5 2/3 innings. It was his third-shortest outing of the season and comes on the heels of a five-inning outing in Detroit on Aug. 17.
He may be human — or close to it — after all, but the Mariners only concern is winning. With this one, they're one-half game ahead of Detroit entering play on Saturday.
JAKE ARRIETA STYMIES FORMER TEAM AS CUBS TOP ORIOLES: The Chicago Cubs happened upon a new ace last season when they acquired right-hander Jake Arrieta, now 28, along with reliever Pedro Strop, in a four-player deal with the Baltimore Orioles. On Friday, both pitchers actually contributed in Chicago's 4-1 victory over their former team, but it was Arrieta who continued establishing himself as one of the NL's top starters, while likely making Baltimore second guess its move.
Arrieta, who has carried no-hit bids into the middle innings several times this season, retired the first 13 Baltimore hitters before Chris Davis lined a clean single to center in the fifth. The Orioles would do little else in his seven innings, with their only tally coming on Nelson Cruz's MLB-leading 34th home run.
Pretty amazing numbers for a guy Baltimore felt was never going to reach his potential under their watch. Chalk up another find for Cubs president Theo Esptein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
Speaking of which, Javier Baez connected for his sixth home run in only his 18th major league game, giving Cubs fans another reason to embrace the direction they're headed.
THE NATIONALS 10-GAME WINNING STREAK IS OVER: There would be no dramatics or Gatorade baths on Friday night in Washington. The Nationals, who came in with a 10-game winning streak – including five of the last six in walkoff fashion – were soundly dismantled by the San Francisco Giants, 10-3, thanks to a breakout performance by rookie Joe Panik.
Panik started the scoring for San Francisco with his first career home run, a three-run shot off Doug Fister, and went on to collect his first career four-hit game, finishing 4-for-5 and raising his average from .297 to .316. He also later scored on Travis Ishikawa's two-run double, which essentially put the game away for San Francisco in the eighth. They tacked on four more in the ninth inning for good measure.
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