J.J.Watt Youth Jersey Craig’s slam vaults Cards into sole possession of first

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There will be no National League Central team crowned as division champ within the next two weeks, nor guaranteed clarity within a three-team dogfight for postseason seeding.

But there can be statement wins along the way, and the Cardinals believe they captured one on Monday to open a 13-game string of games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. St. Louis crawled out of an early four-run hole behind a three-run homer from Matt Holliday and blasted in front with Allen Craig’s first career grand slam to grab a series-opening, 8-6 win at Busch Stadium.

The victory catapulted the Cardinals a half-game in front of the idle Pirates for the division lead, marking the first time in 29 days that the Cards have sole possession of that top spot. The Reds, now 4-9 against St. Louis, fall to 3 1/2 games back.

“It’s huge,” Craig said after his three-hit night. “There’s a decent amount of games left, but in the grand scheme of things, not really. It’s getting to crunch time. Our schedule has been extremely tough, and it doesn’t get any easier. We needed to win this game. It’s the start of a big series.”

A team that has been sapped of power for extended spells this season has seen it return with the hot temperatures. Holliday’s three-run blast helped bail out Tyler Lyons, who allowed four runs in a second inning that was compounded by shortstop Daniel Descalso’s fielding error.

Then Craig, the Majors’ best hitter with runners in scoring position, punctuated that distinction by making his 50th career homer his first grand slam. It capped a five-run seventh against three Reds pitchers.

“This is nice coming back how we did,” said David Freese, who opened the seventh with a single. “Late in the year, these types of W’s are huge. They all count, but specifically not getting a loss in this situation is big.”

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The night started with all sorts of trouble for Lyons, who had just been reinserted into the rotation. He worked around a walk to pitch a scoreless first, but Cincinnati jumped on his mistakes — mostly elevated fastballs — while batting around in the second.

Descalso flubbed an opportunity to close the inning early with a double play when he let Devin Mesoraco’s sharp grounder skip past him into the outfield. Lyons went on to face six more batters in the inning. Two-run triples by Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier put the Reds ahead by four.

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“I just didn’t make pitches there [in] that second inning,” Lyons said. “It’s just about keeping the game slow and making pitches there after that point.”

As the inning prolonged, reliever Carlos Martinez warmed. Had the inning gotten any more out of control, manager Mike Matheny was poised to make the switch. Martinez continued to throw for the next few innings, too, but he wouldn’t be needed until the sixth. Beginning with the final out of the second, Lyons retired 10 in a row.

As he settled, the Cardinals began to peck away.

After the first two batters reached in the third, Holliday greeted Reds starter Mike Leake with a home run that landed an estimated 442 feet away. With it, he became the first Cardinals player sinceAlbert Pujols in 2009 to drive in a run and score one in six straight games.

“He kind of gets knocked around a bit for not getting big RBIs, but that’s not the case,” Freese said. “This year he has a lot of game-winning RBIs. I know he makes the big bucks, but he comes through in a lot of big ways lately.”

The Reds found some breathing room with a run off Martinez in the sixth, but the Cardinals answered in the seventh with their most prolific inning on this homestand.

Freese’s leadoff single and a pinch-hit double by Carlos Beltran — his first hit off the bench this season — chased Leake from the game and set the Cardinals up to have two chances with the potential tying runs in scoring position.

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Matt Carpenter’s walk off Manny Parra loaded the bases, and Jon Jay pushed one run home with a grounder to first. J.J. Hoover entered to replace Parra, and Holliday laid off a borderline pitch with the count full to load the bases.

“Great at-bat by Matt,” Matheny said. “He’s been working it so well, working deep counts, waiting for a mistake and usually being on it. He’s seeing the ball pretty good right now, and when he’s seeing it well, he’s typically staying within himself.”

Craig wasted no time, clobbering a first-pitch fastball from Hoover into the right-field seats. The grand slam, which elicited a curtain call from the crowd of 35,159, upped Craig’s season RBI total to 95. The only National League hitter with more is Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt.

Craig also improved to 6-for-7 when hitting with the bases loaded and two out this season. He’s driven in 15 in those spots. His average with runners in scoring position sits at a Major League-best .452.

“It happens too often to just say it’s a fluke,” Matheny said. “He’s been terrific. I don’t know if there’s been a better, bigger at-bat all season.”

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As bloated as the rest of Craig’s clutch stats are, the homer was just his 13th this year. It was just his second at home.

“It’s nice to know that I can still do it,” Craig joked. “It felt good. It came at a good time.”

The win put Martinez in line to earn his first big league win. Seth Maness, pitching the eighth for an unavailable Trevor Rosenthal, moved past a leadoff homer from Jay Bruce to retire three straight.Edward Mujica, with the aid of a running catch by Jay, picked up his 35th save with a 1-2-3 ninth.

The win was the Cardinals’ 11th in their last 15 games. They have made up 4 1/2 games in the standings during that span.

“I think right now,” Matheny said, “our guys are just picturing every game like a postseason game.”

Peavy’s three-hitter puts Red Sox alone in first J.J.Watt Youth Jersey

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Coming into the home of the scorching-hot Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox never blinked during their weekend visit.

Not only did manager John Farrell’s team look like it belonged on the same playing field as Los Angeles, but Boston actually came out on top after pulling out an impressive 8-1 victory in Sunday night’s rubber match of a three-game series.

Backed by a complete-game three-hitter from the recently acquired Jake Peavy, the Red Sox controlled this one from the outset.

Beating the Dodgers in a three-game series was no small thing. No team had done it in over two months — not since the Pittsburgh Pirates pulled it off from June 14-16.

“Personally I’ll never say we can’t do anything as a team just because of the way these guys have responded to the number of challenges thrown our way, but our starters set the tone for this entire trip and this series in particular,” said Farrell.

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If the Dodgers (19-5 in August and 29-7 since the All-Star break) have seemed other-worldly of late, the Red Sox continue to find ways to grind out games and series.

“There’s not a team hotter,” Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said of the Dodgers. “We played well. Our pitching’s been unbelievable. If we continue to throw like that, we’ll be just fine.”

Boston has now won 26 series, the most of any team in the Majors. The Sox completed their West Coast swing with a 4-2 mark and head back to Boston leading the Rays by one game in the American League East.

Starting pitching was, without question, the key on this road trip, as Boston’s rotation notched a 1.12 ERA.

“It’s satisfying anytime you win, however you can get that done,” said Peavy. “We were all in to win tonight, knowing that it was a big game to come into Dodger Stadium, win two of three and really have a chance to win Friday night as well. It shows the caliber of ballclub [we are]. We’re on the same level as those guys even though they’ve been on an incredible run. We’re a good ballclub as well, and we found a way to win a couple.”

The offense supplied Peavy with a steady stream of runs while the defense — helped by dazzling plays from Pedroia, Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury — also came up big.

“Well-played game in all phases,” said Farrell. “Jake was outstanding tonight with the complete game. I thought we played exceptional outfield defense, particularly in left and center with the number of balls that Vic cut off. Jacoby with a couple of balls where he dove and made some good catches.”

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Mike Napoli also had a second consecutive solid game at the plate, going 2-for-4 and hitting a mammoth two-run home run into the left-field seats that made it 8-1 in the ninth.

“I’m not a person to just try to hit singles,” Napoli said. “I swing to drive the ball. It’s just something, I got a good pitch to hit and everything was right. My body was in the right position and I was behind the ball. It definitely feels good to hit a ball like that.”

While Peavy enjoyed all the run support, he certainly didn’t need it. Once again, he turned in a masterful performance against the Dodgers, a team he’s now 14-2 with a 2.25 ERA lifetime against in 25 starts.

Peavy didn’t just want to win. He badly wanted to go the distance.

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“I wanted to finish it. I wanted to finish it against 2-3-4 [in the lineup],” said Peavy. “It meant something to me to finish it. I wanted to let the guys have a few days off in the bullpen. Koji [Uehara], we used him for over an inning. We’ve got to keep those guys strong down the stretch. Any of the guys could have finished it out, but I appreciate John giving us the opportunity.”

The Red Sox opened the scoring in the first and were the recipients of a fortunate call. After Victorino’s one-out double, Pedroia hit a roller to short and Hanley Ramirez appeared to throw him out. But first-base umpire Mark Carlson ruled safe, and Boston had runners at the corners with one out. Napoli clubbed an RBI double to right-center, giving Peavy a quick 1-0 lead.

In the third, Boston appeared caught up in the National League style of play. Ellsbury led off by reaching on an infield single and stole second. Victorino sacrificed Ellsbury to third with a bunt and Pedroia drove him in with a sac fly.

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Xander Bogaerts, making his second Major League start, kept the pressure on with a two-out RBI double to right-center in the fourth. Once Skip Schumaker bobbled the ball, third-base coach Brian Butterfield alertly waved Will Middlebrooks home and it was 3-0.

Adrian Gonzalez got one of the runs back in the bottom of the inning when he pummeled a solo shot to center against his former Padres teammate Peavy.

“I don’t like pitching to Adrian Gonzalez — no, I don’t,” said Peavy. “He’s an extremely good player. But that can’t happen there 0-2. I’ve got to make a better pitch. I was trying to change his eye level and wanted the ball way higher than it was. That’s what they do. They make you pay.”

But momentum turned back toward Boston in the sixth as Jarrod Saltalamacchia went to the opposite field for a two-out, two-run homer to left that made it 5-1.

Victorino, again batting right-handed against a righty, belted a solo homer to left in the seventh to make it a five-run cushion, and Napoli’s rocket in the ninth put it away.

There’s at least a chance the Red Sox and Dodgers could see each other again — in late October.

“They’ve got a good team,” said Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford. “You’re going to have to come out there and hit better. They got good pitching over there. We’ve got to make the adjustments at the plate and try to be better if we face them again.”


Scherzer’s gritty effort in duel nets win No. 19 Custom Angels Jersey

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Max Scherzer wore a wide smile as he spoke in front of his locker. Teammates tossed jokes around, teasing their starter about his performance on Saturday. Scherzer said he was sending text messages out about his latest accomplishment.

It had nothing to do with his stellar work on the mound in the Tigers’ 3-0 win over the Mets at Citi Field.

With one out in the second inning, Scherzer laced a 96-mph fastball from Mets ace Matt Harvey into the gap in left-center field for an RBI double to give the Tigers an early lead.

“They were going nuts. They were laughing so hard,” Scherzer said of his teammates. “They’re laughing at me because I got the hit, but they also realized it was an important part of the game to get a hit in that situation.”

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On the mound, Scherzer threw another gem. Scherzer allowed three hits over six scoreless innings. While he walked four batters for the first time this season, he struck out 11.

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Some long at-bats, including a 12-pitch battle with Juan Lagares that resulted in a walk, ran up Scherzer’s pitch count, and the right-hander departed the game after throwing 118 pitches.

But with the victory, Scherzer is 19-1. He’s the third pitcher in Major League history to win 19 of his first 20 decisions, joining Rube Marquard (1912) and Roger Clemens (2001).

“For me, every time I go out, I seem to pitch well. More importantly, our defense makes plays behind us,” Scherzer said. “We always seem to get the big hit. Everybody through the lineup plays well every time I take the mound, and that’s the reason I’m 19-1 — not because I’m pitching well, but because everyone else is stepping up and doing their job.”

On Saturday, Scherzer represented one half of a historic pitching matchup. The other half stood in the form of Harvey. For the first time, a pair of All-Star Game starters opposed each other in the same regular season.

Harvey, though, couldn’t match Scherzer.

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The Tigers jumped on Harvey, who allowed a career-high 13 hits over 6 2/3 innings, quickly. Omar Infante and Miguel Cabrera hit back-to-back singles in the first inning, but Harvey managed to retire the next two batters to escape trouble.

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But he couldn’t do the same in the second.

Andy Dirks led off with a double, and Brayan Pena singled. Two batters later, in his first plate appearance of the season, Scherzer came through with his double. It was Scherzer’s first hit since 2009, when he was pitching for Arizona.

Austin Jackson then drove in Pena with a single to make it 2-0. The Tigers tacked on another on a sacrifice fly by Don Kelly in the ninth inning.

“I thought the hitters did a good job of executing, because you know Harvey’s going to attack. That’s what he’s going to do,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “We just tried to counterattack. We tried to be aggressive and attack back. We did enough — it wasn’t like we did a lot.”

After allowing a leadoff single to Ike Davis in the second, Scherzer retired the next eight batters he faced. Seven of those outs came on strikeouts.

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Scherzer ran into trouble in the sixth inning. Still, he never broke completely.

“If you get a strike, you’ve got to put a swing on it. Because against guys like Max Scherzer, you’re not going to get many of them,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “You’re not going to get many good pitches to hit. When you get a good one, you better swing at it.”

Daniel Murphy led off the frame with a single, and Davis doubled two hitters later. Scherzer walkedWilmer Flores to load the bases with one out. With his pitch count past 100, Scherzer seemed to be losing effectiveness.

But he found it again in the biggest spot of the game. Scherzer struck out Lagares, and induced a popout by John Buck to work out of the bases-loaded jam.

“I pitched well today, but I didn’t pitch efficiently,” Scherzer said. “There were too many times where I was pitching deep into a count, leading myself to 3-2, issued four walks and that’s something that always frustrates me. Throughout the game, I continued to make good pitches when I needed to. I made big pitches there in the sixth.”

Jose Alvarez, Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit combined for three scoreless innings in relief.

Scherzer started the game as half of history, but finished it with his own historic accomplishment of becoming 19-1.

And that doesn’t even account for his production at the plate.

“Max played the game himself,” Torii Hunter said. “He pitched, he hit. He’s the modern-day Babe Ruth.”

Joey Votto Jersey Wainwright goes distance, first in NL to 15 wins

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As a big brother would, Trey Wainwright feared the potential repercussions of the unanticipated overlap.

The apprehension came out as he watched Adam Wainwright mingle with participants during a fantasy football charity event on Friday afternoon. The date had been picked weeks ago, specifically so it would not line up with one of Wainwright’s starts. But that was before the Cardinals altered their rotation.

It was then that Trey Wainwright first encouraged his brother to change the draft date so that it would not interfere with his game-day schedule. Adam Wainwright scoffed at the idea, insisting that the charity function go on as planned while also assuaging his brother’s worries that the event could morph into negative publicity if his night on the mound went poorly.

Whatever words may not have accomplished, Wainwright’s showing later in the day would.

Stepping up to give the bullpen a much-needed respite, Wainwright finished the game he started to lift the Cardinals to a 3-1 win over the Braves. Among the 41,134 at Busch Stadium to watch the Cards’ third straight win were those fantasy football players with whom Wainwright had spent much of his day.

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“It was a risk I was willing to take because of the great cause,” said Wainwright, who raised $111,000 for charity before becoming the National League’s first 15-game winner.

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A go-ahead solo homer by Matt Holliday off Atlanta starter Kris Medlen in the sixth gave Wainwright the last bit of support he would need.

On a night when Edward Mujica was again unavailable due to back discomfort, manager Mike Matheny rode Wainwright for a season-high 128 pitches. Fortunately for Matheny, Wainwright was sharp to the end. He retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced en route to securing his league-high fifth complete game. Only two other NL players have more than two, and just once in his career had Wainwright ever thrown more pitches in a game.

“He was amazing,” said catcher Yadier Molina, who scored twice on his three-hit night. “Every pitch that I called, he made it. He’s a warrior. He’s a captain on this team. He knew that he needed to go all the way. He took charge.”

“He’s a guy that in a game like this, those are the kinds of statements that your ace loves to make,” added Matheny. “We’re not trying to fabricate something there, but that’s how the game played out. That game was his. This is a staff that he’s leading, and that’s a great opportunity for him to do it.”

After giving credit to Atlanta’s offense when it knocked him around on the road last month, Wainwright faced only one serious threat on Friday. It came in the sixth, which Medlen opened with a leadoff single.

The Atlanta righty moved to third on a pair of productive outs before scoring when Freddie Freemandropped a game-tying single to right. Another single moved Freeman to third, and it took an over-the-head, backward-running catch by third baseman Matt Carpenter to strand the first baseman there.

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“I glanced to my right, saw where everybody was and knew I was the only guy who had a chance to make the play,” Carpenter said. “I just stabbed at it and caught it.”

Wainwright waited near the mound to thank Carpenter as the rest of the team retreated to the dugout. “Amazing,” Wainwright termed the catch afterward.

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The Cardinals inched back ahead in the bottom of the frame when, after fouling off three two-strike pitches, Holliday eventually connected for a 432-foot blast. It was his 17th homer and 20th go-ahead RBI of the year.

“I thought it was one of his best at-bats of the season,” Matheny said. “He was fighting off tough pitches, continued to just grind it out. You could tell his timing was right, that he was seeing the ball well and that he was waiting for a pitch that he could drive.”

“Once again, it comes down to one or two pitches,” said Medlen. “Holliday is too good of a hitter to leave a pitch over the plate like that, especially in a tie game.”

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Molina and Jon Jay — who produced a second-inning run with consecutive doubles — sparked some seventh-inning insurance scoring, too. Hits by both, followed by a one-out walk to Daniel Descalso, gave Wainwright an opportunity to help his own cause. Though Wainwright’s pitch count already sat at 101, Matheny said there was no hesitation in sending his ace to hit.

Wainwright delivered with a sacrifice fly.

The swing, though, was a footnote to his night on the mound. Wainwright has now made seven straight seven-inning starts, and he improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 7.28. With nine strikeouts, Wainwright also passed teammate Chris Carpenter to move into third place all-time among Cardinals pitchers with 1,090 strikeouts.

Next in his sights? Dizzy Dean with 1,095.

“Just to pass Carp, I don’t even know what to say about that,” Wainwright said. “He’s been my mentor, a guy who has taught me so much in this game as I have been a Cardinal.”

Matheny had de factor closer Trevor Rosenthal warming up in case ninth-inning trouble arose, but he wanted to give his ace every opportunity to finish. Chris Johnson’s one-out single brought Brian McCann and Andrelton Simmons to the plate as potential tying runs. Wainwright struck out his good friend McCann before catching a break when Simmons mistimed one of Wainwright’s few mistakes.

It sealed Wainwright’s 16th career complete game.

“I think it’s one of the best days I can remember, not even baseball-wise. Just days, period,” Wainwright said as he closed a 12-hour day at the ballpark. “We did such a cool thing this morning, raised a ton of money. … But to then come here and beat the Braves and throw a complete game, I’m going to sleep well tonight.”

Apologetic Custom Angels Jersey Braun breaks silence in statement

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In a lengthy written statement issued through the Brewers on Thursday, Ryan Braun acknowledged taking a banned substance to aid his recovery from an injury in late 2011, expressed regret for misleading teammates and fans over the ensuing two years, and apologized for “any damage done to the game.”

The comments were Braun’s first since he admitted “mistakes” in bowing to a season-ending suspension from Major League Baseball on July 22. Thursday’s statement did not mention Biogenesis, the Miami-area clinic that was investigated by MLB for providing banned substances to some players, nor did it specify the particular substance that led to Braun’s 65-game ban.

But, for the first time, Braun admitted, “I deserved to be suspended.”

“Here is what happened,” his statement said. “During the latter part of the 2011 season, I was dealing with a nagging injury and I turned to products for a short period of time that I shouldn’t have used. The products were a cream and a lozenge which I was told could help expedite my rehabilitation. It was a huge mistake for which I am deeply ashamed, and I compounded the situation by not admitting my mistakes immediately.”

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Instead, after Braun tested positive for synthetic testosterone in October 2011, he appealed a suspension and won by questioning the chain of custody of his urine sample. When the Biogenesis story broke in January 2013 and linked Braun to clinic founder Anthony Bosch, MLB reopened its investigation into Braun.

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In his statement, Braun went on to say he had issued private apologies to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Executive Vice President for Economics & League Affairs Rob Manfred, and to Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner and MLBPA staff.

Braun also apologized to Brewers teammates, fans and to Dino Laurenzi Jr., the sample collector whose conduct was questioned by Braun during a February 2012 press conference in the wake of Braun’s successful appeal.

“At that time, I still didn’t want to believe that I had used a banned substance,” Braun said. “I think a combination of feeling self-righteous and having a lot of unjustified anger led me to react the way I did. I felt wronged and attacked, but looking back now, I was the one who was wrong. I am beyond embarrassed that I said what I thought I needed to say to defend my clouded vision of reality. I am just starting the process of trying to understand why I responded the way I did, which I continue to regret. There is no excuse for any of this.”

Braun expressed regret about leaving those close to him in the dark about his transgressions and said he would work with the Commissioner’s Office in the future to help clean up the game.

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“Moving forward, I want to be part of the solution and no longer part of the problem,” Braun said.

The Brewers e-mailed Braun’s statement at 6:20 p.m. CT, while the rest of the team was en route to Cincinnati for the start of a weeklong road trip. Braun did not meet or speak with the media regarding his statement, but over the past week, he apologized to select teammates over the phone and provided more detail about his transgressions.

Braun’s statement was delivered more than two weeks after 13 players were suspended in Major League Baseball’s investigation into the link between the now-shuttered Biogenesis anti-aging clinic and performance-enhancing substances. Alex Rodriguez was suspended 211 games, but the Yankees third baseman has appealed.

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Separate from his statement to the media, Braun sent a letter to Brewers season seat holders and e-mail subscribers.

“I am so sorry for letting you down by being in denial for so long and not telling the whole truth about what happened,” the letter said. “I am ashamed and extremely embarrassed by the decisions I made. There are no excuses for what I did and I take full responsibility for my actions. I apologize to all Brewers fans for disappointing you.”

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“I’m glad he came out with it and hopefully everyone can move forward,” Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy wrote in a message to MLB.com from the team charter. “The Brewers, fans, baseball and himself.”

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, reached by telephone Thursday night, was asked whether he was satisfied with Braun’s statement.

“I think it’s just got to satisfy Ryan. He’s got to feel good about it,” Melvin said. “He has to put it out; I think people were waiting for it. He wanted to put some thought into it and wanted to make sure he got all of his facts straight before he did it.

“My feeling is, I know he put a statement out, and that’s the right thing to do. But I think when any player goes through what he’s done, it’s going to be the actions after that will be important, too. … [The statement] is going to be analyzed, dissected, and it’s never going to satisfy everybody. That’s why I’m saying beyond a release of what he has to say, the most important thing is an individual’s actions when he comes back. He’s going to be one of 25 players.”

Does Melvin believe Braun needs to say or do anything more before donning a Brewers uniform again next season?

“I don’t know what ‘more’ is,” Melvin said. “I think his actions when he comes back are going to be the most important thing. When a player comes back from a situation like this, he’s going to be one of the guys. It’s up to every individual on how he’s going to be [accepted back]. Every individual has his own feelings, and I think once you put on the Brewers uniform, there’s an acceptance that you’re all working in the same clubhouse, on the same team. Guys are all professional enough to understand they’re on a team. They’ll all move forward and try to win ballgames.”

Ichiro joins select group with 4,000th hit Custom Angels Jersey

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Ichiro Suzuki said that he was “overwhelmed” to join a select group of professional hitters on Wednesday as the Yankees outfielder connected for his 4,000th hit between Japan’s top professional league and the Major Leagues, a first-inning single off the Blue Jays’ R.A. Dickey at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees spilled out of the first-base dugout to celebrate after the hit, a line drive that sailed past diving third baseman Brett Lawrie into left field. Curtis Granderson was the first to reach Ichiro, enveloping him in a hug, and Ichiro bowed to the crowd to acknowledge an extended standing ovation.

“The game was stopped for me and the players came out to first base,” Ichiro said through an interpreter. “I kind of felt bad that the game was stopped for me. At first, I was trying to stop them from coming, but it was just because I was so happy and overjoyed with the way they supported me.

“Obviously having the 4,000th hit was important, but what is going to make it a more special moment was the fact that my teammates came out. When I look back on this, that’s what is going to make this very special.”

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The total includes 1,278 hits that Ichiro collected over nine seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball as a member of the Orix Blue Wave from 1992-2000, as well as the 2,722 he has logged in the Majors with the Mariners and Yankees since 2001.

“It’s an amazing feat,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s a testament to how hard he’s worked, how long he’s been in the game, how he stays healthy, the way he goes about his business. He’s a great player, and he’s been a great player for a long time.”

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Ichiro joined Pete Rose (4,256) and Ty Cobb (4,191) as the only players to reach the 4,000-hit plateau when considering hits from the highest levels in the U.S. and Japan.

A great admirer of the game’s history, Ichiro said he does not expect to see his hit total placed alongside those of Rose and Cobb.

“It is a record that is adding two leagues into one; those guys did it in one league,” Ichiro said. “I don’t think you have to put me in that same category as them.”

The single off Dickey also moved Ichiro past Yankees legend Lou Gehrig (2,721) on the Majors’ all-time list.

“Obviously I only know him by name, and I’m hoping to go to Cooperstown and learn more about him,” Ichiro said. “I think that was a special moment, to be in this Yankees uniform and be able to pass such a great Yankee.”

Dickey said that he would have preferred not to be involved in the milestone, but added, “That being said, what an incredible achievement, and the manner in which he has done it is equally as impressive.

“The longevity, the endurance, the durability, having played with him in Seattle — it was a real treat to play with him, and it couldn’t have happened to a more professional hitter.”

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The Yankees played a video tribute to Ichiro from Ken Griffey Jr. during Wednesday’s game, and the Mariners released a statement which read: “On behalf of the entire Seattle Mariners organization and our fans across the Pacific Northwest, we offer our heartiest congratulations to Ichiro Suzuki for reaching 4,000 hits today.

“We are proud that Ichiro’s remarkable career started in Seattle as American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001, and that he collected 2,533 of those 4,000 hits while wearing a Mariners uniform for 11-and-a-half years.

“From Japan to the Mariners and continuing with the New York Yankees, Ichiro’s historic milestone is testament to his position as one of the greatest hitters in the game of baseball.”

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As his career enters its latter stages, Ichiro still owns at least 150 hits in each of his first 12 seasons, a feat accomplished only by Paul Waner, Richie Ashburn and Albert Pujols in the live-ball era.

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“After I got my first hit, if at that point I said to you guys, ‘My goal is to have 4,000 hits,’ I think everybody would have called me an idiot,” Ichiro said. “Now, after years and years of just getting hits every day, I’ve come to this point. What is important is just going out there and doing what you can do every single day.”

The argument has been made that if Ichiro’s NPB stats are added to his Major League stats, then perhaps Minor League statistics should also be credited in tallying other players’ hit totals. It’s an intriguing point, and one that highlights Ichiro’s accomplishments.

For the purposes of this exercise, only three additional players would then reach 4,000 professional hits: Hank Aaron (3,771 in Majors; 324 in Minors), Stan Musial (3,630 in Majors, 371 in Minors) and Arnold “Jigger” Statz, an outfielder who tallied 737 of his 4,093 pro hits with four big league teams from 1919-28.

“That’s a lot of hits, man. It’s pretty impressive,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said recently. “I don’t care if it’s 4,000 in Little League. It shows how consistent he’s been throughout his career. It makes you look at how many hits he’s got here [in the Majors] in a short amount of time. That’s difficult to do, so Ichi has been as consistent as anyone.”

Ichiro said that he does not have Rose’s 4,256 on his radar, but now that 4,000 is crossed off the to-do list, Ichiro is free to focus on joining the 3,000-hit club in the Major Leagues.

“I get asked that a lot, but I can’t have that as a goal,” said Ichiro, who sits 278 hits shy of 3,000. “What happens today determines what happens tomorrow. I’ve got to perform every day in order to be in the lineup the next day. I don’t make goals that are so far away; what I do is do what I can every single day and really build off that — see where that takes me.”

Nix of time: Yanks sweep twin bill vs. Jays Custom Angels Jersey

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At this late stage of the schedule, the formula has become a simple one for the Yankees, deleting all guesswork from the equation. Each game remaining is one they feel that they must win, and on Tuesday, they were able to accomplish that twice.

Jayson Nix delivered a game-tying home run in the seventh inning and celebrated his first career walk-off hit in the ninth, helping the Yankees secure a doubleheader sweep of the Blue Jays with a 3-2 win on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.

“It feels really good,” said Nix, who was drenched in Gatorade by teammate Brett Gardner after the winning blow. “I feel like we’ve kind of had a little bit of a jolt with our team. We’re playing really well right now. It’s a good time for it; got to keep it going.”

Facing reliever Darren Oliver, Mark Reynolds opened the home half of the ninth with a walk and quickly yielded to pinch-runner Ichiro Suzuki, who moved up on a sacrifice. Given a green light by manager Joe Girardi, Ichiro stole third base before trotting home on Nix’s line-drive single to left.

“I went in as a pinch-runner, and I thought, ‘I need to do something today,'” said Ichiro, who stroked two hits in the first game to run his career total to a combined 3,999 between Japan and the Majors. “This is my chance to do something. I had a good opportunity to do that.”

Nix’s seventh-inning solo blast had tied the game and spoiled a strong outing by left-hander Mark Buehrle, who proved to be a tough customer opposite Yankees starter Phil Hughes, holding New York to just Robinson Cano’s RBI single through the first six innings.

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Mariano Rivera worked in both ends of the twin bill, pitching a scoreless ninth in the evening game to pick up the win. The victory was the Yankees’ eighth in 10 games and came after New York had defeated Toronto, 8-4, in the afternoon contest.

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Cano had four hits — including his 200th career homer — in that game, while light-hitting catcherChris Stewart also launched a three-run blast to support Ivan Nova’s 6 1/3 innings of four-run ball.

“It’s a good day,” Girardi said. “You win the first one with some three-run homers, then we win today with the big homer from Nixy to tie it up and then the game-winning hit. You get a good performance from Hughsie and a good performance from Nova, you get Mo in two games; it’s a good day.”

Taking the ball in the nightcap, Hughes turned in his best outing of late. Having lost 10 of his last 12 decisions coming in, Hughes kept his fastball and slider down more, limiting the Blue Jays to two runs and seven hits — none via homers — over six-plus innings.

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“I thought it was OK,” Hughes said. “Extremely better than I have been. I feel like I’m making progress in the right direction. It all starts with my fastball. I was able to get ahead a lot, throw a lot of strikes and force guys to swing the bats. It worked out all right.”

Toronto scored almost immediately as Rajai Davis opened the game with a single, stole second, moved up on a groundout and then raced home on a wild pitch.

Hughes settled in and the Yankees reclaimed a tie as Cano singled home a run off Buehrle in the third inning, finishing the twin bill with six hits and five RBIs. Toronto pushed back when Munenori Kawasaki tripled in the fifth and scored on a sacrifice fly.

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Departing on the wrong side, Hughes was saved from a loss thanks to Nix’s third homer of the year, which cleared the left-field wall off Buehrle, who took a no-decision but has lost eight straight decisions to the Yankees and is 1-10 all time against the Bombers.

“One too many bad pitches, I guess,” Buehrle said. “I threw some good pitches the whole game and a couple of mistakes I had, they didn’t make me pay for it — except for that one.”

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Austin Romine also had three hits for the Yankees, who logged their sixth walk-off win of the season.

“When you come in here, it’s loose, it’s fun,” Romine said. “We’re not out of it until we’re out of it, and that’s every game. We’re scrapping. We’re getting big hits from guys when we need it.”

With the Yankees believing they’ll need at least 90 wins to reach the postseason, Nix said that he was excited to play the hero for a night, but credited bigger hitters like Alfonso Soriano and Alex Rodriguez for the spark lighting the Yanks’ run.

“We’re in the playoffs now,” Nix said. “We need to win all these games and come to the field every day to win the game. I think we’re kind of creeping [in the standings] a little bit, but we’ve got a long way to go, we’ve got a lot of games. I think each game is very important and we know that.”

Rays belt two homers, stave off Orioles for win Jose Bautista All Star Jersey

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Tampa Bay grabbed an early lead, then held on for dear life for a 4-3 win over Baltimore on Monday night at Camden Yards.

“That was the ‘prevent’ defense the entire night,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It was at its best. … We were just playing our safeties deep, and we were able to funnel them into the middle and keep them out of the end zone. It was one of those nights, man.”

Tampa Bay (71-52) has now won two in a row and five of its last six. In addition, the Rays have won seven of their last 10 against the Orioles.

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Evan Longoria hit his 25th home run of the season in the first off Orioles starter Chris Tillman. Kelly Johnson added an RBI single in the second to give the Rays a two-run lead.

Baltimore’s Danny Valencia, who began the night with a .700 career average against starter David Price, doubled home a run in the second, and Matt Wieters doubled home another in the third to tie the score at 2 before Matt Joyce’s two-run homer off Tillman in the fourth put the Rays up, 4-2.

Price allowed two runs on 10 hits while walking two and striking out six in five innings to earn his seventh win of the season.

Though Price’s pitch count swelled against the O’s tough lineup — he threw 99 pitches — he did a remarkable job of limiting the damage on a night that would see the Orioles leave 15 runners on base.

“That’s the whole thing about a veteran kind of a guy,” Maddon said. “He’s not going to give in to the moment there. They’re going to continue to grind it out. They know they can get through it if they make pitches. And that’s what he did. It was outstanding.”

In the third inning, the Orioles had runners on second and third with one out, and Price struck outJ.J. Hardy and retired Nick Markakis on a foul pop to end the inning.

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The fourth inning saw the Orioles place runners at second and third with one out, and Price struck out Manny Machado and Chris Davis to escape the jam.

Price performed one final escape act in the fifth. The Orioles loaded the bases with two outs, and Price got Steve Pearce to ground into a forceout to end the threat.

“It’s the most draining it has been in a while,” Price said. “I feel like that’s the best I’ve been in my last three outings. This team, they’re tough. That’s why they’re in the position they’re in now. They’re still fighting for after-September baseball, like we are. That’s an extremely tough team. But we made some pitches we needed to. I had some hard-hit pitches. You’ve got to have that good fortune sometimes.”

Jamey Wright followed Price with a scoreless sixth before Wieters homered off Joel Peralta to lead off the seventh and cut the Rays’ lead to one run. Jake McGee recorded the final out in the seventh before retiring the side in the eighth.

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Tampa Bay had a chance to pad the lead after loading the bases with no outs in the eighth againstFrancisco Rodriguez, but Davis turned Yunel Escobar’s lineout to first into a double play when he threw to second to double off Wil Myers. Brian Matusz then retired pinch-hitter Jason Bourgeois to end the threat.

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That led to closer Fernando Rodney taking over in the ninth.

Rodney entered the game with a one-run lead to protect but quickly got into trouble when Hardy singled to start the inning.

But with Markakis at the plate, Jose Molina made what Maddon called “the throw of the year” and nabbed Hardy trying to steal second.

“We’re on the same page,” said Rodney about what transpired with Molina. “He told me, ‘Do the best you can with your slide step,’ and it worked. He got a good throw, and we got the out.”

Rodney walked Markakis before striking out Valencia and retiring pinch-hitter Nate McLouth to end the game and nail down his 28th save.

“It’s a weird game,” summarized Rodney of the contest, which lasted three hours and 56 minutes.

Orioles outfielder Adam Jones noted that both teams played hard.

“They came out and they set us down with men in scoring position,” Jones said. “We left [15] on base, that means we had 14 opportunities, in my eye. But Price is the pitcher he is because he knows how to get out of jams like that.”

A-Rod takes center stage as Yanks top Sox Custom Angels Jersey

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Alex Rodriguez stomped on home plate, pointed his index fingers to the evening sky and let the boos wash over him for a few extra moments. The Yankees slugger had returned fire against Ryan Dempster and the Red Sox, making no effort to hide his obvious satisfaction with the moment.

On a night that began with Rodriguez’s left elbow absorbing a blow from a 92-mph fastball, Rodriguez exacted revenge by crushing a deep home run to center field off Dempster. The blast sparked a four-run sixth inning, leading the Yankees to a 9-6 victory at Fenway Park on Sunday.

“Whether you like me or hate me, that was wrong,” Rodriguez said. “It was unprofessional and silly. Kind of a silly way to get somebody hurt on your team as well. Today kind of brought us together.”

Both benches were warned by home-plate umpire Brian O’Nora after Dempster’s fourth pitch to Rodriguez, prompting the ejection of Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who vehemently argued the ruling — upset both because O’Nora hadn’t warned Dempster earlier, and because Dempster was permitted to remain in the game.

“You can’t start throwing at people,” Girardi said. “Lives are changed by getting hit by pitches. Whether I agree with everything that’s going on, you do not throw at people and you don’t take the law into your own hands. You don’t do that. We’re going to skip the judicial system? It’s ‘My Cousin Vinny.'”

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Dempster said that he had been trying to throw inside to Rodriguez, a claim that was also supported by Red Sox manager John Farrell.

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“I’m more disappointed in the fact that I couldn’t hold a 6-3 lead. That’s the bigger story,” Dempster said. “You’ve got the game right there in hand to win, and I didn’t do a very good job of making pitches in the sixth inning. Got to execute better.”

“Everyone is going to have their own view of the situation,” Farrell said. “Obviously, Brian O’Nora felt there was intent to immediately warn as well. I’ll go back and I’ll stand by it. He was trying to establish his fastball in and I didn’t think he hit him on purpose.”

Boston clubbed Yankees starter CC Sabathia for six runs in 5 1/3 innings, carrying a 6-3 lead to the sixth inning, where the Yankees batted around.

Rodriguez started the damage with his tape-measure blast off Dempster, the 649th home run of his career and his second since coming off the disabled list earlier this month.

“Every single one of my teammates came up to me and said, ‘Hit a bomb and walk it off,'” Rodriguez said. “They were as [ticked] as I was. … It was awesome. I was pretty excited. It was the ultimate payback.”

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Girardi said that he will watch closely, expecting a suspension of Dempster, and worries that if Dempster is not punished, teams around the league will begin acting as though it is open season on Rodriguez.

“You can’t allow it to happen,” Girardi said. “People have talked about, you don’t allow people just to be thrown at because you don’t like them or you disagree with something. You can’t do that.”

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After Rodriguez’s homer, two singles and a walk loaded the bases with one out, knocking Dempster out, and Brett Gardner greeted reliever Drake Britton with a three-run triple to deep right-center field to give the Yankees the lead.

Gardner had appeared to be among those most incensed by the earlier hit-by-pitch of Rodriguez, as second baseman Robinson Cano held him back from joining the fracas on the field.

Now, he had reason to clap his hands and celebrate wildly, sliding head first into third base.

“How could it not get you fired up?” Gardner said. “We know that we’re at a point in the season where we’ve got to play every game like it’s our last, and we were able to win the series.”

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The late rallies helped cover for an ineffective outing from Sabathia, whom the Yankees are counting on to fuel their postseason hopes. Sabathia allowed seven hits and five walks (one intentional) in the win, including Will Middlebrooks’ solo homer in the fourth inning.

“I felt pretty good; throwing the ball pretty well, and I felt good,” Sabathia said. “I just got behind some guys and wasn’t able to make pitches, but I’m glad we got the win.”

Dempster was charged with seven runs and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings, though he was still applauded by the Fenway crowd as he came off the mound.

“I think Alex did the best retaliation by going deep,” Sabathia said. “There’s not much more to say about that. A guy drills you and then you go deep off him, we get the win, he gives up seven. What can you say?”

Mark Reynolds delivered a pinch-hit RBI single off Franklin Morales in the seventh, giving the Yankees a two-run cushion.

Chris Stewart capped the Yankees’ scoring with an RBI single in the ninth, and Mariano Riverapitched a scoreless bottom of the inning for his 36th save of the season.

Rodriguez finished his night with three hits, two RBIs and two runs scored.

“Look, my only focus is to play baseball the right way,” Rodriguez said. “That was silly and unprofessional, and my teammates reacted. I think Joe’s reaction was incredible. Hopefully we can take this and build some momentum for the rest of the year.”

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Los Angeles has constructed a rotation stacked with aces, the way Philadelphia and San Francisco did to win recent World Series, as Phils interim manager Ryne Sandberg and former Giant Brian Wilson have noticed from very different perspectives.

Clayton Kershaw picked up on Saturday night where Zack Greinke left off on Friday, with the Dodgers blanking the Phillies, 5-0, to tack another win onto the Dodgers’ ridiculous roll.

Los Angeles has its first 10-game win streak since 2006, is 25-3 since the All-Star break and has a 42-8 record since June 22. That last mark matches the 1941 Yankees and 1942 Cardinals for the best such stretch since 1900.

“We see what they’ve got,” said Sandberg, unlucky enough to draw the game’s hottest team and its hottest starters in his debut series as interim manager. “You see the roll they’re on. They’ve come as advertised and shown why they’re on the roll that they’re on.”

Juan Uribe went 3-for-3 with a three-run homer in the Dodgers’ second consecutive shutout, their third in the last seven games and their fifth in the last 14 games.

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Uribe, who is quietly having a remarkable comeback year after two tough seasons, was on one of those Giants clubs, as was reliever-in-waiting Wilson.

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“Those teams had a one-two punch,” said Wilson, who closed out the Giants’ 2010 championship. “This team is one, two, three, four and five. From what I’ve watched the past month, they’ve just done a phenomenal job pounding the zone and handing the ball to the bullpen.”

Kershaw even doubled in a run, providing help for an offense that hit into four double plays and had three runners erased going from second base to third.

Los Angeles is still a season-high 8 1/2 games in front, has won 19 of the last 20 on the road and six straight at Citizens Bank Park, is 15-1 in August and a season-high 22 games above .500, and hasn’t lost its last 17 series.

Kershaw retired the first 12 batters, three on strikeouts, with no close calls. But his flirtation with history was ruined when Domonic Brown led off the fifth with a single past diving second basemanSkip Schumaker. Kershaw then picked Brown off first base.

John Mayberry Jr. had the Phils’ second hit, a single leading off the sixth, and Casper Wells doubled in the eighth, which Kershaw escaped by striking out pinch-hitter Carlos Ruiz with the tying runs in scoring position.

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Kershaw, who struck out eight and allowed just three hits over eight innings, is 12-7 with a 1.80 ERA and 7-2 in his last nine starts, even more dominant than he was when he won the 2011 National League Cy Young Award. He hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a start in nearly two months.

“All that stuff is just not that important, honestly,” Kershaw said.

And that attitude is why manager Don Mattingly expects Kershaw to just keep firing.

“Kersh is kind of what we’re all about,” Mattingly said. “What Kersh has done all year to this point really means nothing. He’ll be one of the first guys here tomorrow, blow out a workout and be on track to the next one. He doesn’t take a hitter off. Every pitch has a purpose. He wants every out he can get. And he keeps turning the page. Everything in the past is over, and it’s about today. He’s pretty amazing.”

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Dodgers starters are 15-1 in their last 20 games, with an ERA of 1.73. The staff’s 16 shutouts lead the Major Leagues.

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Meanwhile, nobody could have predicted that Uribe would be starting at third base after his first two seasons with the Dodgers. He has committed only three errors, has the second-best fielding percentage for NL third basemen and is 13-for-26 in his last eight games, raising his average from .251 to .275.

“I can’t give enough credit to Uribe,” said Kershaw. “He’s playing great, not just offensively but defensively. He gets taken for granted. He’s been huge for me.”

Until Uribe’s ninth-inning blast, the Phillies were close despite their defense committing fielding errors (three) and the Dodgers having squandered chances with double plays (four) and baserunning mistakes (three).

With Davey Lopes out sick, Mattingly put special assistant Jose Vizcaino in the first-base coach’s box, but what the Dodgers needed was a second-base coach. That’s where all the trouble happened.

In the second inning, Uribe was retired trying to go from first to third on a wild pickoff, although Mattingly had no problem with the attempt. He wasn’t as forgiving with Yasiel Puig, who undermined his pair of hits by being thrown out trying to tag from second to third on a shallow fly by Adrian Gonzalez to end the third inning.

“We’ve talked about the risk-reward, about it needing to be a 100 percent chance, about who’s hitting next [in this case Hanley Ramirez ], but with Yasiel we’re always moving forward,” said Mattingly. “You just don’t want one of those costing you a game. You don’t want to see the same mistakes over and over.”

Ramirez was guilty, too, in the ninth inning, breaking for third then stopping and being tagged out in a rundown before Uribe’s homer.