AL Wild Card: Cleveland (78-71) at Milwaukee (78-71)
Both teams sit 2 games behind Baltimore (80-69) as the three battle for the second and final WC slot. Whoever loses out in the West, California or Oakland, (see previous report) seems to have the insider track, so these teams both need a surge. Cleveland took 2 of three against the Brewers at home last week. They're without one of their top bats in Manny Ramirez, having a disappointing year but still very dangerous. Brewers get Teddy Higuera (7-7, 4.03) back after a month, but Bill Wegman (8-6, 3.90) is still out. They lack pitching depth, so these injuries have really hurt.
Game 1: Indians 6-1
Higuera (4 IP, 3R, L 7-8, 4.10) hasn't won since June 8, when he was 7-1, 2.83 and had just 2 quality starts in 9 tries prior to going on the DL. His return is underwhelming as Cleveland scored single runs in the 1st, 2nd and 4th. Chuck Crim, hurt by some poor D, then allows 3 more in the 5th and it's pretty much game over. Higuera magic is gone, and so perhaps is Brewer magic. Bartolo Colon (W 11-10, 4.12) throws a solid six, and Sam McDowell makes a successful relief debut as the Tribe seems to shift toward other rotation options. McDowell's wildness just didn't play well at this level.
Game 2: Indians 5-2
After both teams go scoreless thru three, Bosio (L 8-11, 4.97) struggles thru the middle innings allowing single runs in the 4th, 5th and 6th. Joe Carter (.200/9/25) and Carlos Baerga (.277/18/72) contribute solo homers, with Baerga adding another (with a runner on) off Sanders in the 8th.
Baerga might well be the Indian MVP this year. Steve Hargan (W 6-9, 3.33) makes another effective start, pitching into the 8th, and Doug Jones picks up his ML leading 44th save. 3 hits for Kenny Lofton (.232), who also stole his 40th base. Brewers lose a key piece in SS Robin Yount (.253/14/61), who may or may not return by the end of the regular season. Don Money will presumably start at short. Jeromy Burnitz (.258/6/21) had a homer off Jones in the 9th.
Game 3: Brewers 8-3
Brew Crew survives 3 errors, two by Money, coming from behind twice to win a sloppily played affair and salvage at least a glimmer of postseason hope. Prince Fielder's (.212.21/70) 2 run shot off Charles Nagy (L 7-12, 3.45) puts Milwaukee ahead to stay, taking Colborn (5 IP, 3R, 2ER) and giving Mike Fetters (W 2-1, 4.78) a relief win. Harvey's Wallbangers then bust it open, plating 4 in the 8th off 2 Indian relievers. Axford and Plesac are perfect over the last 3 frames.
Indians move to within 1.5 games of Baltimore. The Birds have 6 with the mighty Red Sox, but with the Sox in control of the top playoff seed, they may get lucky and miss Martinez in the final series.