Dunn keeps ChiSox afloat, Yankees surge and Beltre comes through
Adam Dunn's game-deciding HR might have been the biggest swing of the season
The Yankees took a 1 1/2-game lead in the AL East with a win and an Orioles split
Many complain about the MLB's umpiring, but it has nothing on the NFL's debacle
1. Not Dunn yet. Adam Dunn has taken a lot of grief in his career for not changing his approach with runners on base, for sticking to his deep-counts, swing-hard, miss-a-lot style. Monday night, it paid off in what may be the biggest swing any player has taken this year, an eighth-inning three-run homer on an 0-2 pitch that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 lead for the White Sox, and helped them stay in first place in the AL Central for another day. The bomb off the Indians' Vinny Pestano was Dunn's second of the night, giving him his sixth 40-homer season and his first since 2008. With one swing, Dunn produced as many runs as the Sox had scored in any game in a week. The White Sox remain a game ahead of the Tigers, who beat the Royals 6-2 behind Justin Verlander, who struck out eight men to take over the MLB lead in strikeouts from teammate Max Scherzer, and further solidified his hold on a second straight AL Cy Young Award. It's worth mentioning that both Verlander and White Sox ace Chris Sale would be lined up to pitch Game 162 on short rest or a one-game playoff on regular rest.
2. Separation. For the first time since Sept. 2, the AL East has a gap at the top of more than one game. The Yankees, behind Andy Pettitte's six shutout innings, beat the Twins 6-3, while the Orioles split a rain-created doubleheader with the Blue Jays. That gives the Yankees a 1 1/2-game lead over the Birds, who still have a three-game edge on the Angels for a berth in the postseason. Pettitte, backed by four Yankee home runs, wasn't dominant, scattering seven hits and a walk, striking out three and benefiting from two double plays and a baserunner kill at home plate. In Baltimore, the Orioles took the first game of the twin bill thanks to Steve Johnson's five shutout innings, but lost the nightcap as Wei-Yen Chen allowed five runs in five frames and J.P. Arencibia broke it open in the sixth with a grand slam. The Orioles' remain in the top spot in the AL wild-card chase, and their magic number for their first postseason appearance since 1997 is six over the Angels.
3. Yo, Adrian! With the NL divisions all wrapped up, the AL West looks like it will be the next one to fall. The Rangers got a two-run homer from white-hot Adrian Beltre (.296/.342/.718 with nine HRs this month entering Monday) to tie the game in the seventh, and a walk-off RBI single from the slugger in the ninth to beat the A's 5-4. The Rangers also got Josh Hamilton, who hadn't played in a week while fighting a sinus problem, back in the lineup and were rewarded with a solo home run and two walks. The Rangers are now five games up on the A's and have a magic number of five. The A's, who have lost six of eight games and allowed 52 runs over that span, lead the Angels by two games with nine to play in the wild-card race. After being a key strength for five months, A's relievers have a 4.50 ERA in September.
4. Fat lady, warming up. An NL wild-card race that looked chaotic a week ago is clearing up. The Brewers' 12-2 loss to the Nationals coupled with the Cardinals' 6-1 win in Houston puts a three-and-a-half game gap between the leading Cards and the Brewers and Dodgers. After 2011, you never say never, but the Cardinals are a huge favorite to reach the Coin Flip Game. Lance Lynn posted his second straight quality start -- nine strikeouts in seven innings -- since moving back into the rotation and looks like the Cards' #2 starter in the playoffs. Stealth MVP candidate Yadier Molina also hit his 21st homer. With the Brewers' loss, the idle Braves locked up no worse than a one-game playoff to get into the postseason.
5. Heart you, Angel Hernandez. Look, there are significant problems with the state of MLB umpiring. Ball and strike calls are often little more than educated guesses, and missed calls on the bases have marred playoff games repeatedly in recent years. MLB and the umpires' refusal to expand the use of replay to cover plays on the bases remains a mistake. However, MLB has yet to have anything like the chaos and disorder to which the NFL has seen during its standoff with its referees, a situation that has placed dozens of underqualified officials into situations that have embarrassed the league, endangered players and, Monday night in Seattle, cast doubt on the legitimacy of the game. The NHL is locked out, the NBA is coming off its own lockout-shortened season and the NFL is experiencing its second labor action in two years -- and this one is becoming a national joke. The judgment, the vision and the temperament of MLB umpires may always be questioned, but there won't ever be a scene like the one at Qwest Field on Monday night.